The Partisanship That Dares Not Say Its Name

As a follow-on to the earlier post about Alan Abramowitz’ deconstruction of the new Gallup numbers on the (false) self-identification of a record number of voters as independents, there’s another fine post at Monkey Cage, from Yanna Krupnokov and Samara Kar, that gets deeply into the psychological factors behind phony non-partisanship:

A key to understanding independents is media coverage of politics in Washington. When people see politics in the news and entertainment media, they see partisan gridlock and disagreement. Partisans are portrayed as uncooperative, uncompromising and angry.
This perception of partisans leads ordinary people to be embarrassed about admitting – including to pollsters – that they identify with a political party. Instead, people have come to believe that they will make a better impression if they say they are independent.

In one of our first studies on the topic, we randomly assigned survey respondents to two groups. We instructed the first group to answer the question “what is your partisanship?” in a way that they believed would make the most positive impression on another person. We instructed the second group to answer the very same question in a way that they believed would make the most negative impression on another person.

The results were striking: when asked to make a “positive impression” nearly 60 percent more people reported that they were independents, as compared to those who were asked to make a negative impression.

There’s more in the post, wherein people perceive other people as more attractive and as living in better neighborhoods if they’re not partisan, but you get the gist. Americans are stubbornly attached to partisan points of view and voting habits, but the constant drumbeat of media suggestions that partisanship is the source of all evil makes them ashamed of themselves. That they change their self-identification rather than their actual thinking and behavior tells you everything you need to know about the MSM’s determination to impose their perspectives on public opinion–at the expense of understanding it.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.