Do Partisans Stay or Do They Go? Partisan Response to Changes in Party Image
Abstract: A longstanding assumption in the literature on party change is that significant changes to the party brand will prompt backlash among core partisans, making instances of large party change extremely rare. Yet, throughout the post-War era, there are several prominent cases of parties overhauling their entire image in a way that is counter to this assumption of party immutability. As such, in this paper I examine whether significant party changes do in fact lead to a loss of support among partisans. In a survey experiment examining changes to the name and/or polices of four major Dutch political parties, I find a lack of support for the contention that party rebranding leads to partisan backlash. More specifically, party label changes and significant changes to the party's owned issues do not lead to any change in partisan evaluations of their party across several different indicators of partisan attachment. Only in the most extreme cases of party change, when the party simultaneously changed its label and policies, is there partisan backlash, a finding that only extends to the green and far-right parties. These findings have significant implications for our understanding of party change and how partisans relate to their party.