Public Preferences for Bipartisanship in Congress

32 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 31 Aug 2009

See all articles by Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Northwestern University

Neil A. Malhotra

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Date Written: 2009


Does a bipartisan image improve citizens' perceptions of Congress and its members? If so, why has partisan polarization presumably increased (and bipartisan cooperation declined) in Congress since the 1970s? To address these questions, we unpack the ―electoral connection‖ by exploring the mass public’s preferences for bipartisanship in Congress via two original survey experiments in which we manipulated characteristics of individual members and Congress as a whole. We find that a bipartisan image improves perceptions of Congress as an institution among citizens across the partisan spectrum. However, there exists heterogeneity by strength of party identification with respect to evaluations of individual members. Independents and weak partisans are more supportive of members that espouse a bipartisan image, whereas strong partisans are less supportive. Hence, people with strong attachments to a political party support the abstract notion of bipartisanship in the aggregate but not when evaluating individual members. This empirical pattern helps us understand why members in safely partisan districts continue to engage in partisan conflict even though partisanship damages the collective reputation of the institution, as well as why members from competitive districts attempt to project a bipartisan image.

Suggested Citation

Harbridge, Laurel and Malhotra, Neil A., Public Preferences for Bipartisanship in Congress (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Laurel Harbridge (Contact Author)

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Neil A. Malhotra

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

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