Social scientists often treat political views as a reflection of what a person “is”. In the US, that typically means liberal or conservative. So we get theories about core values, personality traits, socialization, early childhood experiences, and group identity as what a person’s politics is really about. Problem is, people change their political opinions and affiliations all the time. These changes don’t track changes in values, personality, or group membership. This is the problem of essentialism. You can’t explain change by an enduring quality.

Americans change their political identity the most in early adulthood. For instance, in one  Pew survey, about a third of Republicans reported an earlier point in their lives they had considered themselves Democrats, while 22% of Democrats said they previously considered themselves Republicans. In another Pew research survey, just 53% of those under 30 who initially identified as Republicans or leaned Republican consistently remained with the party over four subsequent surveys. And over a 15-month period encompassing the 2016 presidential campaign, about 20% of Republicans and Democrats “defected” from their parties to the opposing party. About half returned to their respective parties during the same period. I doubt that their values, personalities, or friends changed in sync with their political views. Well, maybe their friends…

References and Link:

Egan, Patrick J. (2018)  Identity as Dependent Variable: How Americans Shift Their Identities to Better AlignWith Their Politics

Hatemi, P. K., & Verhulst, B. (2015). Political attitudes develop independently of personality traits. PloS one, 10(3), e0118106. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0118106