Annenberg School of Communication
University of Pennsylvania
American partisans misperceive the diversity, not the extremity, of other partisans’ attitudes
Misperceptions about the political “other” are commonly cited as a central cause of partisan animosity in America. Previous work has focused almost exclusively on American partisans’ perceptions of how extreme the “average” Republican or Democrat is. We show, however, that these perceptions are considerably inflated by a popular measurement approach and participant inattention. However, our work shows that American partisans do vastly underestimate the diversity of Democrats’ and Republicans’ attitudes, and correcting these misperceptions reduces partisan animosity and perceptions of out-party threat. These insights are critical, as American partisans loathe those on the “other side” of the political spectrum more than ever previously recorded. This animosity undermines the notion of “legitimate” opposition and prevents the compromise necessary for policy-making.