Political Behavior

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 235–262 | Cite as

The Influence of Partisan Motivated Reasoning on Public Opinion

  • Toby Bolsen
  • James N. DruckmanEmail author
  • Fay Lomax Cook
Original Paper


Political parties play a vital role in democracies by linking citizens to their representatives. Nonetheless, a longstanding concern is that partisan identification slants decision-making. Citizens may support (oppose) policies that they would otherwise oppose (support) in the absence of an endorsement from a political party—this is due in large part to what is called partisan motivated reasoning where individuals interpret information through the lens of their party commitment. We explore partisan motivated reasoning in a survey experiment focusing on support for an energy law. We identify two politically relevant factors that condition partisan motivated reasoning: (1) an explicit inducement to form an “accurate” opinion, and (2) cross-partisan, but not consensus, bipartisan support for the law. We further provide evidence of how partisan motivated reasoning works psychologically and affects opinion strength. We conclude by discussing the implications of our results for understanding opinion formation and the overall quality of citizens’ opinions.


Motivated reasoning Parties Partisan trust Experiment 



We thank Aries Arugay, Kevin Levay, Julia Valdes, and especially Josh Robison for research assistance. We also are grateful to Matt Baum and Sean Richey for insightful comments and the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN) for research funding.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Toby Bolsen
    • 1
  • James N. Druckman
    • 2
    Email author
  • Fay Lomax Cook
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Institute for Policy ResearchNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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