Skip to main content Accessibility help

Primary Group Influence on Party Loyalty1

  • Herbert McClosky (a1) and Harold E. Dahlgren (a1)


Political science, like other fields of social inquiry, has had an enduring interest in questions of stability and change. This interest—until now principally expressed in studies of the rise and fall of institutions—has lately been focused increasingly upon individual and group behavior, in a search for the influences that hold men to their political beliefs and affiliations or cause them to shift about. Such influences are important not only for the study of voting and party membership, but for haute politique as well—for the great and dramatic questions surrounding political loyalty, conformity, deviation, apostasy, and other states of membership or disaffiliation. Although the research reported below concentrates on the former, it is our hope that it may also cast light upon the latter. It is concerned specifically with primary groups—those small, face-to-face, solidary, informal and enduring coteries that we commonly experience as family, friendship and occupational peer groups.



Hide All

2 Cf. Cooley, Charles H., Social Organization (New York, 1909), especially chs. 3 and 4. For a review of current theories and research on the role of primary groups, see Shils, Edward, “The Study of the Primary Group,” in Lerner, Daniel and Lasswell, Harold, The Policy Sciences (Stanford, 1951), pp. 4469; Katz, Elihu and Lazarsfeld, Paul F., Personal Influence (Glencoe, Illinois, 1955), chs. 2–5; also Cartwright, Dorwin and Zander, Alvin, Group Dynamics: Research and Theory (Evanston, Illinois, 1953), passim. Two valuable works dealing with small group influence on the formation of political attitudes have become available since this manuscript was prepared: Hyman, Herbert H., Political Socialization: A Study in the Psychology of Political Behavior (Glencoe, 1959); and Verba, Sidney, The Experimental Study of Politics: The Contribution of Small Group Experiments in Leaderthip to the Understanding of Political Leadership, unpublished dissertation, (Princeton University, 1959).

3 Cf. Berelson, Bernard R., Lazarsfeld, Paul F., and McPhee, Wm. N., Voting (Chicago, 1954), pp. 88–9, 92–3, 96–7, 120–2; Lazarsfeld, P. F., Berelson, B. R., and Gaudet, Hazel, The People's Choice (New York, 1948) ch. 15; Campbell, Angus, Gurin, Gerald, and Miller, Warren E., The Voter Decides (Evanston, Illinois, 1954), pp. 199206; Milne, R. S. and Mackenzie, H. C., Straight Fight (London, 1954), pp. 44–5, 123–5; Maccoby, Eleanor, Matthews, Richard E., and Morton, Anton S., “Youth and Political Change,” Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 18 (Spring, 1954), pp. 23–9; Alice S. Kitt and David B. Gleicher, “Determinants of Voting Behavior,” ibid., Vol. 14 (Fall, 1950), pp. 393–412; Benney, Mark and Geiss, Phyllis, “Social Class and Politics in Greenwich,” Brit. J. of Sociology, Vol. 1 (1950), pp. 324–7; Helfant, Kenneth, “Parents' Attitudes vs. Adolescent Hostility, in the Determination of Adolescents' Sociopolitical Attitudes,” Psychological Monographs, Vol. 66 (1952).

4 Kitt and Gleicher, op. cit., pp. 401–2; Berelson et al., op. cit., pp. 120–2; on the effects of “cross-pressures” of various types on the decision to vote, see Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet, op. cit., pp. 56–64. However, in their study of the 1952 election, op. cit., pp. 202–3, Campbell et al. found no connection between level of participation and membership in groups of “divided political loyalty.”

5 Lazarsfeld, et al., op. cit., p. 142; Campbell et al, op. cit., p. 202.

6 For a review of theories concerning the psychology of small group influence, see Riecken, Henry W. and Homans, George C., “Psychological Aspects of Social Structure” in Lindzey, Gardner (ed.), Handbook of Social Psychology (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1954), Vol. II, pp. 786832; Katz, Daniel, “Social Psychology and Group Processes,” Annual Review of Psychology (1951), Vol. 2, pp. 137172; Hovland, C. I., Janis, Irving L. and Kelley, H. H., Communication and Persuasion (New Haven, 1953), ch. 5. An important attempt to elaborate and to apply a theory of group structure and influence has been made by Festinger, Leon, Schachter, Stanley, and Back, Kurt, Social Pressures in Informal Groups (New York, 1950), ch. 9; also by Homans, George C., The Human Group (New York, 1950). For summaries of small group theory as it applies more immediately to the research problem considered below, see Riecken, Henry W., “Primary Groups and Political Party Choice,” in Burdick, E. and Brodbeck, A. J., American Voting Behavior (Glencoe, 1959), ch. 8; and Katz and Lazarsfeld, op. cit., pp. 34–115.

7 See Shils, E. A. and Janowitz, Morris, “Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II,” Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 12 (1948), pp. 280315; also Newcomb's, T. M. study of the Bennington College community in Personality and Social Change (New York, 1943), and Whyte's, W. F.Street Corner Society (Chicago, 1943).

8 For experimental data bearing on these tendencies, see Schachter, Stanley, “Deviation, Rejection, and Communication,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (1951) 46, pp. 196207; Kurt Back, “Influence through Social Communication,” Ibid., pp. 9–23; Kelley, H. H. and Volkhart, E. H., “The Resistance to Change of Group Anchored Attitudes,” American Sociological Review (1952) Vol. 17, pp. 453465; Festinger, L. and Thibaut, John, “Interpersonal Communication in Small Groups,” reprinted in Swanson, G. E., Newcomb, T. M., and Hartley, E. L., Readings in Social Psychology (New York, 1952), pp. 125134. For evidence that group influence may be exercised even in the absence of cohesiveness, see the landmark experiments by S. E. Asch and M. Sherif, brief descriptions of which are available, ibid, pp. 2–11, and 249–262.

9 Festinger, Schachter, and Back, op. cit., pp. 168–176; Katz and Lazarsfeld, op. cit., pp. 53–6.

10 The theoretical statement and summary of research bearing on these processes is set forth most thoroughly by Festinger, Leon, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (Evanston, 1957).

11 See Sherif, loc. cit.

12 Festinger and Thibaut, loc. cit.; Schachter, loc. cit.

13 Katz and Lazarsfeld, op. cit., p. 62.

14 The interview schedule is too lengthy, and the manner of constructing the indexes too complex, to be described in detail in this paper. Information concerning them may be had upon request, however, through the Laboratory for Research in Social Relations, University of Minnesota.

15 The classification of voters as stable, moderate, or unstable was determined from their responses concerning: present party preference, first vote, first presidential vote, presidential candidates supported in 1944, 1948, 1952, present preferences in congressional and state elections, self-description of voting habits and consistency of party support, etc.

16 The effect of such factors on stability of preference was explored in an unpublished study by Herbert McClosky and Norris C. Ellerston, carried out through the Laboratory for Research in Social Relations. The degree to which voters responded to these factors was found to be determined largely by the stability of their party attachments.

17 Unless otherwise indicated, all differences discussed are statistically significant at, or beyond, the .05 level.

18 Apparently these relationships are also somewhat affected by the strength of the family's indoctrination, the more strongly indoctrinated favoring the party of their parents more frequently and consistently than the weakly indocrinated. The differences are not large, however, and are only significant at the .07 level. Possibly our measure of “strength of family influence,” resting as it does on retrospective reporting, is too insensitive to give full scope to this variable.

19 The “index of family reinforcement,” which was built to measure this variable, takes into account the initial and current party outlook of each family member, siblings as well as parents. It includes the direction and intensity of the initial indoctrination and of all adult members of the family at present, all of which are scored in relation to the respondent's party preference. The “intensity” scores, in turn, take into account levels of political interest, frequency of political discussion with parents and siblings, strength of party attachment among the several family members, etc.

20 The measure of “physical distance” took into account place of residence of each family member, the actual geographic distance between them, and the average number of times respondent saw each of them. The cohesiveness measure was comprised of a scale of items testifying to various aspects of family harmony and solidarity, which was principally developed, and generously made available to us, by Jansen, Luther T.. See his “Measuring Family Solidarity,” American Sociological Review (December, 1952), Vol. 17, pp. 727–33. We should have liked, of course, to allow “cohesiveness” to vary while controlling for “physical distance” (and conversely), so tha t we could measure the effect of each of them separately. The size of the samples did not make this feasible, however, so we paired them in this way.

21 Lazarsfeld, Berelson, and Gaudet, op. cit., ch. 3. The Index of Political Predisposition combines three criteria—occupation, religion, and rural-urban residence—in ascertaining a voter's “natural” party predisposition. Ours was an urban sample, which meant that we could not employ the rural-urban criterion at all. Our index also differs from Lazarsfeld's in that its SES rating took into account income as well as occupation. Furthermore, we did not rely on the Catholic-Protestant distinction alone, but took into account the rate of church attendance and the Republican or Democratic predispositions of the specific Protestant denominations. Finally, our index also used education as a criterion. Each of these was weighed and combined into a single life-style score for each respondent. In determining the weights for the index we are indebted to Angus Campbell and the Survey Research Center for making available to us in advance data on the demography of party affiliation from their 1952 election survey.

22 For voting patterns arising from religious affiliation, see Allinsmith, W. and Allinsmith, B., “Religious Affiliation and Politico-Economic Attitude: a Study of Eight Major U. S. Religious Groups,” Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 12 (1948), pp. 377389.

23 Cf. Campbell, et al. , The Voter Decides, p. 201; Maccoby et al., op. cit.; Lazarsfeld, et al. , The People's Choice, pp. 140–5.

24 The Elmira study found, for example, that voters, and especially uncertain or undecided voters, avoid talking with people who hold different views. See Baxter, R. H., “Interpersonal Contact and Exposure to Mass Media during a Presidential Campaign,” unpublished dissertation (Columbia University, 1951).

25 The multiple correlation for stability, family reinforcement, spouse, and peer group preference is .49, even if social distance is omitted. This is consistent with our assumption that social distance variables can, for many purposes, be viewed as indirect measures of primary group membership.

26 Key, V. O. and Munger, Frank, “Social Determinism and Electoral Decision: the Case of Indiana,” in Burdick, and Brodbeck, , American Voting Behavior, ch. 15.

27 Maccoby et al., op. cit.; Berelson et al., op. cit.

1 The research reported in this article was made possible by a Faculty Research Fellowship granted to the senior author by the Social Science Research Council. The project was carried out through the Laboratory for Research in Social Relations, University of Minnesota, with financial assistance from the Graduate School Research Fund.

Primary Group Influence on Party Loyalty1

  • Herbert McClosky (a1) and Harold E. Dahlgren (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed