Stereotypes and Politics
74 Pages Posted: 8 May 2020 Last revised: 16 Aug 2020
Date Written: April 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.
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