By Peter Clark

Why do Republicans no longer support free trade? Neoliberal trade policy was a hallmark of the Regan years (Wilson, 1993). The Trump administration ended this decades-long consensus. Per Ehrlich & Gahagan (2023), an ANES survey found only 33.1% of Republicans favor free trade. How can a political party change a policy position it has held for decades? One potential antecedent engendering this shift has been the decline in “principled partisanship”. The trend since the Progressive Era has been American voters favoring a candidate’s personality over their conformity to political philosophy (Postell, 2018). Political labels serve more as a social identity than indicators of principled philosophical affiliation. (Barber & Pope, 2018).

The Weak Link Theory of U.S. Political Party Platforms suggests the pivot from political principles to candidate personalities, improving the ease of adding and removing planks from a party’s platform. When policy positions become unmoored by a decline in ideological commitment, the policies binding the party’s platform are weakened. Analogous to an eroded piece of chain link, enabling enterprising political actors to break it off from the rest of the chain.


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Peter Clark



Published: 9 Oct, 2023

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