Photo of the day

Damn do I love this photo from an Atlantic gallery of the Arctic’s Wrangel Island:

An Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) stands next to part of a reindeer skull on Wrangel Island in Russia’s far east. 

Sergey Gorshkov / bioGraphic

Everything is partisanship

Really, really liked this Tom Edsall post which summarized a lot of really good work that’s been done by political scientists on partisanship lately.  A lot of it is about the importance of partisanship as a social identity, something I know just a little about.  A lot of great scholars have carried forward and done great work on this idea that I just scratched the surface of way back in my dissertation days.  The short version is that partisanship overwhelms pretty much everything in American politics these days.  Forget issues.  Forget ideology.  Just raw attachment to a political party (and, in the case of Trump, it’s leader). Anyway, Edsall and company:

In fact, as the political scientists Leonie Huddy, Lilliana Mason and Lene Aarøe argue in an article in American Political Science Review, the most powerful form of partisanship is not principled, ideological commitment to conservative or liberal policies, but “expressive partisanship,” which is more of a gut commitment: [emphases mine]

A subjective sense of belonging to a group that is internalized to varying degrees, resulting in individual differences in identity strength, a desire to positively distinguish the group from others, and the development of ingroup bias. Moreover, once identified with a group or, in this instance, a political party, members are motivated to protect and advance the party’s status and electoral dominance as a way to maintain their party’s positive distinctiveness.

Traditionally, political scientists have measured partisanship by asking voters the following questions: “Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?” Those who say Republican or Democrat are then asked “Would you call yourself a strong Republican/Democrat or a not very strong Republican/Democrat?” Independents are asked “Do you think of yourself as closer to the Republican or Democratic Party?” Respondents are then ranked on a seven point scale from strong Democrat to strong Republican.

Political scientists measure expressive partisanship by looking at responses to more subjective questions, including “How important is being a Democrat or Republican to you?”, “How well does the term Democrat or Republican describe you?” and “When talking about Democrats or Republicans, how often do you use ‘we’ instead of ‘they’?” …

[Short plug for my own work in getting the ball rolling on the above]

It turns out, according to Huddy, Mason and Aarøe, that those who are strong partisans on the basis of emotional and expressive links to their parties feel angrier

when threatened with electoral loss and more positive when reassured of victory. In contrast, those who hold a strong and ideologically consistent position on issues are no more aroused emotionally than others by party threats or reassurances…

Three other political scientists — Shanto Iyengar, Gaurav Sood and Yphtach Lelkes — reached a similar conclusion in a 2012 paper, “Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization.”

They argue that instead of treating polarization in the general electorate as a conflict over competing policies, the better measure is “affective polarization,” which is their term for the way voters “not only increasingly dislike the opposing party,” but are also willing to “impute negative traits to the rank-and-file of the out-party.”…

In a 2017 paper, “All in the Eye of the Beholder: Asymmetry in Ideological Accountability,” Iyengar and Sood provide further insight into how so many Republicans found their way to voting for Trump.

They demonstrate that partisan voters’ approval of their party’s leaders “bears little relationship with their ideological extremity.” Because of this, candidates like Trump “enjoy considerable leeway to stake out positions at odds with the preferences of their supporters.” …

The growing strength of the kind of partisanship that is widespread today — whether you call it visceral, expressive, affective or tribal — undermines the workings of democratic governance. Not only are Republicans willing to support Trump, but both Democrats and Republicans are inclined to demonize the leadership of the opposing party…

Along similar lines, Theodoridis and Stephen Goggin, a political scientist at San Diego State, asked 1609 voters whether two unnamed senators were Democrats or Republicans. One of the two was described as the subject of a story headlined “Senator Wins Anti-Corruption Award,” the other as the subject of a story headlined “Senator Admits to Lying.” Democrats consistently labeled the anti-corruption senator a Democrat and the liar a Republican, while Republicans took the opposite view.

Perhaps most importantly, hyperpolarization is a powerful disincentive to compromise. How can you make concessions to your mortal enemies? To even start negotiations can be viewed, in this context, as surrender.

Short version– in American politics today, partisanship is pretty much everything.  And, that’s not so good.

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