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The Power of Partisanship

- December 13, 2010

Today’s installment comes from “Evan Heit”:http://faculty1.ucmerced.edu/eheit/ and “Stephen Nicholson”:http://polisci.ucmerced.edu/faculty/stephen-p-nicholson. They asked people to rate political figures in terms of typicality. For example, Barack Obama: how typical a Democrat is he? How typical a Republican? What about John McCain? Etc.

And then they compared these typicality assessments to three other species of assessments: whether certain political figures were typical liberals and typical conservatives; whether certain foods were typical of junk food and of healthy food, and whether certain jobs were typical of men and women. Their findings:

bq. Two experiments demonstrated that people view political party categories in the United States as opposites. The opposite of Republican is Democrat. In Experiment 1, the correlation, r, between the ratings for Democrat and Republican was .9957, a nearly perfect negative relationship between categories. In Experiment 2, we replicated this result and extended it by looking at political ideology and two other domains, jobs and foods. The results for political ideology follow the same pattern we found for party categories: Liberal is the opposite of conservative. In contrast to party and ideological categories, we also found that types of jobs and foods allow for category members to be either more typical of both categories (male and female jobs) or less typical of both categories (healthy or junk foods).

bq. Taken together, these findings suggest that the U.S. political system is highly coherent and organized. Far from Tweedledee and Tweedledum, public figures in the United States–as members of political parties or ideological backgrounds–offer a distinct choice since a candidate running for office is not typical of both.

“Here”:http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ulterior-motives/201011/you-are-either-us-or-against-us-people-and-politics is a write-up at Psychology Today. And “here”:http://polisci.ucmerced.edu/sites/polisci/files/public/Opposite_of_Republican.pdf is an ungated copy of the paper (pdf).