Partisan Elites as Culprits? How Party Cues Shape Partisan Perceptual Gaps

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Partisanship often colors how citizens perceive real-world conditions. For example, an oft-documented finding is that citizens tend to view the state of the national economy more positively if their party holds office. These partisan perceptual gaps are usually taken as a result of citizens' own motivated reasoning to defend their party identity. However, little is known about the extent to which perceptual gaps are shaped by one of the most important forces in politics: partisan elites. With two studies focusing on perceptions of the economy—a quasi-experimental panel study and a randomized experiment—we show how partisan perceptual differences are substantially affected by messages coming from party elites. These findings imply that partisan elites are more influential on, and more responsible for, partisan perceptual differences than previous studies have revealed.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Pages (from-to)456–469
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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