Date Thesis Awarded


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




C. Lawrence Evans

Committee Member

Ronald Rapoport

Committee Member

Amy Quark


The potential effects of mass polarization has become a major subject of study in political science. Multiple studies have shown that polarization at the mass level has caused political attitudes and opinions to be increasingly driven by party identification over the past few decades. Even responses to questions as nonpartisan as “Has the economy gotten better or worse over the past year?” show a partisan bias (Bartels 2002). In this paper, I look at whether party identification is having an increasing impact on party competence evaluations, as would be expected if polarization has happened at the mass level. I first study whether the effect of party identification on vote choice in House and Senate elections from 1986 through 2012 has increased, or whether the growing power of party identification is being filtered through party competence evaluations, causing the effect of these evaluations on vote choice to increase. I then look at the direct effect of party identification on party competence evaluations to see if the effect of party identification on competence evaluations has grown between 1986 and 2012, and if the effect of retrospective economic evaluations on competence evaluations has decreased at the same time. Results show that there is no clear trend in the effect of party competence evaluations and party identification on vote choice over time. However, the effect of party identification on competence evaluations has clearly risen between 1986 and 2012.