Does partisan conflict damage citizens' perceptions of Congress? If so, why has polarization increased in Congress since the 1970s? To address these questions, we unpack the "electoral connection" by exploring the mass public's attitudes toward partisan conflict via two survey experiments in which we manipulated characteristics of members and Congress. We find that party conflict reduces confidence in Congress among citizens across the partisan spectrum. However, there exists heterogeneity by strength of party identification with respect to evaluations of members. Independents and weak partisans are more supportive of members who espouse a bipartisan image, whereas strong partisans are less supportive. People with strong attachments to a political party disavow conflict in the aggregate but approve of individual members behaving in a partisan manner. This pattern helps us understand why members in safely partisan districts engage in partisan conflict even though partisanship damages the collective reputation of the institution.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science
- Political Science and International Relations