Cooperation, trust and distrust in Political competition

“Political Competition, Partisanship and Interpersonal Trust in Electoral Democracies” published by Ryan E. Carlin and Gregory J. Love in the British Journal of Political Science explore how party polarization influences inter-partisan trust discrimination and how perceived polarization affects partisan identities. Past literature in political science links political decision making in low-information environments to cognitive heuristics, which means using stereotypes as a tool for decision-making. Carlin et al.’s research is incredibly relevant to the current political atmosphere as individuals categorize each other as far-right and far-left, succumbing to partisan trust discrimination which can only be reconciled through a common goal.

Operating through the understanding that co-operation is beneficial to resolve social conflict within and outside of a group, Carlin et al. introduce interpersonal trust, or a co-operative social preference, as a mechanism in democracy. Due to the nature of interpersonal trust, it requires an individual to place a significant amount of trust on a party or individual; however, this creates distrust towards supporters outside of this group. This effect is supported by the social identity and self-categorization theories. According to political scientists, political decision-making in low-information environments is linked to using stereotypes as a tool for making these decisions. melaniechen9985 speaks of real-life examples where assumptions about supporters of opposing parties can further polarize individuals, and how it is evident across countries with democracies. Since individuals trust those holding the same beliefs and distrust those who do not, this naturally creates a partisan bias which encourages partisan trust discrimination.

Social psychologists state that in-group favouritism fostered by positive emotions and stereotypes come more naturally than actively distrusting out-group supporters. Werron’s ideas of zero-sum games are present in politics as individuals may feel threatened by another party who may not hold their interests at heart; therefore, opposing parties hold the possibility of harming or not benefitting individuals belonging to a different party. In the article, partisan trust discrimination fosters zero-sum game politics and individuals will choose, afraid of losing something, a less advantageous outcome rather than connecting dissimilar groups and working for the interest of others. This active out-group distrust occurs when individual fault lines are exploited for political reasons.

With the understanding that partisan trust discrimination occurs due to a bias towards those who are similarly minded, and political-environmental factors can exacerbate relations with supporters of other parties, the authors offer an awareness of the underlying psychology manifesting through certain behaviours in political competition.  Apart from this knowledge, the authors do not suggest a bottom to top reformation (meaning from the people), rather they believe that accomplishing a major foreign policy goal (from top to the bottom), such as the death of Osama bin Laden would lower the inter-partisan trust discrimination. Is there a way to convince individuals to co-operate towards a positive common goal rather than a common enemy?

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  1. I really like the ideas presented here, especially the part about partisan bias. It seems a common theme that people trust others with the same belief and distrust those who have different beliefs. I makes sense how big of a role this plays in politics and I feel your explanation of this helped me understand this further.

    Additionally, I really liked the end where you mentioned the idea of a common enemy as being the main way parties have cooperated. Your example was more than apt. Suggesting that perhaps finding a positive common goal instead, I feel is a really good alternative to this partisan distrust, and not just partisan.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello. This was a very thorough analysis of the study by Carlin et al.
    While I was reading this post, I was reminded of the confirmation bias, where individuals tend to see for information that justifies their preexisting beliefs. I suppose this type of mentality exists outside of politics as well, where individuals trust information that methods that are tried and true.
    I also found that conclusion very insightful, where you mentioned that we should work towards a common goal rather than a common enemy. I feel like this really emphasizes the importance of perspective, and how looking at things in a more positive manner can perhaps provide ways for individuals to cooperate in a more healthy and positive way.

    Liked by 1 person

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