Partisanship and Perceptions of Party-Line Voting in Congress

Logan Dancey, Geoffrey Sheagley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


This paper explores public perceptions of congressional partisanship in an era of polarized parties. We use data from a module on the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) that asks respondents about the voting behavior of their legislators. Our results show that individuals underestimate the extent to which legislators from their own party vote the party line—even when primed with information about high levels of party-line voting in Congress—while fairly accurately perceiving levels of unity in the opposing party. We also find evidence that this perceptual gap endures, and at times widens, at higher levels of political knowledge and in the presence of elections. Finally, in a separate experiment, we explore how voters respond to differential levels of party-line voting by a hypothetical legislator. The combined results from the experiment and CCES module suggest voters’ perceptions often align with what allows them to have the most favorable impression of their party’s senators or unfavorable impression of the other party’s senators. The results suggest that biases in how voters process information about levels of partisanship in Congress may limit accountability in meaningful ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-45
Number of pages14
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The 2014 CCES was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Award # 1430505, and we thank the NSF for their financial support of the survey.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © 2017 University of Utah.


  • party polarization
  • party unity
  • perceptions


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