The 2022 elections further depleted the ranks of elected officials associated with “Never Trump,” the informal network of Republicans and conservatives opposed to Donald Trump and his movement. Never Trumpers retain a prominent presence in traditional media and some elite-level conservative institutions. And they can point to a notable minority among the voting public that shares its general outlook. However, the highly publicized defeats and hasty retirements of many of those who supported Trump’s impeachment have left the Never Trumpers with very few standard bearers among active Republican politicians. Many of those most closely associated with the network are happy to have left behind a party they now see as irredeemable. Yet one tension confronting the Never Trumpers is that, as they themselves often caution, a healthy two-party system requires that both parties abide by certain basic rules and norms. But if that is the case, and if the Never Trumpers are not going to lead the fight to restore a more responsible Republican party, who will?
Ninety-six percent of state legislative incumbents who appeared on the November 2022 ballot reclaimed their seats in the state legislature, the highest percentage since at least the 2010 elections. Such electoral success would suggest that these state legislators enjoyed a healthy incumbency advantage. However, prior work (e.g. Jacobson, G. C. 2015. “It’s Nothing Personal: The Decline of the Incumbency Advantage in US House Elections.” The Journal of Politics 77 (3): 861–73.) indicates that the incumbency advantage has diminished in recent elections, at least in the US House. I find similar – but smaller – declines in the magnitude of the incumbency advantage in state house elections in the last two decades. Instead of being attributable to the traditional incumbency advantage, state legislative incumbents’ success in the 2022 elections is more likely a consequence of the increasing number of partisan state house districts and the continued nationalization of state politics.
This analysis focuses on broadcast advertising spending in congressional races in 2022. We discuss four patterns that characterized ads in these races. First, there was a record volume of television advertising for a midterm election. Despite frequent claims that traditional ads would begin to decline, the air war featured more spots than in 2014 and 2018. Second, Democrats continued to dominate ad totals, a trend that persisted from congressional elections in 2020 and 2018. Third, the agenda shifted to a discussion of abortion and inflation, two issues that were barely mentioned in political ads in prior cycles. Finally, outside groups remained a dominant force in many campaigns, but while their investments in prior cycles tended to be focused on Senate races, groups were also heavily involved in House races in 2022. Outside groups sponsored about 35% of all ads in House races, and they sponsored about 40% of ads in Senate races, both record highs. All told, television remains central to American elections. With each passing election, some aspects of the air war change, but the ubiquitous 30 s spot continues to be a go-to method of appealing to voters.
This analysis focuses on candidate-sponsored digital advertising spending in federal races in the 2022 midterm elections. We focus the analysis on spending on Meta (which includes Facebook and Instagram) and Google (which includes YouTube and search-related ads). We identify just under $150 million in candidate spending in federal races on these two platforms. We find, perhaps surprisingly, that combined spending on Meta and Google was lower in federal races compared to 2020 as a share of media spending. We also focus our analysis on measuring the tone of digital ads on Meta and identifying the goals pursued by candidates in these digital ad buys. Our results confirm prior work that digital advertising remains more positive than television (and less issue-focused than television ads), and we find that nearly half of the candidate-sponsored spending on Meta in the 2022 general election period made appeals for donations, with significant variation across campaigns. The Meta and Google ad libraries are invaluable sources of data for measuring the digital strategies of campaigns, but the declines from 2020, particularly on Meta, suggest candidates are likely pursuing diverse digital investments across platforms, some with no transparency or capacity to track spending and content.
Republicans were initially optimistic that the 2022 midterms would result in a sizeable red wave that would lead them to win back control of the House and Senate in light of President Biden’s low levels of approval and high rates of inflation. Although they did win enough seats to narrowly control the House, they failed to pick up a sufficient number of seats in the Senate to control that chamber during the next 2 years. This article examines the candidates, outcomes, and implications of the 2022 midterm elections. In doing so, we analyze the effect that former President Donald Trump had on the election while also considering the impact of factors such as inflation and abortion on congressional election outcomes. The article closes with a discussion of the effects of the 2022 midterms on both the incoming 118th Congress as well as the upcoming 2024 Presidential election.
Recent election cycles have seen Democrats perform increasingly well in America’s suburbs. This shift is significant given that a plurality of Americans live in suburban areas and the vast majority of competitive House districts are located in these areas. In this paper, we use the Cooperative Election Study to document the shift among suburban voters and explore the reasons for this shift. Specifically, we consider whether the suburban Democratic shift is due to (1) changes in the demographic composition of suburban communities or (2) changes in how particular subsets of voters in suburban communities are voting. We find that most of the suburban Democratic shift is attributable to the changing voting patterns of white college-educated suburban voters. We conclude by presenting evidence that this shift to the left among suburban college-educated white voters appears to largely be a reaction to Donald Trump’s influence on the Republican Party’s brand.
American democracy is currently heavily reliant on plurality in single-member districts, or PSMD, as a system of election. But public perceptions of fairness are often keyed to partisan proportionality, or the degree of congruence between each party’s share of the vote and its share of representation. PSMD has not tended to secure proportional outcomes historically, partially due to gerrymandering, where line-drawers intentionally extract more advantage for their side. But it is now increasingly clear that even blind PSMD is frequently disproportional, and in unpredictable ways that depend on local political geography. In this paper we consider whether it is feasible to bring PSMD into alignment with a proportionality norm by targeting proportional outcomes in the design and selection of districts. We do this mainly through a close examination of the “Freedom to Vote Test,” a redistricting reform proposed in draft legislation in 2021. We find that applying the test with a proportionality target makes for sound policy: it performs well in legal battleground states and has a workable exception to handle edge cases where proportionality is out of reach.
Coming out of the 2020 redistricting cycle, independent redistricting commissions are the clear winners, with most maps drawn by independent commissions being upheld against legal challenges, while other state maps face significant claims of vote dilution and partisan gerrymandering. While a growing literature debates the institutional designs of commissions and assess and compare their mapping outcomes, this article will offer a commissioner’s view of the process. Reflecting on my service on the 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission, I will argue that while independent commissions are not a magic bullet, they are the best option for redistricting that allows for transparency over backroom negotiations and can, hopefully, help restore some faith in our democratic institutions.
In this article, we examine the six dueling incumbent U.S. House primaries in the 2022 midterm elections. Our principal aim is to answer the question: Who wins these rare but consequential contests that ensure one incumbent does not return to Congress? Contrary to the intuition that retaining more of one’s previous constituents is a considerable electoral advantage, district- and precinct-level data suggest this was not pivotal. Instead, in these four Democrat versus Democrat and two Republican versus Republican dueling incumbent primaries, explanations for winning or losing appear to hinge on other factors. For the Republican races, former President Trump’s endorsement appears to have gone a long way in influencing the outcome. In the Democratic contests, descriptive representation, ideological fit, and intra-party meddling and a scandal, played a part in determining the victor.
Redistricting is a politically fraught exercise. Recently, new technology has emerged that has the potential to improve the redistricting process by providing information to aid in judicial oversight. These scientific advances create the potential to improve societal governance but are also potentially manipulable by partisan interests. To avoid these negative externalities, we must thoughtfully design the processes, implement safeguards, and have clear policies that regulate and steer the emerging AI toward democratically favorable goals. We propose institutional changes toward these aims.
Five models dominate academic analyses of elections for the House of Representatives. They are: (1) the surge and decline cycle of presidential elections and the successive off-year election; (2) the presidential performance model; (3) the retirement model; (4) the campaign spending model; and (5) the candidate quality model. The expected results for the 2022 Congressional election according to the first three models are presented here. Senate elections are not considered. The models differ in their predicted result. The smallest impact on 2022 is associated with the surge and decline cycle; the largest impact is found from incumbent retirements that reflect the prospective short-term forces in the election environment. The average of the three predictions for 2022 finds the Democratic Party losing their majority, giving the Republicans control of the House of Representatives for the 118th Congress.
We examine an understudied component of partisan polarization—disagreement over whether the U.S. economy rewards merit. Drawing on data from party platforms and surveys over four decades, we illustrate large, and increasing, partisan divides in beliefs regarding whether an unequal society, or unequal behavior, is the cause of socioeconomic inequality. Republican politicians and citizens are optimistic about the American Dream and pessimistic about poor people’s behavior; Democratic politicians and citizens are pessimistic about the Dream and optimistic about poor people’s ability to succeed if given the chance. These patterns hold for beliefs about economic inequality along both class and race lines. Variation in societal versus individual blame is consistently associated with views on social welfare, taxation, and affirmative action. We conclude that Americans’ beliefs about the fairness of the economy represent a crucial component of a redistributive versus anti-redistributive ideology that is increasingly associated with the two political parties.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a disparate impact across populations leaving questions about gendered representation in Congress. We ask whether women and men in Congress wrote “home” about COVID-19 at the same rates and if their attention on gendered topics such as childcare, schooling, and care-taking differed even when the issue space was significantly narrowed. We argue members of Congress use gendered and partisan lenses to frame their positions around the pandemic. We find both parties send a similar number of COVID-19 related messages and that women compared to men – within each party – focus on areas traditionally associated with women’s care-taking duties.
We examine Barack Obama’s influence over the Democratic Party as an ex-president from three vantage points: his popularity among partisans, his control over party nominations, and his rhetorical influence over party platform stances. The findings are somewhat mixed. Compared with other contemporary presidents, Obama is far more popular among co-partisan voters. However, he has had only modest influence in presidential nominations, and, unlike other modern presidents, a waning influence on party platform stances. The findings are suggestive not only about Obama’s own interests but also about institutional constraints of modern presidents.
The last decade has seen a series of high-profile battles over the rights of college athletes take place in the nation’s courthouses and state legislatures, and on the floor of the U.S. Congress. How has the public responded to these changes and how do they formulate their views on policies that seek to provide additional financial compensation and employment protections to college athletes? Using six years of nationally representative polling data on NCAA reform, we find that public opinion on the financial rights of college athletes and the NCAA’s treatment of its athletes follows the same trajectory as so much else in American social, political and cultural life—massive racial differences in how people understand the issue and a growing polarization among whites based on ideology and racial attitudes. More specifically, we find that while support for NCAA reform among African Americans and white conservatives inched incrementally upwards between 2014 and 2020, support among white liberals increased exponentially. As we explain, this asymmetrical increase in support has much to do with the rapidly evolving racial attitudes of white liberals. Indeed, we show that racial attitudes are the largest and most important determinant of support for the three most commonly discussed reforms to the NCAA: “pay for play,” name, image and likeness rights (NIL), and unionization protections. In short, opinions about the future of college athletics have as much to do with race and racial attitudes as they do with sports and education.
This paper compares nationalist attitudes among Whites, Latinos, and African Americans. The research on nationalism and national attachment draws varied conclusions about how race and ethnicity structure such attitudes; some find that Whites have the strongest views, while others see more similarities than differences. Using the General Social Survey of 2014, we examine three separate dimensions of nationalism: American nationalism, American national identity, and American national pride. We test for differences across race and ethnicity as well as how such attitudes structure opinions about immigrants. Despite some expectations in the literature that views might vary by group, we generally find (albeit with some complexities) “minimal effects” of race and ethnicity. Latinos, Blacks, and Whites agree with the three nationalism measures at similar levels, despite the very different national histories of each group. This is consistent with work finding “a great deal of consensus on the norms, values, and behaviors that constitute American identity” (Schildkraut 2007. “Defining American Identity in the Twenty-First Century: How Much “There” Is There?”.” The Journal of Politics v69 (3): 597–615, 605). In addition, while nationalism is associated with immigration opinions, such effects are predominantly among Whites and African Americans and relatively weak for Latinos.
Independents who lean toward a party constitute a plurality of Americans. Despite their reluctance to identify as partisans, scholars find that “leaners” look much like partisans with respect to their voting behavior, civic engagement, and policy preferences. Yet, existing literature does not consider the possibility that different factors lead Democrats and Republicans to opt for an independent label. We consider heterogeneity in what leads people to report that they are “leaners” and we identify important partisan differences. By introducing a novel survey measure administered on a large adult sample, we identify both the motivation for, and consequence of, identifying as a leaner. Our results reveal that modern-day Republican leaners are largely motivated by a dissatisfaction with their own party. They are ideologically more moderate and are subsequently less willing to support their party’s candidate. Democratic leaners, on the other hand, appear satisfied with their party’s ideology and candidates, but nevertheless value an independent label. Our work suggests that partisan identification is both expressive and politically contextual. Our study provides an important step in identifying distinct motivations and electoral consequences within this large and growing segment of Americans.
Scholars have extensively studied whether campaign attack advertisements –messages that attack individual candidates– mobilize or demobilize voters with mixed results. We argue that group-oriented partisan affect in campaigns –messages about the parties in general– is just as important given increasing trends of affective polarization. We use two survey experiments, one right before the 2020 presidential election and the other before the subsequent Georgia Senate runoff election, to examine the effects of partisan rhetoric on several measures of civic engagement. In the presidential election, neither positive partisan, negative partisan, nor personal apartisan appeals had a statistically significant effect on voters’ enthusiasm, likelihood to volunteer, or likelihood to seek out more information about engaging in the election. In the second study, negative partisan appeals led registered voters in Georgia to report much higher levels of enthusiasm about their preferred candidate, but this result was driven by Republicans only. The findings contribute new insights about electoral context and asymmetric affective polarization to the literature documenting the mobilizing effects of negativity in campaigns.
The question, “What is rural?”, has become increasingly salient to scholars of American politics over the past decade, especially after the 2016 election of Donald Trump. While social and political tensions between urban and rural residents of the United States are now widely recognized, rural cannot simply be defined as the antithesis of urban. Using survey data and voting returns from the 2020 election, we illustrate how urban-rural differences are best understood not as a dichotomy, but as a continuum. Large metropolitan core counties comprise one pole of this continuum: their residents are most likely to vote Democratic, and to express liberal attitudes on a variety of topics. At the other pole are counties far from urban areas with no towns, where conservative attitudes are widespread and Republican majorities are substantial. Between the two poles lie a continuum of counties with widely varying positions along the liberal-conservative dimension and voting records to match. We find this urban-rural continuum provides considerable analytical utility even in a multivariate spatial regression model that incorporates numerous other important demographic, economic, and social variables. Our analytical framework takes a step beyond the bipolarity that typically characterizes the discussion of urban and rural America.
It is widely agreed that dissatisfaction with Supreme Court decisions harms the Court’s standing among the public. However, we do not yet know how or why Court performance affects legitimacy. We examine the role that mass perceptions of the Supreme Court’s institutional nature—particularly how “political” it is—plays in assessments of its legitimacy. We find that policy disagreement with Supreme Court decisions causes individuals to view that decision, and the Court itself, as being political in nature. We then show that the more political people think the Court is, the less legitimate they consider it to be. In this way, we show that policy disagreement with decisions strongly and directly reduces Court legitimacy.
The 2020 Democratic Presidential Nomination contest featured an unusually diverse array of candidates. It also featured a historically diverse set of presidential candidate spouses including multiple men and the first openly LGBTQ+ candidate spouse. Spouses have long been among the most important surrogate for presidential candidates because the public views them as an authentic window into the candidate’s suitability for the presidency. Prior surveys of public opinion towards presidential candidate spouses have been conducted only during the general election phase, capturing the public’s views only of the spouses of Democratic and Republican candidates securing the nomination. In this study we draw on a unique nationally representative survey of 400 likely Democratic voters, asking them what they thought of the spouses of the top four presidential candidates in national polling as of the start of the calendar year 2020: Jill Biden, Chasten Buttigieg, Bruce Mann, and Jane Sanders. We use this data to explore the public’s assessment of this diverse group of candidate spouses and the implications for the traditionally gendered role of First Lady.
Following the 2020 presidential election Donald Trump claimed that the election had been stolen and that fraud was widespread. His voter base widely accepted that and that has prompted numerous state legislatures to enact laws creating hurdles that make voting more difficult. The presumption of most reactions to these laws is that they are directed at reducing non-white voting. This study suggests that they may also affect the white working class. The party needs their votes and they have a historical record of not voting at high levels. More hurdles may diminish their turnout. The analysis draws on voting patterns from 1952–2020.
The 2020 presidential election was unparalleled. President Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, indicated that he would not accept the election results, and alleged that there was widespread voter fraud. In addition, on January 6, 2021, Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn his defeat. In this paper, our aim is to understand public perceptions about these topics. We are interested in the distribution of public opinion on these issues but also in whether and how perceptions of these topics are related to intentions to participate in the 2022 midterm elections. Using data from an original, nationally representative survey (n = 1350) conducted in February 2021, we find that those who support the peaceful transfer following the 2020 election are more likely to report intending to vote in 2022 than those who do not. In addition, those who approve of the January 6th attack on the Capitol are more inclined to vote in 2022 than their counterparts. These relationships hold even after controlling for key variables like previous turnout, partisanship, ideology, and demographics.
Recent work suggests that collective narcissism—an exaggerated, unrealistic belief in an in-group’s greatness that demands constant external validation—is a reliable predictor of authoritarian-populist hostility toward democratic norms, processes, and outcomes. In the present study, we use a recent survey of American adults to examine the relationship between collective narcissism and perceptions that the 2020 election in the US was illegitimate. We find evidence that those high in national collective narcissism are more likely to endorse a number of beliefs about the illegitimacy of the 2020 US election, including greater perception of fraud, procedural unfairness, and inaccurate vote counting. Importantly, we find that this relationship is strongest among those whose identities were most threatened by a loss of power due to the 2020 presidential outcome, i.e., Republicans and conservative identifiers.
In a time of deeply divided political parties, how do Americans think political decisions should be made? In surveys, most Americans say that politicians should be willing to find compromises with the other side. I propose that people endorse compromise because they see it as both a political and a social norm. Conflict is inevitable in politics and in life. People must find ways to navigate the disagreements they have with family, friends, and coworkers – and they expect the same from members of Congress. Using survey evidence from the 2020 American National Social Network Survey, I show that people’s experiences navigating political differences in their social lives sharpens their support for compromise. When people have stronger social ties and more conversations with those who do not share their views, they are more likely to endorse compromise in politics.
On the campaign trail and at his inauguration, Joe Biden pledged, above all else, to be a uniter to restore the soul of America. At the end of his first year in office, many campaign promises have been met, but unity has not been one. Far from transcending partisanship as promised, Biden has embraced the levers of presidential discretion and power inherent within the modern executive office to advance partisan objectives. He is not just a victim of polarization, but actively contributes to it. This is not unexpected. Rather it is the culmination of a decades-long reorientation within both major parties: the rise of an executive-centered party-system, with Democrats and Republicans alike relying on presidents and presidential candidates to pronounce party doctrine, raise campaign funds, campaign on behalf of their partisan brethren, mobilize grass roots support, and advance party programs. Like Barack Obama and Donald Trump before him, Biden has aggressively used executive power to cut the Gordian knot of partisan gridlock in Congress. Even pandemic politics is not immune to presidential partisanship; in fact, it has accentuated the United States’ presidency-centered democracy, which weakens the public resolve to confront and solve national problems.
The dramatic Democratic victories in the 2021 Georgia U.S. Senate runoffs handed Democrats their first majority since 2015 and, with this, unified Democratic control of Washington for the first time since 2011. While Democratic Leaders and President Joe Biden crafted their agenda, any hope of policy passage rested on complete unity in a 50–50 Senate and a narrow majority in the U.S. House. Against this backdrop, the 117th Senate is the most polarized since direct-election began in 1914 and, by popular accounts, the least deliberative in a generation. In this article, we examine the implications of partisan polarization for policymaking in the U.S. Senate throughout the direct-election era. First, we show that greater polarization coincides with more partisan Senate election outcomes, congruent with recent trends in the House. Today, over 90% of Senators represent states carried by their party’s presidential nominee. Secondly, we show that polarization coincides with higher levels of observable obstruction, conflict, partisan unity, and narrower majorities. Lastly, we show that this polarization coincides with lower levels of deliberation in the form of consideration of floor amendments and committee meetings. Taken together, we paint a picture of a polarized Senate that is more partisan, more obstructionist, and less deliberative.
Three times in the last decade Senate majorities have re-interpreted the rules of the Senate to limit the ability of Senate minorities to obstruct presidential nominees. Each of these invocations of the so called nuclear option have either reduced the threshold of votes needed to invoke cloture on a nominee or shortened the amount of post-cloture debate on nominees. In the current Senate, cloture can be invoked on nominees with a simple majority vote and most nominees are subject to only two hours of post-cloture debate. Despite these re-interpretations of the Senate’s rules, presidents are still struggling to secure confirmation for many of their nominees. As of this writing, fewer than 40% of President Biden’s nominations have secured confirmation, and more than 140 who have cleared committee are awaiting floor action in the Senate. We explore the factors that are inhibiting the confirmation process and discuss potential changes in the process that could expedite the confirmation of executive nominations.
The United States Senate is marching, Senate style, toward majority rule. Chamber rules have long required super, rather than simple, majorities to end debate on major and minor matters alike. But occasionally over its history – and several times over the past decade – the Senate has pared back procedural protections afforded to senators, making it easier for cohesive majorities to secure their policy goals. Both parties have pursued such changes – sometimes imposed by simple majority, other times by a bipartisan coalition. Why has the pace of change accelerated, and with what consequences for the Senate? In this article, I connect rising partisanship and electoral competition to the weakening of partisan commitments to Senate supermajority rule. No one can predict with any certainty whether the Senate will yet abolish the so-called “legislative filibuster.” But pressures continue to mount towards that end.
In today’s hyper-partisan environment, scholars and commentators contend that the filibuster poses a nearly insuperable obstacle to a Senate majority party’s agenda, limiting Congress’s output to non-controversial measures. Drawing on data about congressional majority party agenda priorities from 1985 to 2020 we identify when and how majority party legislative efforts fell short of success and take stock of the degree to which the filibuster was the primary culprit. Not surprisingly, our data confirm that the filibuster is a significant problem for majority party agendas. But an even more common cause of failure is the majority party’s inability to agree among themselves. Despite increased voting cohesion generally, parties in the polarized era still routinely struggle to bridge their own internal divides.
Since its early uses in the early 1980s, the budget reconciliation process has played an important role in how the U.S. Congress legislates. Because the procedures protect certain legislation from a filibuster in the Senate, the reconciliation rules both shape, and are shaped by, the upper chamber in significant ways. After providing a brief overview of the process, I discuss first how partisanship in the Senate has affected the use of the reconciliation procedures. Next, I describe two sets of consequences of the contemporary reconciliation process, on negotiation and on policy design. I conclude with some observations about the relationship of reconciliation to the prospects for broader procedural change in the Senate.
Drawing on part of the argument from my recent book, The Senate: From White Supremacy to Government Gridlock (University of Virginia Press, 2021), I critique what I call “Senate exceptionalism:” the notion that the Senate is the framers’ particularly special or remarkable creation. I do so by contrasting the historical and constitutional distortions that support this institutional conceit with the realities of the founding and American political development. After reviewing the parallels between the ideas and tenets of American and Senate exceptionalism, I introduce four arguments from the book that undermine the basis of the Senate’s exceptionalism and in particular draw critical attention to the constitutional mythology surrounding and supporting the filibuster in the form of Senate Rule XXII and its three-fifths supermajority threshold for ending debate on many matters before the Senate.
The case for reform of the filibuster practice in the Senate is much stronger now than a few decades ago. The emergence of conservative populism and radical Republican strategies in the Senate has created more serious consequences for the Senate’s traditional rules and practices. This essay draws a clear connection between conservative populism, the strategies of Senate Republicans, and legislative gridlock in the Senate. It concludes with a review of the arguments of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema against reform and argues that they fail to account for how conservative populism has so thoroughly changed their institution.
Is religion a form of political tribalism? Conventional wisdom suggests it is. Discussion of religion and American politics generally focuses on the “God Gap”—the tendency for religious Americans to vote Republican, while the non-religious vote Democratic. However, there is also reason to argue that religion cannot be reduced to political tribalism. The God Gap is found mostly among white voters; among people of color, religiosity is a far weaker predictor of the vote. Even among white voters, the size of the God Gap varies across different religious traditions. Furthermore, there is more nuance to the non-religious population than suggested by the standard account of the God Gap. When the analysis includes the full scope of the American religious landscape, religion is not as “tribal” as conventional wisdom suggests.
Scholarship on partisanship has been transformed by political scientists’ embrace of social and cognitive psychology in the past few decades. This interdisciplinary union has drastically changed the way political scientists examine the origins and effects of partisanship. In this essay, I provide a brief history of scholarship on partisanship, its transformation into a partisan identity as well as its role in the study of polarization. I then demonstrate how this identity framework has propelled research on negative partisan identity in the U.S. two-party system and European multi-party systems. I conclude with a few avenues for future research that could enrich our understanding of partisanship.
Scholarship on partisanship has been transformed by political scientists’ embrace of social and cognitive psychology in the past few decades. Since then, the concept of partisan identity has become widely known beyond the narrow subfield of political psychology. Indeed, the sheer volume of research on the origins, measurement, and effect of partisan identity on political behavior is indicative of its centrality in the general discipline of political science. In this essay, I provide a brief (and therefore necessarily incomplete) history of scholarship on partisanship as well as its transformation into a partisan identity . I then review contemporary research on positive and negative partisan identity in the U.S. and beyond, focusing on their differential effects on political attitudes and behavior. Last, I sketch out a few thoughts on the complexities and caveats of current scholarship, including a plea for more research on the interaction of partisanship with other identities, the necessity of studying partisanship in more externally valid contexts, as well as the promise of common identities in bridging partisan divisions.
Whether American citizens hold presidents accountable for changes in the condition of the economy has increasingly been questioned. At the same time, the outcome of the 2016 election has been widely interpreted in economic terms. Press and pundits on both sides of the aisle have endorsed the “left behind” voter thesis suggesting that those who were economically dissatisfied or anxious voted against the incumbent party and thus elected Donald Trump. Likewise, some have argued that Trump would have won again in 2021 if not for the economic downturn caused by the COVID19 pandemic. In this study I use seven waves of nationally-representative panel data to examine change over time in individuals’ perceptions of the economy across the two most recent presidential election periods. I compare the magnitude of change from partisan rationalization of the economy to the magnitude of changes in perceptions due to the record-breaking decline in GDP during the year that COVID19 hit the US. My results provide little to no evidence that changes in perceptions due to real economic change were strong enough to overcome the effects of partisan rationalization. Given that the COVID19 recession was unusually severe, these results provide little reason for optimism that voters can hold leaders accountable for economic change.
Contemporary American politics is notable for its high levels of anger and partisan antipathy. While these developments are attributable in large part to societal-level sociopolitical trends, I argue that they are also the result of politicians’ deliberate and strategic attempts to elicit mass-level anger. In this paper, I analyze over one million tweets sent by members of the 116th Congress to demonstrate that political elites do appeal to anger and that the angriest of these appeals are most likely to come from the most ideologically extreme Members of Congress – that is, the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans. I further show that this relationship is stronger for Democratic politicians, and that authoring tweets with a greater amount of anger generates more engagement. The results suggest that as long as politicians have an incentive to appeal to mass-level anger, the divisions characterizing American politics are likely to persist.
Negative partisanship is one of the most popular explanations for current levels of dysfunction in American politics. Yet, the term is used inconsistently in both academic research and the popular press. It is sometimes referred to as negative affect towards the out-party that is a more important predictor of political behavior than positive affect towards the in-party. It is also sometimes referred to as a negational identity, wherein identification with one party is founded upon not being identified with the other party. In this essay, I first review the two definitions of negative partisanship and their preponderance in the mass public. Counter some reports, disdain is not more prevalent than warmth. Next, I discuss new evidence which shows that partisan disdain and negational partisanship are mutually exclusive concepts. Finally, in a reanalysis of published work, I reexamine the evidence that purportedly shows that negative partisanship is a better explanation for political behavior than positive partisanship.
This article explores Rush Limbaugh’s efforts to tribalize American politics through his racially divisive, falsehood-ridden portrayal of President Obama. By playing and preying on white anxiety, the host laid the groundwork for the election of a president who essentially adopted his view of the Obama presidency. Limbaugh’s rhetoric about Obama serves as a case study whereby the most influential part of the conservative media during those years represents the whole. “How did we get here?” is the essential question right now in American politics. How did we go from a society that relatively easily elected Barack Obama twice to one that, popular vote loss aside, elected Donald Trump, and came within a small popular vote shift in three states from doing so again in 2020? Analyzing how Limbaugh ginned up white racial anxiety about a Black president helps us understand the rise of Trump, who began his White House campaign by serving as the nation’s birther-in-chief and who, in his reaction to the white nationalist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, to name just one example, demonstrated his reliance on white identity politics. As Jamelle Bouie wrote: “You can draw a direct line to the rise of Trump from the racial hysteria of talk radio—where Rush Limbaugh, a Trump booster, warned that Obama would turn the world upside down.”
The United States’ long-standing broad “catch-all” political parties have historically combined voters from distinct regions of the country, each including both rural and urban dwellers. Since the late 1990s, however, rural Americans nationwide have increasingly supported the Republican Party, while urbanites have persisted in their allegiance to the Democratic Party. The growing rural-urban divide has become mapped onto American polarization in ways that are fostering tribalism. This place-based cleavage is now contributing to the transformation of the nation’s politics and that of many states. It also threatens to have deleterious effects on democracy.
People belong to political tribes that support particular positions on a variety of substantive policy topics; however, when the topics that divide a polity involve identity, in-groups, out-groups, core institutions, homogeneity, diversity, security from outsiders, and immigration, tribalism will be especially ferocious and debilitating. I refer to tribes based on these core matters as proto-tribes because the issues involved connect to our species’ evolutionary past. Due to longstanding individual predispositions, people manifest deep policy preferences either 1) to protect their society’s insider populations and institutions by being relentlessly vigilant against the intrusions of human outsiders, especially immigrants or 2) to enrich their society by embracing diverse outsiders and by being vigilant against the untoward power of insider institutions. Whenever societal conflict centers on proto-tribes—as was the case in the 1860s and 1960s and is the case today—rather than tribes that emphasize positions on issues such as taxes, regulations, transgender rights, and preferred governmental structure, the political system will be endangered.
Using the extensive battery of issue questions included in the 2020 ANES survey, I find that a single underlying liberal-conservative dimension largely explains the policy preferences of ordinary Americans across a wide range of issues including the size and scope of the welfare state, abortion, gay and transgender rights, race relations, immigration, gun control and climate change. I find that the distribution of preferences on this liberal-conservative issue scale is highly polarized with Democratic identifiers and leaners located overwhelmingly on the left, Republican identifiers and leaners located overwhelmingly on the right and little overlap between the two distributions. Finally, I show that ideological preferences strongly predict feelings toward the parties and presidential candidates. These findings indicate that polarization in the American public has a rational foundation. Hostility toward the opposing party reflects strong disagreement with the policies of the opposing party. As long as the parties remain on the opposite sides of almost all major issues, feelings of mistrust and animosity are unlikely to diminish regardless of Donald Trump’s future role in the Republican Party.