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The Role of Party Activists in the Evolution of the Abortion Issue

Edward G. Carmines and James Woods
Political Behavior
Vol. 24, No. 4, Special Issue: Parties and Partisanship, Part Three (Dec., 2002), pp. 361-377
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1558379
Page Count: 17
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The Role of Party Activists in the Evolution of the Abortion Issue
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Abstract

This article examines the role of party activists in the partisan evolution of the abortion issue. Previous research indicates that party elites-specifically members of Congress-and partisans in the mass public have become more differentiated in their abortion attitudes during the last several decades with Democrats becoming more pro-choice and Republicans becoming increasingly pro-life. The missing piece of the picture is the behavior of party activists. Accordingly, this research examines the changes in the abortion attitudes of two groups of party activists during the last three decades: campaign activists and national convention delegates. From 1972 to 1980 there were no significant differences in the abortion attitudes of Republican and Democratic campaign activists, and the mean positions of the two parties' national convention delegates did not differ greatly. However, since 1984 there has been a growing differentiation in the abortion positions of both groups of party activists. Now Democratic activists are consistently pro-choice while Republican activists are equally pro-life. This evidence indicates that the differentiation on the abortion issue that has only recently emerged among partisans in the mass public was predated by an earlier and much more dramatic polarization that had already developed among party activists and elites, thus supporting a model of issue evolution introduced by Carmines and Stimson in their study of racial issues. We also find that citizens' abortion attitudes have become increasingly correlated with party voting not just in presidential elections but also in House, Senate, and gubernatorial contests during this period as well as being more closely related to political ideology. All of this evidence points to the growing extent to which abortion has become a partisan issue in American politics and the key role that party activists have played in this process.

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