Partisanship, Political Awareness, and Retrospective Evaluations, 1956–2016

  • Philip Edward JonesEmail author
Original Paper


A long line of research shows that voters frequently evaluate objective conditions through a perceptual screen, seeing a stronger economy and more peaceful world when their party is in power. We know less about how and why these partisan perceptual differences have changed over recent history, however. This paper combines ANES measures of retrospective evaluations from 1956 to 2016 and shows that partisan differences (1) have increased significantly over the past few decades across all types of assessments; (2) are greatest, and have changed the most, amongst the most politically aware; and (3) closely track changes in elite polarization over this time period. The extent of partisan disagreement in retrospective evaluations is thus not constant, but rather contingent on attributes of the voter and the political context. Greater political awareness and more polarized politicians result in larger partisan perceptual differences, as the most engaged citizens are the most likely to receive and internalize cues about the state of the world from their party’s elites.


Retrospective evaluations Partisanship Political awareness 



I am grateful to Andrew Reeves and Edward Burmila for advice and encouragement on early versions of this project, and to the journal’s five anonymous reviewers for feedback that improved the quality of this work significantly. All errors, of course, remain my own. Data and code to replicate the results in this article are available at

Supplementary material

11109_2019_9543_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (690 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 689 KB)


  1. Achen, C. H., & Bartels, L. M. (2016). Democracy for realists: Why elections do not produce responsive government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bartels, L. M. (2002). Beyond the running tally: Partisan bias in political perceptions. Political Behavior, 24(2), 117–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bisgaard, M. (2015). Bias will find a way: Economic perceptions, attributions of blame, and partisan-motivated reasoning during crisis. Journal of Politics, 77(3), 849–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bisgaard, M., & Slothuus, R. (2018). Partisan elites as culprits? How party cues shape partisan perceptual gaps. American Journal of Political Science, 62(2), 456–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., & Stokes, D. E. (1960). The American voter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chzhen, K., Evans, G., & Pickup, M. (2014). When do economic perceptions matter for party approval? Political Behavior, 36(2), 291–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clarke, H. D., & McCutcheon, A. L. (2009). The dynamics of party identification reconsidered. Public Opinion Quarterly, 73(4), 704–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Conover, P. J., Feldman, S., & Knight, K. (1987). The personal and political underpinnings of economic forecasts. American Journal of Political Science, 31(3), 559–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Druckman, J. N., Peterson, E., & Slothuus, R. (2013). How elite partisan polarization affects public opinion formation. American Political Science Review, 107(1), 57–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duch, R. M., Palmer, H. D., & Anderson, C. J. (2000). Heterogeneity in perceptions of national economic conditions. American Journal of Political Science, 44(4), 635–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Enns, P. K., & McAvoy, G. E. (2012). The role of partisanship in aggregate opinion. Political Behavior, 34, 637–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Evans, G., & Andersen, R. (2006). The political conditioning of economic perceptions. Journal of Politics, 68(1), 194–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Evans, G., & Pickup, M. (2010). Reversing the causal arrow: The political conditioning of economic perceptions in the 2000–2004 U.S. presidential election cycle. Journal of Politics, 72(4), 1236–1251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fiorina, M. P. (1981). Retrospective voting in American national elections. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Gaines, B. J., Kuklinski, J. H., Quirk, P. J., Peyton, B., & Verkuilen, J. (2007). Same facts, different interpretations: Partisan motivation and opinion on Iraq. Journal of Politics, 69(4), 957–974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gerber, A. S., & Huber, G. A. (2010). Partisanship, political control, and economic assessments. American Journal of Political Science, 54(1), 153–173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Green, D., Bradley, P., & Eric, S. (2002). Partisan hearts and minds: Political parties and the social identities of voters. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Healy, A., Kuo, A. G., & Malhotra, N. (2014). Partisan bias in blame attribution: When does it occur? Journal of Experimental Political Science, 1, 144–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Healy, A., & Lenz, G. S. (2013). Substituting the end for the whole: Why voters respond primarily to the election year economy. American Journal of Political Science, 58(1), 34–47.Google Scholar
  20. Healy, A., & Malhotra, N. (2013). Retrospective voting reconsidered. Annual Review of Political Science, 16, 285–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jerit, J., & Barabas, J. (2012). Partisan perceptual bias and the information environment. Journal of Politics, 74(3), 672–684.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Joslyn, M. R., & Haider-Markel, D. P. (2014). Who knows best? Education, partisanship, and contested facts. Politics & Policy, 42(6), 919–947.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Key, V. O. (1966). The responsible electorate. New York: Vintage Books.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kinder, D. R., & Roderick Kiewiet, D. (1981). Sociotropic politics: The American case. British Journal of Political Science, 11(2), 129–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Lavine, H., Johnston, C. D., & Steenbergen, M. R. (2012). The ambivalent partisan: How critical loyalty promotes democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lenz, G. S. (2012). Follow the leader? How voters respond to politicians’ policies and performance. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lewis-Beck, M. S., Martini, N. F., & Roderick Kiewiet, D. (2013). The nature of economic perceptions in mass publics. Electoral Studies, 32, 524–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lewis, J. B., Poole, K., Rosenthal, H., Boche, A., Rudkin, A., & Sonnet, L. (2018). Voteview: Congressional roll-call votes database.
  29. Markus, G. B. (1988). The impact of personal and national economic conditions on the presidential vote: A pooled cross-sectional analysis. American Journal of Political Science, 32(1), 137–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Parker-Stephen, E. (2013). Tides of disagreement: How reality facilitates (and inhibits) partisan public opinion. Journal of Politics, 75(4), 1077–1088.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Redlawsk, D. P. (2002). Hot cognition or cool consideration? Testing the effects of motivated reasoning on political decision making. Journal of Politics, 64(4), 1021–1044.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Rudolph, T. J. (2003). Who’s responsible for the economy? The formation and consequences of responsibility attributions. American Journal of Political Science, 47(4), 698–713.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Schaffner, B., & Roche, C. (2017). Misinformation and motivated reasoning: responses to economic news in a politicized environment. Public Opinion Quarterly, 81(1), 86–110.Google Scholar
  34. Shyu, W. M., Grosse, E., & Cleveland, W. S. (2017). Local regression models. In Statistical models in S (pp. 309–376). Routledge.Google Scholar
  35. Slothuus, R., & de Vreese, C. H. (2010). Political parties, motivated reasoning, and issue framing effects. Journal of Politics, 72(3), 630–645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Taber, C. S., Cann, D., & Kucsova, S. (2009). The motivated processing of political arguments. Political Behavior, 31(2), 137–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Taber, C. S., & Lodge, M. (2006). Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs. American Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 755–769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Tilley, J., & Hobolt, S. B. (2011). Is the government to blame? An experimental test of how partisanship shapes perceptions of performance and responsibility. Journal of Politics, 73(2), 316–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Weinschenk, A. C. (2012). Partisan pocketbooks: The politics of personal financial evaluations. Social Science Quarterly, 93(4), 968–987.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wells, C., Reedy, J., Gastil, J., & Lee, C. (2009). Information distortion and voting choices: The origins and effects of factual beliefs in initiative elections. Political Psychology, 30(6), 953–969.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wlezien, C., Franklin, M., & Twiggs, D. (1997). Economic perceptions and vote choice: Disentangling the endogeneity. Political Behavior, 19(1), 7–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wooldridge, J. M. (2009). Introductory econometrics: A modern approach. Boston: Cengage Learning.Google Scholar
  43. Zaller, J. (1992). The nature and origins of mass opinion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zaller, J. (2004). Floating voters in U.S. presidential elections, 1948–2000. In W. E. Saris & P. M. Sniderman (Eds.), Studies in public opinion: Attitudes, nonattitudes, measurement error, and change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science and International RelationsUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

Personalised recommendations