Stereotypes and Politics

73 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2020 Last revised: 13 Jul 2020

See all articles by Pedro Bordalo

Pedro Bordalo

University of Oxford - Said Business School

Marco Tabellini

Harvard Business School

David Y. Yang

Harvard University

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 6, 2020


US voters exaggerate the differences in attitudes held by Republicans and Democrats on a range of socioeconomic and political issues. We examine the drivers and implications of such perceived partisan differences. We find that a model of stereotypes where distortions are stronger for issues that are more salient to voters captures important features of the data. First, perceived partisan differences are predictable from the actual differences across parties, in particular the relative prevalence of extreme attitudes. Second, perceived partisan differences are larger on issues that individuals consider more important. In particular, we show that the end of the Cold War in 1991, which shifted US voters’ attention away from external threats, led to an increase in perceived partisan differences in domestic issues, and more so for issues with more stereotypical partisan differences. The reverse pattern occurred after the terrorist attacks in 2001, when attention swung back towards external threats. Finally, the belief distortions we identify are quantitatively significant, and strongly predict voting turnout.

Suggested Citation

Bordalo, Pedro and Tabellini, Marco and Yang, David Y., Stereotypes and Politics (July 6, 2020). Harvard Business School BGIE Unit Working Paper No. 20-106, Available at SSRN: or

Pedro Bordalo

University of Oxford - Said Business School ( email )

Park End Street
Oxford, OX1 1HP
Great Britain

Marco Tabellini (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

David Y. Yang

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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