The Rise of Negative Partisanship and the Nationalization of U.S. Elections in the 21st Century

One of the most important developments affecting electoral competition in the United States in the 21st century has been the increasing partisanship of the American electorate. However, the standard party identification scale does not adequately reflect the growing intensity of voters’ partisan preferences. Using data from the American National Election Studies cumulative file, we show that since 1992 and especially since 2008, partisan identities have become increasingly associated with racial, cultural and ideological divisions in American society. As a result, growing proportions of strong, weak and leaning party identifiers have come to perceive important differences between the parties and to hold extremely negative opinions of the opposing party. This has led to sharp increases in party loyalty and straight ticket voting across all categories of party identification and to growing consistency between the results of presidential elections and the results of House and Senate elections. Increasing nationalization of congressional elections has important implications for party performance, democratic representation and governance. Co-authored with Alan Abramowitz.

Negative Partisanship: Why Americans Dislike Parties but Behave Like Rabid Partisans

One of the most important developments in American politics over the last 40 years has been the rise of negative partisanship—the phenomenon whereby Americans largely align against one party instead of affiliating with the other. Though it has the power to reshape patterns of political behavior, little is known about the microfoundations driving negative partisanship. In this article, we show how the growing racial divide between the two major parties, as well as the presence of partisan‐friendly media outlets, have led to the rise of negative partisanship. We also utilize the growing literature on personality and politics to show how the Big Five personality traits are predictive of negative partisanship. The results suggest that the psychological roots of negative partisanship are both widespread and, absent drastic individual and structural‐level changes, likely to persist. Co-authored with Alan Abramowitz.

Anger and Declining Trust in Government in the American Electorate

Partisanship in the United States in the contemporary era is largely characterized by feelings of anger and negativity. While the behavioral consequences of this new style of partisanship have been explored at some length, less is known about how the anger that is at the root of this growing partisan antipathy affects Americans’ views of the national government. In this paper, I utilize data from the 2012 American National Election Studies (ANES) to show that higher levels of anger is associated with a greater level of distrust in government across a variety of metrics. I then present evidence from a survey experiment on a national sample of registered voters to show that anger has a causal effect in reducing citizens’ trust in government. Importantly, I find that anger is able to affect an individual’s views of the national government even when it is aroused through apolitical means. I also find that merely prompting individuals to think about politics is sufficient to arouse angry emotions. In total, the results suggest that anger and politics are closely intertwined, and that anger plays a broad and powerful role in shaping how Americans view their governing institutions.

It’s Personal: The Big Five Personality Traits and Negative Partisan Affect in Polarized U.S. Politics

One of the most important developments within the American electorate in recent years has been the rise of affective polarization. Whether this is due to notions of group based conflict or ideological disagreement, Americans increasingly dislike the opposing political party and its supporters. I contribute to this growing literature on affective polarization by showing how differences in individuals’ Big Five personality traits are predictive of both whether an individual dislikes the opposing party and the degree to which they express this hostility. Modeling negative affect toward the opposing party as a two-stage process, I find that Extraverted individuals are less likely to have negative affective evaluations of the opposing party and, conditional upon disliking the opposing party, higher levels of Agreeableness lowers the degree to which individuals dislike the out-party. Moreover, these relationships are substantively stronger than common sociodemographic predictors such as age, race, and educational attainment.

Does Residential Sorting Explain Geographic Polarization?

Political preferences in the US are highly correlated with population density, at national, state, and metropolitan-area scales. Using new data from voter registration records, we assess the extent to which this pattern can be explained by geographic mobility. We find that the revealed preferences of voters who move from one residence to another correlate with partisan affiliation, though voters appear to be sorting on non-political neighborhood attributes that covary with partisan preferences rather than explicitly seeking politically congruent neighbors. But, critically, we demonstrate through a simulation study that the estimated partisan bias in moving choices is far too small to sustain the current geographic polarization of preferences. We conclude that geography must have some influence on political preference, rather than the other way around, and provide evidence in support of this theory. Co-authored with Gregory Martin.

The Ideological Foundations of Affective Polarization in the U.S. Electorate

Democratic and Republican partisans dislike the opposing party and its leaders far more than in the past. However, recent studies have argued that rise of affective polarization in the electorate does not reflect growing policy or ideological differences between supporters of the two parties. According to this view, while Democratic and Republican elites are sharply divided along ideological lines, differences between the policy preferences of rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans remain modest. In this paper we show that there is a very close connection between ideological and affective polarization. We present evidence from American National Election Study surveys that opinions on social welfare issues have become increasingly consistent and divided along party lines and that social welfare ideology is now strongly related to feelings about the opposing party and its leaders. In addition, we present results from a survey experiment showing that ideological distance strongly influences feelings toward opposing party candidates and the party as a whole. Co-authored with Alan Abramowitz.

Older, Younger, or More Similar? The Use of Age as a Voting Heuristic

Framing our analysis within the descriptive representation literature, we examine the use of a candidate’s age as a voting heuristic for members of the electorate across three electoral contexts (House, Senate, and gubernatorial elections) and two election cycles. Utilizing data from the 2010 and 2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), along with independently collected information on candidates’ ages, we argue that voters prefer to vote for candidates who are closest to them in age. Our analyses suggest that a candidate’s age can and does act as a voting heuristic. However, the strength of these findings are dependent upon the electoral context, individuals’ education levels, and the political party with which an individual affiliates. Co-authored with Andrew Pierce.

Select Working Papers

The Social Consequences of Political Anger

A functioning democracy relies on social interactions between people who disagree—including listening to others' viewpoints, having political discussions, and finding political compromise. Yet, social life in the contemporary United States is characterized by a relative lack of interaction between Democrats and Republicans (or, social polarization). We argue that political anger contributes to social polarization by leading partisans to cut off ties with opposing partisans. We first draw on data from the American National Election Studies and the Wesleyan Media Project to show that the mass public is increasingly angry and that politicians increasingly seek to elicit anger. We then present results from a survey experiment on nearly 3,500 Americans, finding that the exogenous introduction of anger causes citizens to socially polarize across a range of settings. Our findings suggest that the increasing levels of political anger paralyze politics and harm democracy by influencing Americans’ social interactions and relationships. Co-authored with Elizabeth Connors and Betsy Sinclair.

The Dispositional Antecedents of Affective Polarization in the United States

Scholars of mass political behavior in the United States have documented a rise in affective polarization, or a growing dislike of the opposing political party, in recent years. While affective polarization has been shown to be produced by an individual’s ideological extremity or the alignment of partisan and sociodemographic identities, less attention has been paid to the ways in which dispositional forces shape affective polarization. In this study, I show that individuals who score higher on measures of authoritarianism and schadenfreude exhibit higher degrees of affective polarization. Subsequent analyses reveal that these trends are driven by self-identified Republicans, and that authoritarianism and schadenfreude exacerbate affective polarization by increasing the extent to which an individual likes her own political party.

Anger and Partisan Issue Constraint

Contemporary American politics is characterized by the entrenchment of partisan identities. It is less clear whether -- and to what extent -- these divisions have precipitated an increase in issue constraint. Capturing the extent to which Americans know "what goes with what" in terms of political issues, most scholars argue that aggregate levels of constraint among the mass public are relatively low. Nevertheless, there is substantial variation in the extent to which individuals exhibit constraint. In this study, I argue that both political anger and generalized apolitical anger are associated with individual-level constraint. Results from two sources of data indicate that political anger is linked to higher levels of individual-level issue constraint for both Democrats and Republicans, while apolitical anger is associated with higher levels of constraint for Republicans and lower levels of constraint for Democrats. Broadly, the results suggest that psychological factors are an important component in the development of individuals' political attitudes.