Partisan Affect and Elite Polarization
by Daniel Diermeier, University of Chicago and Christopher Li, Yale University
Recent empirical literature suggests that the American electorate has become more polarized in partisan affect, i.e. increased dislike and distrust between Democrats and Republicans. This paper studies the interaction between partisan affect and elite polarization in a behavioral voting model. Voting is determined by affect rather than rational choice. Parties are office-motivated; they choose policies to win elections. We show that parties bias their policies toward their partisans if voters exhibit ingroup responsiveness, i.e. they respond more strongly to their own party’s policy deviations than to policy deviations by the other party. Our results suggest that affective polarization is a driver of the growing elite polarization in American politics. Importantly, this observation does not assume any shifts in the voters’ policy preferences and is therefore free of the controversy over whether the American electorate has become more polarized in ideology.