The Ambivalent Partisan: How Critical Loyalty Promotes Democracy

Howard G. Lavine, Christopher D. Johnston, Marco R. Steenbergen

Research output: Book/ReportBook

246 Scopus citations


Over the past half-century, two overarching topics have dominated the study of mass political behaviour: How do ordinary citizens form their political judgments, and how good are they from a normative perspective? This book provides a novel goal-based approach to these questions, one that compels a wholesale rethinking of the roots of responsible democratic citizenship. The central claim of the book is that partisan identity comes in qualitatively different forms, with distinct political consequences. Blind partisan loyalty, as the pejorative label implies, facilitates bias and reduces attention to valuable information. Critical loyalty, by doing the opposite, outperforms standard measures of political engagement in leading to normatively desirable judgments. Drawing on both experimental and survey methods-as well as five decades of American political history-this book examines the nature and quality of mass political judgment across a wide range of political contexts, from perceptions of the economy, to the formation, updating, and organization of public policy preferences, to electoral judgment and partisan change. Contrary to much previous scholarship, the empirical findings reveal that rational judgment-holding preferences that align with one's material interests, values, and relevant facts-does not hinge on cognitive ability. Rather, breaking out of the apathy-versus-bias prison requires critical involvement, and critical involvement requires critical partisan loyalty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Place of PublicationNew York, NY
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages318
ISBN (Electronic)9780199979622
ISBN (Print)9780199772759
StatePublished - Jan 24 2013

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2012. All rights reserved.


  • Citizenship
  • Critical loyalty
  • Mass politics
  • Motivated reasoning
  • Partisanship
  • Political behavior
  • Voting


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