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Negative partisanship is not more prevalent than positive partisanship


The dominant narrative among scholars and political pundits characterizes American partisanship as overwhelmingly negative, portraying citizens as more repelled by the opposing party than attached to their own party. To assess the valence of partisan identity, we use various measures collected from several new and existing nationally representative surveys and behavioural outcomes obtained from two experiments. Our findings consistently depart from the negative partisanship narrative. For the majority of Americans, partisanship is either equally positive and negative or more positive than negative. Only partisan leaners stand out as negative partisans. We pair these observational findings with experimental data that differentiate between positive group behaviour and negative group behaviour in the partisan context. We find that the behavioural manifestations of party identity similarly include both positive and negative biases in balance, reinforcing our conclusion that descriptions of partisanship as primarily negative are exaggerated.

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Fig. 1: Negative and positive partisanship based on party feeling thermometer difference scores.
Fig. 2: Partisanship as negational (negative) or affirmational (positive) identity.
Fig. 3: Relationship between negational-to-affirmational identity and party feeling thermometer ratings.
Fig. 4: Partisanship as positive or negative identity.
Fig. 5: Relationship between positive and negative partisan identities and party feeling thermometer ratings.
Fig. 6: Experimental procedure.
Fig. 7: Experiment 1: in-group favouritism versus active out-group animosity.
Fig. 8: Experiment 2: in-group favouritism versus passive out-group animosity.

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Data availability

Replication data and materials are available at the Open Science Framework,

Code availability

Replication code can be found at


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We thank A. Bankert, H. Brady, J. Druckman, P. Egan, A. Guess, S. Goggin, J. Henderson, K. Lane, M. Levendusky, B. Nosek, E. Schickler, J. Sekhon, N. Sriram and R. Van Houweling and participants in the Racial Attitudes in a Time of Growing Partisan Polarization Workshop at Princeton University for feedback. This research was funded by the University of California, Merced; the University of Pennsylvania; and the Vanderbilt University Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and was supported by National Science Foundation award nos 1559125 and 1756447. We also thank Project Implicit and the Vanderbilt Research on Individuals, Politics and Society Lab. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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A.H.-Y.L., Y.L., C.B.H. and A.G.T. designed the studies, conducted the analyses, and drafted and revised the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yphtach Lelkes.

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Lee, A.HY., Lelkes, Y., Hawkins, C.B. et al. Negative partisanship is not more prevalent than positive partisanship. Nat Hum Behav 6, 951–963 (2022).

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