The Psychology of Partisanship

An editorial piece, titled The Partisan Mind, by Ross Douthat in the New York Times asks the question "How potent is the psychology of partisanship?" Here is a passage from it:
Up to a point, American politics reflects abiding philosophical divisions. But people who follow politics closely — whether voters, activists or pundits — are often partisans first and ideologues second. Instead of assessing every policy on the merits, we tend to reverse-engineer the arguments required to justify whatever our own side happens to be doing. Our ideological convictions may be real enough, but our deepest conviction is often that the other guys can’t be trusted.

How potent is the psychology of partisanship? Potent enough to influence not only policy views, but our perception of broader realities as well. A majority of Democrats spent the late 1980s convinced that inflation had risen under Ronald Reagan, when it had really dropped precipitously. In 1996, a majority of Republicans claimed that the deficit had increased under Bill Clinton, when it had steadily shrunk instead. Late in the Bush presidency, Republicans were twice as likely as similarly situated Democrats to tell pollsters that the economy was performing well. In every case, the external facts mattered less than how the person being polled felt about the party in power.
I can so relate to having this kind of mindset. I remember the days when I thought that Saint, I mean President, Ronald Reagan could do no wrong and the Democrats were evil. I remember the shocked look on a coworkers face when I pronounced that President Clinton was evil. And I remember starting to wake up when President GW Bush invaded Iraq. Something happened that day to open my eyes to my own partisanship.

I am with Douthat when he writes about assessing every policy on the merits. I know that I will probably be wrong on some issues but I do not want to be wrong because I am wearing partisan blinders. I may be a bit delusional in saying this but I long for a day when people in our country see through the manipulation of partisanship.


  1. I am partisanly distrustful of both sides

  2. I have gone from being an ardently partisan Republican to an equally ardent independent. Party politics are the biggest problem in government today.

  3. Our political system is broken.

    Bu that doesn't mean that the Republicans
    tells the truth (death panels,socialism)


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