How Partisan Conflict is Better and Worse than Legislative Compromise

44 Pages Posted: 11 Aug 2014

See all articles by Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Northwestern University

D.J. Flynn

IE School of Global and Public Affairs

Date Written: 2014


Aggregate patterns of Congressional evaluations show approval declining as partisan conflict increases. At the same time, citizens favor partisanship by members of their own party and outputs that reflect partisan victories. We seek to resolve the lingering puzzle from these two findings by emphasizing the role of partisan gridlock. Legislative approaches to policymaking may not only reflect cooperation or conflict between the two sides, but when there is partisan conflict over policy, the outcome can be a win for one party or legislative gridlock. We develop a number of expectations about how these different outcomes will affect public evaluations of Congress and test them with a multi-wave survey experiment. Consistent with the expectations, results indicate that partisan conflict resulting in a victory for one’s own party boosts approval of Congress relative to compromise, but partisan conflict resulting in gridlock substantially damages approval. Legislative gridlock that reflects party strategy rather than ideological disagreements is particularly nefarious. Evidence also suggests that citizens’ responses to partisan conflict vary based on individual-level moderators, including strength of partisanship, political knowledge, and ideological purity. Our results provide a rationale for why institutional approval has declined as party conflict has risen, and point to how party leaders ought to consider both the sub-constituencies they are courting and whether efforts to focus on partisan goals are likely to end in legislative victory or gridlock.

Keywords: Partisanship, bipartisanship, compromise, gridlock, Congress, public opinion

Suggested Citation

Harbridge, Laurel and Flynn, D.J., How Partisan Conflict is Better and Worse than Legislative Compromise (2014). APSA 2014 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Laurel Harbridge (Contact Author)

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

D.J. Flynn

IE School of Global and Public Affairs

Calle Pedro de Valdivia 21
Madrid, Madrid 28006

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