The Roots and Risks of Radical Mass Partisanship: Assessing Contemporary Attitudes Toward Partisan Violence in America
Lilliana Mason is associate professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, College Park, and author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity (University of Chicago Press). She received her Ph.D. in Political Psychology from Stony Brook University and her B.A. in Politics from Princeton University. Her research on partisan identity, partisan bias, social sorting, and American social polarization has been published in journals such as American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Public Opinion Quarterly, and Political Behavior, and featured in media outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio. Mason received the 2017 Emerging Scholar Award from the Political Organizations and Parties Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA). Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Sloan Foundation, and the Facebook Research Integrity Group.
Abstract: U.S. historical accounts of partisanship recognize its competitive nature and its inherent, latent threat of violence, but social scientific conceptions of partisan identity developed in quiescent times have largely missed that dangerous dimension. We rebalance scholarly accounts by investigating the national prevalence and correlates of 1) partisan moral disengagement that rationalizes harm against opponents, 2) partisan schadenfreude in response to deaths and injuries of political opponents, and 3) explicit support for partisan violence. In two nationally representative surveys, we find large portions of partisans embrace partisan moral disengagement (10-60%) but only small minorities report feeling partisan schadenfreude or endorse partisan violence (5-15%). Party identity strength, social sorting, and trait aggression are related to each type of extreme party view. We conclude with reflections on the risks of radical partisanship in democratic politics, even as parties continue to serve as essential bedrocks of democracy.