Partisanship and prejudice in American politics

Placeholder Show Content


Paper 1: Partisan hostility and the avoidance of compromise characterize the behavior of recent congresses. Using a massive collection of floor speeches I show that despite increasing polarization, discussion of bipartisanship is both common and uniform across the ideological spectrum. This behavior, however, does not reflect a genuine desire for bipartisanship—there is no relationship between discussing bipartisanship and actual bipartisan votes—but it does make strategic sense. Representatives use bipartisanship to gather support and to pressure opposition concessions. Using a series of experiments I show that this behavior aligns with the preferences and behaviors of constituents. Framing legislation—even partisan legislation—as bipartisan successfully causes the public to view the legislation as moderate. Most constituents endorse bipartisanship, but do so because they want the other side to capitulate during negotiations and not because they endorse middle-ground solutions or compromise. I show that citizen support for bipartisanship is more about support for concessions from the opposition than actual compromise. Paper 2: When defined in terms of social identity and affect toward co-partisans and op- posing partisans, the polarization of the American electorate has dramatically increased. We document the scope and consequences of affective polarization of partisans using implicit, explicit and behavioral indicators. Our evidence demonstrates that hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters' minds, and that affective polarization based on party is just as strong as polarization based on race. We further show that party cues exert powerful effects on non-political judgments and behaviors. Partisans discriminate against opposing partisans, and do so to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race. We note that the willingness of partisans to display open animus for opposing partisans can be attributed to the absence of norms governing the expression of negative sentiment and that increased partisan affect provides an incentive for elites to engage in confrontation rather than cooperation. Paper 3: Partisanship increasingly factors into the behavior of Americans in both political and non-political situations. At the same time, concerns about inter-party prej- udice and its effects are also increasing. We systematically evaluate the nature and limits of partisan prejudice using a series of experiments. While we find that partisan prejudice predicts promotion of hostile rhetoric and avoidance of mem- bers of the opposition, it is not related to discriminatory behavior. Even the most affectively polarized—those with the strongest disdain for the opposition—are no more likely to materially withhold from or hurt the opposition than those with minimal levels of affective polarization. Partisan disdain does not outweigh basic democratic norms, but it is, however, consistently related to in-group favoritism. While hostility is growing in the electorate, for now, it is largely avoidance and bluster.


Type of resource text
Form electronic; electronic resource; remote
Extent 1 online resource.
Publication date 2014
Issuance monographic
Language English


Associated with Westwood, Sean Jeremy
Associated with Stanford University, Department of Communication.
Primary advisor Iyengar, Shanto
Thesis advisor Iyengar, Shanto
Thesis advisor Bailenson, Jeremy
Thesis advisor Grimmer, Justin
Thesis advisor Hamilton, James, 1961-
Advisor Bailenson, Jeremy
Advisor Grimmer, Justin
Advisor Hamilton, James, 1961-


Genre Theses

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Sean Jeremy Westwood.
Note Submitted to the Department of Communication.
Thesis Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2014.
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2014 by Sean Jeremy Westwood

Also listed in

Loading usage metrics...