American Journal of Cultural Sociology

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 443–459 | Cite as

The fragmenting of the civil sphere: How partisan identity shapes the moral evaluation of candidates and epistemology

  • Daniel Kreiss
Original Article


The 2016 U.S. presidential election upended a number of scholarly expectations about electoral politics. Many academics and pundits predicted that president Donald Trump’s flaunting of democratic norms, from his rhetoric on the campaign trail to his financial conflicts of interest, would undermine his candidacy. How do we explain Trump’s appeal to his core supporters and Republicans more generally? First, this paper argues that Trump was able to exploit partisan identity becoming the key basis for moral evaluation among the democratic public. Second, this paper argues that partisan identity has fractured civic epistemology, the basis upon which people understand and agree upon political facts and truths.


2016 U.S. presidential election Donald Trump partisanship journalism epistemology 


  1. Abramowitz, A.I. and Webster, S. (2016) The rise of negative partisanship and the nationalization of US elections in the 21st century. Electoral Studies 41: 12–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander, J.C. (2006) The Civil Sphere. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Alexander, J.C. (2010) The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Alexander, J.C., Breese, E.B. and Luengo, M. (eds.) (2016) The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Anderson, C.W. (2013) Rebuilding the News: Metropolitan Journalism in the Digital Age. Temple University.Google Scholar
  6. Carlson, M. (2016) Telling the crisis story of journalism: Narratives of normative reassurance in Page One. The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered: Democratic Culture, Professional Codes, Digital Future, pp. 135–152.Google Scholar
  7. Carlson, M. and Lewis, S.C. (eds.) (2015) Boundaries of Journalism: Professionalism, Practices and Participation. Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Cetina, K.K. (2009) What is a pipe? Obama and the sociological imagination. Theory, Culture & Society 26(5): 129–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coleman, G. (2016) on truth and lies in a pragmatic, performative sense (with my respects to nietzsche), AKA: Reality needs a better PR Department. Paper presentation at the American Anthropological Association.Google Scholar
  10. Cook, T.E. (1998) Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  11. Deuze, M. (2005) What is journalism? Professional identity and ideology of journalists reconsidered. Journalism 6(4): 442–464.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ettema, J.S. and Glasser, T.L. (1998) Custodians of Conscience: Investigative Journalism and Public Virtue. Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Fiorina, M.P. (2013) America’s polarized politics: Causes and solutions. Perspectives on Politics 11(3): 852–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flynn, D.J., Nyhan, B. and Reifler, J. (2017) The nature and origins of misperceptions: Understanding false and unsupported beliefs about politics. Political Psychology 38(S1): 127–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Giroux, H.A. (2016) Political frauds, donald trump, and the ghost of totalitarianism. Knowledge Cultures 4(5): 95–108.Google Scholar
  16. Graves, L. (2016) Deciding What’s True: The Rise of Political Fact-Checking in American Journalism. Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Green, D.P., Palmquist, B. and Schickler, E. (2004) Partisan Hearts and Minds: Political Parties and the Social Identities of Voters. Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hart, P.S. and Nisbet, E.C. (2012) Boomerang effects in science communication: How motivated reasoning and identity cues amplify opinion polarization about climate mitigation policies. Communication Research 39(6): 701–723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hemmer, N. (2016) Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics. University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  20. Hersh, E.D. and Goldenberg, M.N. (2016) Democratic and Republican physicians provide different care on politicized health issues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113(42): 11811–11816.Google Scholar
  21. Hochschild, A.R. (2016) Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New Press.Google Scholar
  22. Iyengar, S., Sood, G. and Lelkes, Y. (2012) Affect, not ideology: A social identity perspective on polarization. Public Opinion Quarterly 76(3): 405–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jacobs, R.N. and Townsley, E. (2011) The Space of Opinion: Media Intellectuals and the Public Sphere. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Jasanoff, S. (2011) Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kreiss, D. (2015). The problem of citizens: E-democracy for actually existing democracy. Social Media + Society 1(2): 2056305115616151.Google Scholar
  26. Kahan, D.M. (2015) What is the ‘science of science communication’? Journal of Science Communication 14(3): 1–12.Google Scholar
  27. Kahan, D.M. (2016) The politically motivated reasoning paradigm, part 1: What politically motivated reasoning is and how to measure it. Emerging Trends in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary, Searchable, and Linkable Resource.Google Scholar
  28. Kreiss, D. (2016) Beyond administrative journalism: Civic skepticism and the crisis in journalism. The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered: Democratic Culture, Professional Codes, Digital Future, p. 59.Google Scholar
  29. Ladd, J.M. (2011) Why Americans Hate the Media and How It Matters. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Levendusky, M. (2009) The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans. University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  31. Mast, J.L. (2012) The Performative Presidency: Crisis and Resurrection During the Clinton Years. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Mast, J.L. (2016) Action in culture: Act I of the presidential primary campaign in the US, April to December, 2015. American Journal of Cultural Sociology 4(3): 241–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McAdam, D. and Kloos, K. (2014). Deeply Divided: Racial Politics and Social Movements in Post-War America. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. New York Times. (2016) Election 2016: Exit Polls. The New York Times, November 8,, accessed June 29, 2016.
  35. Nielsen, R.K. (2014) The many crises of Western journalism: A comparative analysis of economic, professional, and simbolic crises. In: The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered: Cultural Power.Google Scholar
  36. Oreskes, N. and Conway, E.M. (2011) Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Bloomsbury Publishing, USA.Google Scholar
  37. Pew Research Center. (2017) 2016 Election: The latest facts, figures and public opinion shaping the 2016 presidential election., accessed June 30, 2017.
  38. Romney, M. (2016) Mitt Romney Speaks Out Against Donald Trump. Bing, March 3., accessed June 29, 2017.
  39. Schudson, M. and Anderson, C., (2009) Objectivity, professionalism, and truth seeking in journalism. The Handbook of Journalism Studies, pp. 88–101.Google Scholar
  40. Schudson, M. (1998) The Good Citizen: A History of American Civic Life. Free Press.Google Scholar
  41. Schudson, M. (1981) Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers. Basic Books.Google Scholar
  42. Sides, J. and Farrell, F. (eds.) (2016) The Science of Trump: Explaining the Rise of an Unlikely Candidate. Amazon Kindle, 2016., accessed June 29, 2017.
  43. Slothuus, R. and de Vreese, C.H. (2010) Political parties, motivated reasoning, and issue framing effects. The Journal of Politics 72(3): 630–645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tuchman, G. (1972) Objectivity as strategic ritual: An examination of newsmen’s notions of objectivity. American Journal of Sociology 77(4): 660–679.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. van der Linden, S. (2015) The social-psychological determinants of climate change risk perceptions: Towards a comprehensive model. Journal of Environmental Psychology 41: 112–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. van der Linden, S. (2016) A conceptual critique of the cultural cognition thesis. Science Communication 38(1): 128–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. YouGov. (2016) Belief in conspiracies largely depends on political identity., accessed June 30, 2017.

Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Media and JournalismUniversity of North Carolina, Carroll HallChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations