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Niemi and Jennings: Issues and inheritance in the formation of party identification

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Niemi and Jennings. 1991. Issues and inheritance in the formation of party identification. AJPS 35: 970-988.

Research Question

What is the relative weight of family socialization and policy positions in determining one's party ID? The authors start from the assumption that young people will be highly influenced by their parents and will become less so as they age. The goal of the paper is to determine with more precision when and to what degree parental influence declines and what types of events and experiences affect this process.


Longitudinal survey of high school seniors and their parents in 1965, with follow-up in 1973 and 1982.


Decline in parental influence occurs in the early/mid-twenties

The correlations between the parents' partisanship and the offsprings' partisanship in the three waves are .61, .38, and .38. So, kids are highly influenced by their parents when they are teenagers, then separation occurs in the early/mid-twenties, and the correlation remains stable after that.

Parental partisanship plays a significant though diminishing role in offspring party ID

The authors run a series of regressions to assess the relative weight of parental influence and issue positions.

  • Y: offspring party identification in 1965, 1973, and 1982 (on a seven-point scale)
  • Xs: parents' party ID in 1965, offsprings' issue positions on four issues (school integration, school prayer, Vietnam, jobs)

1965 model (baseline): Strong connection between partents' and offsprings' party ID. Two issues are included, and one issue (school integration) is significant. (R2 = .34)

1973 model: Relative weight of parents' partisanship drops considerably, but is still a greater influence on offspring partisanship than any single issue. But the importance of issues is growing; when all four issues are the in the model, three are significant. The overall explanatory power of model drops significantly, though (R2 = .21)

1982 model: Similar to 1973 model. The overall impact of parental party ID is virtually unchanged from 1973. The authors suggest that a plateau has been reached, and that there will be little further erosion of parental influence. All four issues are now significant. The impact of opinions about jobs has particularly increased. The overall explanatory power of the model is edging back up to the baseline model (R2 = .30).

Full model plus liberal/conservative self rating (7 point scale): Shows that liberal/conservative dimension is significant. Overall explanatory power of the model goes up to .41.

Presidential preferences: The authors re-run the models with presidential preference as Y and the same set of variables as the Xs and find that the results are very similar, except that the relative influence of parental partisanship is lower and that of issues is generally higher.


  1. Partisan shifts during adulthood as well as between generations are influenced by individual policy preferences.
  2. Family of origin plays a major role in determining the initial political direction of offspring, and this influence, though reduced, continues to play a significant role over time.