Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Jennifer Wolak

Second Advisor

Anand E. Stokhey

Third Advisor

E. Scott Adler

Fourth Advisor

Jennifer Fitzgerald

Fifth Advisor

Leaf Van Boven

Abstract

Arguments that Americans are becoming increasingly polarized - ideologically and geographically - have become prevalent. The divide between red states and blue states is widening, and this is problematic for a country whose political system depends on compromise. What processes are driving this change? My dissertation explores how the places that we live and the social influences that they supply change our attitudes. Using long-term panel data with contextual identifiers as well as an original data collection from the Fall 2012 election season, I address how social pressures bring our views in line with those who surround us, and how social forces generate homogenizing pressures that can lead to more polarized places. Specifically, I address four questions: What happens when environments change? Which kinds of political contexts are most influential for the citizens who live in them? Which kinds of people are influenced and what are the individual-level mechanisms of environmental influence? And what happens when the social pressures supplied by places collide - or reinforce - other socializing agents encountered by the individual? In sum, the evidence supplied in response to these questions offers a picture of the citizen as being (in part) a product of their social surroundings and the influences supplied by place. Over all four chapters, consistent and compelling evidence emerges that individual party affiliation is formed and maintained by the environments we reside in. While it is not the case for all people, or all places, the modal condition amongst the electorate is some level of place-based partisanship. This offers a view of the citizenry as being more socially rooted than many accounts allow. It also suggests both a potential cause, and consequence, of the deepening of red and blue America. If people are a product of place and when they move to a new location, have a tendency to adopt the views of those around them, this is likely one mechanism through which spatial polarization is proliferated. The consequence of this pattern is that increasingly homogenous partisan environments are even more likely to exert influence, furthering the pattern of place-based partisanship, and geographic polarization.

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