Partisan Misperceptions and Conflict Escalation: Survey Evidence from a Tribal/Local Government Conflict
32 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2002
Date Written: March 2002
Prior research demonstrates that partisans to a conflict tend to have an exaggerated sense of the extremism of their opponents' opinions regarding the issues under dispute. In this study, we examine an ongoing conflict between the Nez Perce Tribe and local non-Tribal governments that operate within the boundaries of the Nez Perce Reservation. This survey is different from previous research in two important ways. First, we distinguish between the officials and constituents on each side of the conflict. Second, compared to other conflicts studied, the current conflict has greater personal relevance for those surveyed. The conflict in question is not about abstract policies or third parties, but rather about specific potential actions that directly benefit one side at the other side's expense. An affinity for actions that benefit one's own side to the other side's harm we call "offensiveness" and an antipathy toward actions that harm one's own side to the other side's benefit we call "defensiveness." The results indicated that participants' themselves were more defensive than offensive. However, participants consistently exaggerated the offensiveness of the other side's officials, but not the other side's constituents. Participants tend to underestimate the defensiveness of the other side for both officials and constituents.
Keywords: Partisan perceptions, ethnic conflict, escalation
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