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All-American Bipartisan Bias

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As is plain to see, Americans are living in a politically polarized era. “Partisan animus is at an all-time high,” reports Stanford political scientist Shanto Iyengar. Nearly 6 in 10 Republicans and Democrats have “very unfavorable” opinions of the other party, and most engaged party adherents feel “angry” about the other party. “Partisans discriminate against opposing partisans, doing so to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race,” conclude Iyengar and Sean Westwood from their study of “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines.” If you are American, do you find yourself disdaining those with opposing political views more than those in any other social category (including race, gender, and sexual orientation)? Would you want your child to marry someone aligned with the other party?

 

Americans on both sides also tend to see the other side (compared to their own) as more extreme in its ideology. It’s hard not to agree that those in the other party seem more extreme and biased.

 

But are they? Multiple research teams—at Tillburg University, the University of Florida, the College of New Jersey, and the University of California, Irvine—have found similar bias and willingness to discriminate among both conservatives and liberals. At the latter university, a forthcoming meta-analysis of 41 studies by Peter Ditto and his colleagues “found clear evidence of partisan bias in both liberals and conservatives, and at virtually identical levels.” When evidence supports our views, we find it cogent; when the same evidence contradicts our views, we fault it.

 

We can see equal opportunity bias in opinion polls. Last December, 67 percent of Trump supporters said that unemployment had increased during the progressive Obama years. (It actually declined from 8 to less than 5 percent.) And at the end of the conservative Reagan presidency, more than half of self-identified strong Democrats believed inflation had risen under Reagan. Only 8 percent thought it had substantially dropped—as it did, from 13 to 4 percent.

 

Peter Ditto’s conclusion: “Bias is bipartisan.” This humbling finding is a reminder to us all of how easy it is (paraphrasing Jesus) to “see the speck in your neighbor’s eye” while not noticing the sometimes bigger speck in our own.

About the Author
David Myers received his psychology Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. He has spent his career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has taught dozens of introductory psychology sections. Hope College students have invited him to be their commencement speaker and voted him "outstanding professor." His research and writings have been recognized by the Gordon Allport Intergroup Relations Prize, by a 2010 Honored Scientist award from the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences, by a 2010 Award for Service on Behalf of Personality and Social Psychology, by a 2013 Presidential Citation from APA Division 2, and by three dozen honorary doctorates. With support from National Science Foundation grants, Myers' scientific articles have appeared in three dozen scientific periodicals, including Science, American Scientist, Psychological Science, and the American Psychologist. In addition to his scholarly writing and his textbooks for introductory and social psychology, he also digests psychological science for the general public. His writings have appeared in four dozen magazines, from Today's Education to Scientific American. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see www.hearingloop.org). For his leadership, he received an American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award in 2011, and the Hearing Loss Association of America Walter T. Ridder Award in 2012. He bikes to work year-round and plays daily pick-up basketball. David and Carol Myers have raised two sons and a daughter, and have one granddaughter to whom he dedicates the Third Edition of Psychology in Everyday Life.