Speed Reads

Playing politics

Study: Partisans treat politics like sports, valuing a team over issues

A new study published at Political Research Quarterly indicates that many Americans who identify with one of the major parties make their electoral decisions more like a sports fan than an informed voter.

What motivates partisans to vote is "not high-minded, good-government, issue-based goals," says Patrick Miller of the University of Kansas, who co-authored the research with the University of North Carolina's Pamela Johnston Conover. Instead, "It's, 'I hate the other party. I'm going to go out, and we're going to beat them.'"

Using data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which identified strong and weak partisans and independents on a seven-point range, Miller and Conover's research found that 65 percent of partisans valued their team's victory as much or more than political convictions. Fewer than 15 percent of Democrats and Republicans believed their rivals possessed "core moral traits," and 38 percent of both sides were willing to "use any tactics necessary," including violence and fraud, to win an election. Rivalry increased with age, and the "more partisans are hostile and lean toward incivility, the more active they are politically."