After the murderous and controversial 2016 U.S. presidential election and the controversies that followed President Donald Trump’s first year in office, it’s no surprise that Americans’ ratings of opposing political party members have reached an all-time high. . According to data from the Pew Research Center, 45% of Republicans and 41% of Democrats believe the other party is so dangerous that it poses a threat to the health of the nation.
This animosity has spread into everyday social life: According to a HuffPost / YouGov poll, nearly half of Americans have had an argument with someone (a friend, family member, coworker, etc.) about of the last presidential election. Fifty years ago, few people expressed their anger when asked how they would feel if their child married someone from the other party. Today, a third of Democrats and almost half of Republicans would be deeply upset. Point after point, Americans not only disagree on issues, but they also increasingly personally hate those on the other side.
It is a phenomenon that scholars call emotional polarization. Political scientists have attributed a number of important consequences to the increase in emotional polarization in the United States, most notably the increase in traffic jams and dysfunctions in Washington, DC. But much less is known whether emotional polarization changes the way we interact outside of politics. For example, do these partisan feelings affect economic exchanges between individuals of opposing parties?
This question is particularly timely given recent post-election discussions of American consumers supporting or boycotting companies for their association with the opposing party. For example, the Grab Your Wallet group suggested that people boycott several companies because of their ties to the Trump administration, including LL Bean and Macy’s, and the hashtag #DeleteUber spread after Uber failed to supported the protest of the taxi drivers of New York against the displacement of the administration. to prohibit. Ivanka Trump’s brand has been political football used by both left and right.
More recently, Delta Air Lines canceled a promotional discount for NRA members following the Parkland shooting, reflecting the growing trend for companies to engage in the current political climate. Are these just high-profile but isolated incidents, or do they represent a broader trend of partisanship entering the economic life of Americans?
We conducted four experiments to answer these questions by exploring the role of partisanship in shaping economic behavior. In the first experiment, a field study conducted in an online labor market, we assessed whether individuals are more likely to demand higher wages when they learn that their boss’s political party is different from theirs. The second study looked at whether people are less likely to buy a deeply discounted gift card if the seller was affiliated with the other party, but more likely to do so if the seller is their own party; the third study replicated this in a larger online market. In our fourth study, an incentive survey, we offered participants the opportunity to earn money, but told them that we would also donate to the opposing political party. Each of these experiments made it possible to assess how the economic choices and actions of the participants are shaped by their partisan commitments.
All four experiments show that partisanship influences economic behavior, even when it is costly. For example, in the labor market experience, people were willing to work for less money for their fellow supporters; this effect is as important as the effect of factors such as relevant work experience. When presented with a buying opportunity, consumers were almost twice as likely to engage in a transaction when their partisanship matched that of the seller.
In our survey experience, three-quarters of the subjects refused a higher monetary payment to avoid helping the other party – in other words, they preferred to degrade so as not to benefit the other party. Taken together, these results make it clear that the trends we highlighted earlier are unlikely to be isolated incidents. The impact of partisan attachments on economic choices is likely to be stronger and more widespread than is generally believed.
However, while we see the impact of partisanship in all of our studies, we also find that it can take different forms in different contexts. In our experience in the labor market, we find that workers are generally reluctant to charge more when they learn that the owner of the business is on the other side: while offering a discount for the same party, they generally did not require an opposing party bounty.
Likewise, people were more willing to engage with vendors from the same party but did not punish vendors from the opposite party. These results reflect other recent research that found that supporters, while happy to encourage preferential treatment for co-supporters, are unwilling to sanction prejudices against the opposition. While many well-reported examples of partisanship involve discriminatory behavior towards the opposition, we find that in ordinary contexts, supporters can sometimes be reluctant to cross the line and engage in hostile behavior. One of the reasons for this could be that in our experiences, people had not had previous interactions with the employer / salesperson, meaning they could only update their beliefs in a more positive way. We may have found different results if people interacted with a well-known employer / salesperson.
Our results highlight another point about partisanship in contemporary society: it has become a social identity. It extends beyond particular political beliefs or support for specific politicians. Our results show that people rate the exact same transaction differently depending on whether the other party is Democrat or Republican, even though their partisans apparently provide no information about their quality as an employer or a salesperson. (Other studies have shown that partisanship shapes how people judge the seriousness of crime, a person’s suitability for a scholarship, or whether they would like to date someone.) this difference remains obscure. People may infer characteristics such as reliability based on partisanship, or may simply react emotionally. Either explanation would suit the patterns we found in our work. But what seems clear is that the power of partisanship is not limited to politics.
Our results show that we should pay more attention to potential discrimination based on partisan affiliation. To date, few social norms constrain such behavior, and because social media is making political expression more and more visible, it is now common to know the partisan attachments of those around us. Our analysis suggests that partisan discrimination can occur even in the most ordinary economic contexts, and not just in response to high-profile campaigns. As such, this type of discrimination should be the subject of more systematic examination, not only by academics, but also businessmen, workers and consumers. Finally, our study raises the possibility that business leaders who inject politics into their companies may build support for those who agree with them, but may alienate those who do not.
Christophe mcconnell is a doctoral candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He studies American politics and political economy.
Yotam Margalit is associate professor of political science at Tel Aviv University. He specializes in the fields of international and comparative political economy. Much of his work deals with the political consequences of globalization, examining how its economic and cultural effects influence electoral politics and shape the preferences of the masses on issues such as immigration, trade and social spending.
Neil malhotra is Edith M. Cornell Professor of Political Economy in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He also holds a courtesy appointment at the Department of Political Science. He is Louise and Claude N. Rosenberg, Jr. Director of the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford GSB. He has authored over 60 articles on a variety of topics, including US politics, political behavior, and investigative methodology.
Matthieu Levendusky is currently Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. His research focuses on understanding the influence of institutions and elites on the political behavior of ordinary citizens. This broad question is addressed in studies of mass polarization, voter benchmarking, the impact of partisan media on ordinary voters, and a variety of other substantive issues.