Opinion | Political Scientists Want to Know Why We Hate Each Other This Much

Opinion | Political Scientists Want to Know Why We Hate Each Other This Much

Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford political scientist whose 2012 paper, “Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization” (written with Gaurav Sood and Yphtach Lelkes), is a seminal work in the study of partisan hostility, stressed in an email responding to my queries that one of the most significant dangers it poses is

the weakened ability of partisans to hold their leaders accountable. The crux of the problem is that partisans have come to view the opposing party in such harsh terms that they are unwilling to sanction leaders of their own party who engage in unethical or illegal activity.

In the most recent ANES survey, we examined partisans’ willingness to support candidates with questionable credentials. The pilot study included four questions asking respondents whether a set of unethical or illegal actions would “keep you from voting for a candidate for public office.” The actions in question included conviction on a felony charge, acceptance of a bribe from a foreign government, mishandling of classified documents and facing accusations of sexual harassment.

Three of the behaviors in question arguably are associated with Donald Trump, while only one can potentially be linked to Joe Biden. We found a huge partisan divide in responses to these questions with Republicans proving much more likely to ignore unethical/illegal behavior — 62 percent were prepared to vote for a candidate facing allegations of sexual harassment and more than 40 percent would vote for a convicted felon and candidate who compromised national security.

Overall, Iyengar wrote, “these data would seem to bear out Trump’s now infamous claim that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody without losing any voters.”

In a separate study, “Unsorted Partisanship and Anti-Democratic Orientation in the American Public,” Ariel Malka of Yeshiva University, Thomas Costello of M.I.T. and Federico found that certain types of Democrats and Republicans are most drawn to anti-democratic views:

Cultural conservatism and out-party (pro-Republican) favorability are reliably associated with anti-democratic orientation among Democrats, with effect sizes exceeding those of key co-variates such as education. Among Republicans, left-leaning economic attitudes are reliably associated with anti-democratic orientation.

In other words, those whose views conflict with those of their own party are most critical of democratic norms. I asked Federico if he could explain this, and he emailed back that he found no clear answer in the data but was willing to suggest two possibilities.


Citizens who deviate from their own party’s position on a set of issues tend to be less politically engaged. Less politically engaged individuals also tend to be less supportive of democratic norms. So, part of this may simply be that economically liberal Republicans and socially conservative Democrats are less engaged and thus less likely to have absorbed democratic norms.


Populist beliefs — i.e., a combination of cultural conservatism and economic liberalism — also tend to be associated with lower support for democratic norms. Democrats with culturally conservative attitudes and Republicans with economically-liberal attitudes both fall into the populist belief pattern, so what we see in these two groups may simply reflect their greater populist bent.

While most voters voice support for democracy and fair elections, there are nuances to this comforting view.

In their 2023 paper “Professed Democracy Support and Openness to Politically Congenial Authoritarian Actions Within the American Public,” Malka and Costello explore a fundamental contradiction in American politics.

“Professed opposition to democracy was relatively rare and most common among citizens who felt disengaged from politics,” Malka and Costello write, “but a different pattern of findings emerged for attitudes toward flagrant, politically congenial authoritarian policy action and election subversion framed with a pro-democracy justification.”

Check out our Latest News and Follow us at Facebook

Original Source

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *