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Gerber and Green: Rational learning and partisan attitudes

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Gerber and Green. 1998. Rational learning and partisan attitudes. AJPS 92: 794-818.


The authors attempt to develop a learning model based on Achen's model (1992, G&G called it "a static model of partisanship") and the Kalman Filter to investigate the dynamics of partisan attitudes. They model party identification as a result of prospective evaluation (but compare this with retrospective models in Fiorina and Downs).


Achen's Model

Achen's crucial assumption: The average "benefits" a party provides remain constant over time; Achen equates party identification with prospective evaluations for the dynamics of partisan attitudes. This assumption cannot explain how individuals learn from the history of party performance, though, the way retrospective models do. Achen's is a Bayesian model (voters are rational, forward-looking and they update their beliefs with additional information). Party identification is the voter's estimate of the benefit differential between parties.

Gerber and Green's Model


Panel data during 1990-1992, with questions about economic performance (800).


  1. Disregard Achen's assumption of fixed party benefit level, because it is implausible.
  2. Party benefits can vary over the time; when this happens, partisan attitudes can change in the wake of new information about the parties.

This model is more flexible, and more accurate, because it

The Kalman Filter model captures basic features of "how the public updates its prospective performance evaluations: at the aggregate, these evaluations change rapidly with changes in party leadership or economic conditions; at the individual level, the interaction between age and current information is confined to those under 30" (813)

Party identification concerns the way in which people think of themselves, nonetheless, these perceptions are not fixed. "People maintain their partisan identities as long as their image of the partisan groups remains intact. But when secular realignment is afoot, the public image of the partisan groups shifts, which in turn produces a shift in party identifications and perhaps further alters perceptions of partisan groups" (816)

Research by the same authors

Research on similar subjects


Gerber, Alan (author)Green, Donald (author)American PoliticsVotingPartisanship

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