In the context of politics, a committed member of a political party is known as a “partisan”, “partisan” or “partisan”. In this sense, partisan or partisan bias is the tendency to prefer the proposals of some parties or political actors to the detriment of others, considering more our affinity with the party than the content of such proposals.

All the above occurs through a process of identification that leads us to take certain positions, and in which different elements are involved that the studies on partisan bias have allowed us to know . In this article we will see what this is all about.

What is partisan or partisan bias?

It is assumed that when we assume an inclination or position with respect to a party, it is because we have prioritized and even analyzed in depth its political proposals, regardless of the affinity that the party itself generates for us.

The partisan bias shows us that, in reality, the opposite phenomenon usually occurs: even if we do not realize it, we tend to be guided more by our identification with the party, and not so much by its political proposals, when we assume a certain position. Obviously this ends up being decisive when developing opinions and making decisions in political activity.

In fact, scientific research in this context is abundant and has shown how partisanship has a major influence on both individual and collective attitudes and behaviour.

On the other hand, studies on party bias have also observed how this bias tends to slip through the media and the information they transmit , benefiting some parties to the detriment of others, especially during election campaign periods.

But how is it that party bias is generated? Do some people manifest it and others do not? Does identification with the party, and our political position, occur by a purely rational mechanism? Or is it mediated by an emotional and affective dimension? We will see below some proposals to answer these questions.

Identification and partisanship: how is this bias generated?

As we have said, studies on partisan or partisan bias have shown how people tend to sympathize with the proposals of the parties with which we identify most , regardless of the content of the proposal itself.

This identification refers to the process by which we recognize in the values promoted by a party our own values, desires, interests, expectations, life stories, etc. In other words, the general preferences of a voter are combined with the general positions of a party, which implies an affective orientation of the individual towards the party.

Research on partisanship suggests that this arises from attempts to defend a highly valued group identity. In other words, this bias is generated as a psychological mechanism to reduce the distress of disagreeing with a group to which we feel a strong emotional attachment. The latter is what finally generates the motivation to follow the line or position of the party, and leave the very content of its politics in the background .

As with other group identifications, this process is established from the earliest moments of our lives and from the significant changes that occur in our immediate environment.

Thus, we tend to approve a priori the policies of a party or candidate, even without the need for an in-depth analysis of these or a process of comparison with the policies of other candidates or parties.

In the same sense, we tend to discard, also a priori, the proposals of the opposing parties without having reviewed them in depth . This is because it allows us to reduce the cognitive effort that would be involved in finding ourselves in opposition; it is preferable to opt for any position adopted by the party we prefer.

A study on affective orientation

In a study on physiological responses related to partisan bias, Michael Bang, Ann Giessing and Jesper Nielsen (2015) analyse the involvement of the affective dimension in the process of identification with a political party in the Danish population. Twenty-seven men and 31 women between the ages of 19 and 35 participated , many of whom were affiliated to both centre-left and centre-right political parties .

In a laboratory they measured the changes that occurred in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (linked to emotional and affective activity) of the participants, in the face of the visual presentation of logos of different parties. They also used partisan signs as advertising sponsors and specific political proposals.

Participants were then questioned to determine whether they actually agreed with the proposals of the parties they were affiliated with, or those who showed affinity without necessarily being affiliated. In this they found that there was greater approval of the political proposals when the participants were affiliated .

On the other hand, when analyzing the reactions of the sympathetic nervous system to the stimuli presented, they found that the partisan bias only manifested itself in people who exhibited a strong physiological reaction during the exposure to the advertising sponsors. From this we conclude that there is a very important affective component in the identification towards the parties, which finally generates a partisan bias.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bang, M., Giessing, A. and Nielsen, J. (2015). Physiological responses and partisan bies: beyond self-reported measures of party identification, 10(5): DOI:10.1371/journal.pon.0126922.
  • Bullock, J., Gerber, A., Hill, S. and Huber, G. (2013). Partisan bias in factual beliefs about politics. NBER: Massachusetts.
  • Echeverría, M. (2017). Partisan bias in the media. A methodological criticism and proposal. Comunicación y Sociedad, 30: 217-238.