The term ‘aligned’ or ‘de-aligned voter’ refers to partisan alignment; the party identification of most voters with the two main parties is strong, and it is difficult to establish new alignments. Partisan alignment places emphasis on primacy or long-term factors, whereas a de-aligned voter may focus on recency factors.
Primacy factors include income, race, religion, gender, age and region. Primacy factors are not fixed, they are simply long-term meaning that they can change but only over a long period of time, in some cases meaning that during a person’s lifetime they do not change enough to affect voting behaviour. Long-term factors are aspects of a voter’s life and character that would determine what is important to them. Income is an example which, whilst not unchanging, can affect the way a person thinks (e.g. their household income whilst growing up). More affluent voters tend to vote Republican, whereas less affluent voters tend to favour Democrats. Aligned voters focus on primacy factors in their voting meaning that their vote is unlikely from one election to the next.
A de-aligned voter is a voter does not feel a particularly strong attachment to one party. This alternative model of voting behaviour stresses the increasing importance of short-term factors. The process of de-alignment sees voters losing, or having weaker, party attachments, and as a result they are more inclined to respond to specific candidates or issues than to vote on the basis of party loyalty. Increased de-alignment leads to more volatility, a greater likelihood of ticket-splitting, increased numbers of ‘swing voters’ and more abstention. It also means that parties must work harder to win votes, especially independents, as they can no longer rely on large numbers of core, aligned voters to always turn out and vote for them.
To conclude, the significant difference between aligned and de-aligned voters is their party loyalty. However, this consequently affects the factors that affect voting behaviour. The difference in voting behaviour also affects how the voters are targeted by parties.