Lee, Daniel J. and Rachel A. Schutte. 2015 (online first). "Elite-level Issue Dynamics: Assessing Perspectives on Party Issue Change." Party Politics.
We analyze elite-level issue dynamics of culture war issues in the US from 1971 to 2008 to compare and contrast three theories of issue change: issue evolution, conflict extension, and ideological polarization. Previous studies often conflate these perspectives by only focusing on increased partisanship as evidence of issue change. We argue that these theories differ on a key aspect of issue conflict: dimensionality, that is, the relationship between political conflict on the issue in question and conflict on other issues. We analyze changes in the dimensionality of roll call voting in the US House on the environment, women’s rights, gun control, abortion, and immigration to present a more comprehensive view of issue dynamics. Our results suggest that these perspectives need further clarification and can complement one another. In particular, considering degrees of an issue evolution is beneficial. Although most issues became more partisan as they were simply absorbed into existing partisan cleavages, which is not consistent with some descriptions of an evolution, the more prominent culture war issues, such as abortion and gun control, showed more distinctive and prominent characteristics.