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How Partisan Conflict in Congress Affects Public Opinion: Strategies, Outcomes, and Issue Differences

Date: 01/09/2016

Publication: SAGE Journals



Scholars are increasingly interested in how partisan conflict in Congress affects public evaluations of institutional performance. Yet, existing research overlooks how the public responds to one of the most widely discussed consequences of partisan conflict: legislative gridlock. We develop expectations about how partisan conflict resulting in partisan wins, losses, and gridlock will affect evaluations of Congress, and how these relationships will differ across consensus and non-consensus issues. Results from two survey experiments indicate that partisan conflict resulting in a victory for one’s own party boosts approval relative to compromise, but conflict resulting in gridlock substantially damages approval. However, the degree to which gridlock decreases approval hinges on the type of policy under consideration. On consensus issues, citizens reward legislative action by either party—their party or the opposing party—over gridlock.