Skip to content
Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter November 13, 2015

“Why Polarized Trust Matters”

Marc Hetherington
From the journal The Forum


The early 2000s has witnessed the rise of a new phenomenon in public opinion, polarized political trust. By polarized, I mean that those who identify with the party opposite the president express much less trust in government than those who identify with the president’s party. Indeed, outparty partisans express almost no political trust at all. This is important because it is this group of people who have traditionally been the bridge that allows for consensus building in the electorate. Consensus in the electorate, in turn, encourages cooperation across party lines in Congress. Without consensus but with deep distrust of the other party, office holders from the party opposite the president have no incentive to rise above their worst partisan instincts because partisans from their side will tend to blame the president’s party for resultant problems of governance.

Corresponding author: Marc Hetherington, Department of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, PMB 505, 230 Appleton place, Nashville, TN 37203-5721, USA, e-mail:


Abramowitz, Alan. 2010. The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy. New Haven: Yale University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Bafumi, Joseph, and Michael Herron. 2010. “Leapfrog Representation and Extremism: A Study of American Voters and Their Members of Congress.” American Political Science Review 104 (3): 519–542.10.1017/S0003055410000316Search in Google Scholar

Bartels, Larry M. 2002. “Beyond the Running Tally: Partisan Bias in Political Perceptions.” Political Behavior 24 (2): 117–150.10.1023/A:1021226224601Search in Google Scholar

Bartels, Larry M. 2008. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Binder, Sarah A. 2003. Stalemate: Causes and Consequences of Legislative Gridlock. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.Search in Google Scholar

Brady, David W., and Harie C. Han. 2006. “Polarization Then and Now: A Historical Perspective.” In Red and Blue Nation, edited by Pietro Nivola and David W. Brady, 119–151. Baltimore: Brookings/Hoover Press.Search in Google Scholar

Erikson, Robert S., Michael B. MacKuen, and James A. Stimson. 2002. The Macro Polity. New York: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9781139086912Search in Google Scholar

Fiorina, Morris, Samuel J. Abrams, and Jeremy C. Pope. 2005. Culture War? The Myth of Polarized America. 1st ed. New York: Pearson Longman.Search in Google Scholar

Gilens, Martin. 2012. Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.10.1515/9781400844821Search in Google Scholar

Hetherington, Marc J., and Thomas J. Rudolph. 2015. Why Washington Won’t Work: Polarization, Political Trust, and the Governing Crisis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226299358.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Iyengar, Shanto, G. Sood, and Y. Lelkes. 2012. “Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization.” Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (3): 405–431.10.1093/poq/nfs038Search in Google Scholar

Jacobson, Gary C. 2006. A Divider, Not a Uniter: George W. Bush and the American Public. New York: Pearson.Search in Google Scholar

Kernell, Samuel. 1986. Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. Washington: Congressional Quarterly Press.Search in Google Scholar

Lauderdale, Benjamin E. 2013. “Does Inattention to Political Debate Explain the Polarization Gap Between the U.S. Congress and Public?” Public Opinion Quarterly 77 (S): 2–23.10.1093/poq/nfs065Search in Google Scholar

Levendusky, Matthew. 2009. The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.10.7208/chicago/9780226473673.001.0001Search in Google Scholar

Lodge, Milton, and Charles Taber. 2000. “Three Steps toward a Theory of Motivated Reasoning.” In Elements of Reason: Cognition, Choice, and the Bounds of Rationality, edited by Arthur Lupia, Mathew D. McCubbins, and Samuel L. Popkin. Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511805813.009Search in Google Scholar

McClosky, Herbert. 1964. “Consensus and Ideology in American Politics.” AmericanPolitical Science Review 58 (2): 361–382.10.2307/1952868Search in Google Scholar

Miller, Arthur H. 1974. “Political Issues and Trust in Government: 1964-1970.” American Political Science Review 68 (3): 951–972.10.2307/1959140Search in Google Scholar

Page, Benjamin I., and Robert Y. Shapiro. 1983. “Effects of Public Opinion on Policy.” American Political Science Review 77 (1): 175–190.10.2307/1956018Search in Google Scholar

Shattschneider, E. E. 1960. The Semisovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston.Search in Google Scholar

Thomsen, Danielle M. 2014. “Ideological Moderates Won’t Run: How Party Fit Matters for Partisan Polarization in Congress.” Journal of Politics 76 (3): 786–797.10.1017/S0022381614000243Search in Google Scholar

Zaller, John R. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511818691Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2015-11-13
Published in Print: 2015-10-1

©2015 by De Gruyter

Scroll Up Arrow