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Partisan bias: a mental distortion that leads to partisanship

Partisan bias: a mental distortion that leads to partisanship

June 17, 2024

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

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

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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, independently of the affinity that the party itself generates.


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 their political proposals, when we assume a certain position. Evidently 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 an important influence on individual and collective attitudes and behaviors.

On the other hand, studies in partisan bias have also observed how this bias often sneaks into the media and the information they transmit , benefiting some parties to the detriment of others, especially during election campaign periods.


But how is party bias 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, are they mediated by an affective and emotional dimension? We will see below some proposals to answer these questions.

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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 the 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, and so on. That is, the general preferences of a voter are combined with the general positions of a party, which implies an affective orientation of the individual towards this.


Research on party bias 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 anguish of disagreeing with a group to which we feel an important emotional attachment. The latter is what ultimately generates the motivation to follow the line or position of the party, and leave the content of your policy in the background .

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

Thus, we tend to approve the policies of a party or candidate a priori, even without having to carry out an in-depth analysis of them or a process of collation 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 . All this because it allows us to reduce the cognitive effort that would involve finding ourselves in opposition; It is preferable to choose any position that adopts the part 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) analyze the participation of the affective dimension in the identification process with a political party in the Danish population. 27 men and 31 women between 19 and 35 years participated, many of them affiliated to political parties both center-left and center-right .

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

Subsequently, the participants were questioned to determine if they were in agreement with the proposals of the parties to which they were affiliated, or to 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 presented stimuli, they found that the partisan bias only manifested itself in the people who exhibited a strong physiological reaction during the exposure to the advertising sponsors. From this it is concluded 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 bias: beyond self-reported measures of party identification, 10 (5): DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pone.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 news media. A methodological criticism and proposal. Communication and Society, 30: 217-238.
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