Identity is often thought of as the expression of an individual's belief system and social affiliations. Various factors can construct an identity, including race, nationality, where a person lives and a person's gender and sexuality. Political identity is almost always associated with a group affiliation and describes the ways in which being a member of a particular group might express specific political opinions and attitudes.
Political identity frequently refers to a specific political party affiliation or partisan identity. For many voters, belonging to a political party is not simply a voting decision. In the U.S., being a Democrat or a Republican is an important expression of a person's views on life; partisan affiliation signifies membership in a group that defines a worldview and a core set of common values. As political parties benefit from political identity of this kind -- since it makes for very loyal and reliable voters -- parties seek to cultivate partisan loyalty among their members.
Race and Identity
Political identity can also be shaped by race. For example, in the U.S., prior to the passage of the13th Amendment, race determined whether a human being could legally be another's property. Until the dismantlement of legal segregation in the 1950s and ‘60s, race often determined whether citizens could vote, with whom they could associate, where they went to school and other fundamental aspects of life. Moreover, between 1924 and 1965, race determined who was and was not eligible to immigrate to the United States. Scholars such as Aziz Rana state that racial inequalities in housing, employment, criminal justice and other areas continue to shape American life along politicized racial lines.
Class and Identity
Another possible factor that shapes political identity can be economic class. Peoples’ interests, outlook and life prospects are frequently conditioned by their economic circumstances. For instance, factory workers may be very different from one another in a variety of ways, yet they share a very basic set of common experiences that comes from their shared condition as factory workers. As workers, they have in common a set of interests, hardships and goals. The same is true of hedge fund managers, farm laborers, nurses, high school teachers and university professors. As the political theorist Adolph Reed argues, membership in an economic class is an important form of political identity.
Colonialism and Identity
A fourth example of political identity occurred under colonialism. Many colonial societies operated by distinguishing the identities of “native subjects,” who enjoyed fewer rights and liberties from European “settlers.” Sometimes this identity was race-based, such as in Belgian Rwanda. Often, as in British India and French Algeria, colonists used their ideas of custom and culture as a basis for distinguishing “the native” as a kind of political identity and subject that required European governance.
Jason Cristiano Ramon holds a doctorate in political science and a master's degree in philosophy. He has taught political science in China.