Journal Article

Breaking Down Bipartisanship

Celia Paris

in Public Opinion Quarterly

Published on behalf of American Association for Public Opinion Research

Volume 81, issue 2, pages 473-494
Published in print May 2017 | ISSN: 0033-362X
Published online May 2017 | e-ISSN: 1537-5331 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfw089
Breaking Down Bipartisanship

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Abstract

There are currently two competing accounts of how citizens react to bipartisanship. Some scholars claim that citizens desire greater bipartisanship in Congress and punish legislators who are too partisan, while others argue that citizens evaluate bipartisanship in an inconsistent fashion, even to the point of punishing same-party politicians for engaging in bipartisan cooperation. However, neither account actually clarifies when and why citizens value bipartisanship, because existing work has been unable to disentangle the mere fact of bipartisan cooperation from two associated phenomena (legislative accomplishment and civility) and has not identified citizens’ reasons for valuing bipartisanship. To address this, I run a national survey experiment through YouGov’s online panel varying four aspects of the legislative process: the bipartisanship of a bill’s coalition, whether the bill passes or fails, the civility of the debate, and the party affiliation of the bill’s sponsor. I find that bipartisanship increases confidence in Congress only when it is paired with legislative accomplishment, but citizens reward bipartisanship by individual legislators regardless of bill passage or failure. Moreover, citizens perceive opposite-party legislators who act in a bipartisan manner to be more public spirited, suggesting that bipartisan cooperation can break down negative stereotypes of the opposite party. My results indicate that legislators who engage in bipartisan cooperation may gain at least a few votes from opposite-party citizens without damaging their standing among same-party citizens, suggesting that the public as a whole should not be blamed for the lack of bipartisanship in Congress.

Journal Article.  9033 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Sciences

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