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An Introduction to Party Brand: Lessons from Business-Marketing as Applied to the United States’ Major Political Parties, 1976-2012


Political scientists frequently invoke the term “party brand” as relates to partisanship, party breakdown, and heuristic voting, but scant attention is dedicated to brand as a meaningful construct in and of itself. Of the more recent studies that do expressly incorporate party brand, most treat the concept as manifestly inherent or employ it as a means to an end.

This project joins business-marketing with the extant body of research on political parties and conceptualizes party brand as a standalone unit of inquiry that provides novel insight into long- and short-term processes behind strategic party decisions, while still allowing for analysis of the ultimate action. Party brand is a powerful explanatory concept, which links elite and mass stories and begets theoretical insight as to how and why parties develop overtime and which actors lead changes to the party’s brand. As well, party brand complements existing narratives by systematically joining the study of parties-as-organizations, parties-in-government, and parties-in-electorate.

Chapter 2 reviews relevant business marketing literature before introducing the party brand framework. It is argued each party sub-group actor contributes to the creation, perpetuation, and evolution of the national party’s brand through different means and to various effect. Specifically, the national party committee operates as the central governing body and is the repository of the party’s core brand identity, while the party’s elected officials operate as franchise extensions. Chapter 2 further elaborates this framework with an emphasis on the relationship between the national committee, its elected officials, and the voting age population.

Chapters 3 and 4 use machine-based learning to analyze party texts for the period of 1976-2012. Using various methods of computational text analysis a descriptive picture of both major parties’ brand identities is presented, the evolution of both parties’ brand identities across time and between actors are traced, and patterns emerge as to which actors lead changes to each party’s brand.

Chapter 5 adds a layer of description through elite interviews, which allows for further analysis of the role of party leadership – the driver of brand identity – with respect to its franchise extensions (members) in Congress.

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