In-Group Love Versus Out-Group Hate: Which Is More Important to Partisans and When?


Recent evidence indicates that partisans discriminate against those from the opposing party. However, it is still unclear whether partisan out-group prejudice reveals a desire for out-group harm or in-group help. We investigate the conditions under which these tendencies arise. Using one observational survey and three survey experiments, we show that when given the chance to either harm the out-group or help the in-group, people tend to choose the latter. Yet while the tendency to help the in-group appears to be primary, we also show that under situations of symbolic threat to partisan identity, respondents shift gears and opt for harming the out-group as a strategy to defend the status of their political group identity. These results add to our understanding of how partisan identity and polarization works in non-elites.

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  1. 1.

    This group of scholars explain polarization at this level as an artifact of extreme political activists that is erroneously discussed by the media as a problem in the electorate.

  2. 2.

    We note here that since Study 1 is observational, the results from this online convenience sample must be taken with a grain of salt, as the individual survey takes are non-representative of the American population.

  3. 3.

    Control variables can still reduce noise in experimental contexts (Gerber and Green 2012) and serve as robustness checks.

  4. 4.

    We note here at that in the normal circumstances of the Control condition, Democrats (M = .39, SE = .05) were more likely to select the out-party harm article than Republicans (M = .181, SE = .06) at z(33,73)  =  − 2.18, p = .02.

  5. 5.

    We also ran this model as a logistic regression in which the dependent variable is coded such that 1 = Chose Harm the Out-Party and 0 = Chose Help In-Party or Neither. Results can be seen in Table 9 of the Appendix. In this model, the threat condition produces a null result. We believe this is because harming the out-party is not a unique option from the combination of the other two options; all three are conceptually distinct and should be estimated with the multinomial logistic regression.

  6. 6.

    Interestingly, our findings are robust against partisanship strength. Greene (1999, 2002) has shown that the social component of partisanship increases for people who identify as Strong Democrats and Strong Republicans. People who fall into these categories should more profoundly internalize the threat. We report the interaction between the experimental condition and partisan strength for each of the three experimental studies in the Online Appendix Tables 2, 3 and 4. Surprisingly, we found no significant effects on the interaction term in any of the studies. This suggests that the threat’s effect on weak party identifiers is just as impactful as it is on strong party identifiers—at least in our samples.


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Correspondence to Karyn Amira.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of College of Charleston IRB Board (Protocol Number with final addendum number: IRB-2016-06-01-085424-a-2017-09-30-121409) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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See Tables 8, 9 and Figs. 6, 7, 8.

Table 8 Sample characteristics for studies 1–4
Table 9 Study 3 and 4 results When DV is dichotomized
Fig. 6

Articles for respondent selection in all studies. Note that Republican identifiers see the opposite: an article praising Republicans for fixing gridlock and an article criticizing Democrats for a disproportionate number of financial scandals

Fig. 7

Study 2 and study 3 moral threat news clipping. Note that the word “Democrat” is replaced with “Republican” for the Republican survey path

Fig. 8

Study 4 personalized moral threat news clipping. Note that the word “Democrat” is replaced with the word “Republican” for the Republican survey path

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Amira, K., Wright, J.C. & Goya-Tocchetto, D. In-Group Love Versus Out-Group Hate: Which Is More Important to Partisans and When?. Polit Behav (2019).

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  • Partisanship
  • Affective polarization
  • Symbolic threat
  • Moral threat
  • Survey experiment
  • Intergroup hostility