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How Do Partisans Navigate Elite Intra-group Dissent? Leadership, Partisanship, and the Limits of Democratic Accountability (WP-20-17)

Alexandra Filindra and Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Democratic erosion has led scholars to query how voters respond to leaders who violate norms. Given polarization and the centrality of identity in partisan affiliations, criticism by co-partisan elites may be crucial to checking party leaders. The researchers draw on theories of partisanship as a social identity as well as perspectives on leadership and dissent to theorize how partisans respond to misbehavior by an ingroup leader, and to criticism of the leader by a co-partisan. They test their expectations through multiple survey experiments. They find evidence of ingroup bias in evaluations of the misbehaving leader and little evidence that ingroup dissent is an effective constraint on leaders. Except in the most serious leadership transgressions of ‘hard’ norms, people rally around leaders when confronted with dissent by co-partisan elites. Overall, the results suggest that ingroup dissent may not lead to leader accountability.

This paper is published in Political Behavior.

Alexandra Filindra, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Illinois at Chicago 

Laurel Harbridge-Yong, Associate Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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