Red and Blue States of Mind: Partisan Hostility and Voting in the United States

PATRICK R. MILLER, PAMELA JOHNSTON CONOVER
POLITICAL RESEARCH QUARTERLY 68.2 (2015): 225-239

Abstract: Based on social comparison and social identity theory, we argue that average partisans in contemporary U.S. politics view elections as group competitions in which partisan identities are at stake. Using nationally representative survey data, we demonstrate that stronger partisan identities, more than ideological identities or issue preferences, are associated with a greater sense of partisan hostility—specifically, party rivalry and anger. That hostility mediates the impact of partisan identities on political attitudes and actions. As a result, strong partisan identifiers hold the most hostile and uncivil attitudes and are the most likely to participate in elections. Thus, in the context of elections, the behavior of partisans resembles that of sports team members acting to preserve the status of their teams rather than thoughtful citizens participating in the political process for the broader good. We explore the implications of these findings for the current state of American politics.