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Title page for ETD etd-06302017-132238

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Roush, Carolyn Elizabeth
URN etd-06302017-132238
Title "It's Not Me, It's You": How Americans' Animosity Toward Their Opponents Drives Modern Politics
Degree PhD
Department Political Science
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Larry M. Bartels Committee Co-Chair
Marc J. Hetherington Committee Co-Chair
John G. Geer Committee Member
Joshua D. Clinton Committee Member
Thomas J. Rudolph Committee Member
  • political parties
  • polarization
  • partisanship
  • public opinion
  • social identity
Date of Defense 2017-06-20
Availability restricted
This dissertation examines the ways in which the increasingly negative feelings that Americans harbor toward their political opponents influence the way they understand politics. Though the conventional understanding of partisanship suggests that people orient themselves to politics through their connection to their own party, I demonstrate that modern partisanship works primarily through the negativity partisans feel toward their opponents. In a polarized political environment, people’s self-reported strength of partisanship or positive feelings toward their own party do little to explain their attitudes. This is a new development in American public opinion: previously, people’s issue and ideological preferences were influenced in equal measure by their warm feelings toward their own party and their dislike of the opposition. Since 2000, however, the dislike that partisans feel toward their opponents dominates these attitudes. Out-party hostility also appears to be a driving force behind biased information processing. I find that partisans unquestioningly accept unverified, often salacious political rumors as truth simply because they dislike their opponents. These negative out-party feelings also play an important role in inoculating partisans against believing rumors that paint themselves and their allies in a poor light. Out-party negativity, therefore, may be at least partially responsible for the breakdown of political dialogue in the United States. Finally, while negative out-party feelings may lead to normatively troubling outcomes, they also appear to play a beneficial role in promoting democratic values. Partisans who intensely dislike their opponents are more likely to attach importance to specific civil liberties or democratic norms than those who feel neutrally or even positively toward the other side. In this way, out-party negativity plays a vital role in promoting democratic attitudes during a time in which Americans express a growing openness to authoritarian interpretations of democracy. Taken together, this research suggests a need to revisit the conventional understanding of partisanship as a social identity: partisans now use their hostility toward the other side as a heuristic to guide them through the political world.
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