In our increasingly diverse society, most Americans identify with more than one group. These multiple identities often align with conflicting policy choices, such as when a Democratic parent may support increased social services spending from a partisan perspective but may also worry about the increasing national debt as a parent. Given the significance of identity, political elites often work to prime identities that will win over the most supporters. A large literature documents the substantial role such identity priming can play in shaping preferences, but virtually no work considers the reality that identity primes often compete with one another. That is, different groups simultaneously prime different identities that align with their interests. In this article, I explore what makes one identity prime more effective than another. I do so by offering a theory of what types of rhetoric makes for a stronger identity prime (relative to other types of rhetoric). I test my expectations with a unique survey experiment addressing three issues. I find that, in a competitive setting, certain rhetorical techniques dominate and drive the identities people rely on when forming preferences. The results have implications for public opinion and identity in the ever-changing demographic world in which we live.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science