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An Asymmetrical “President-in-Power” Effect

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 December 2018

University of Vienna
New York University
New York University
*Davide Morisi, Assistant Professor, Department of Government, University of Vienna,
John T. Jost, Professor, Department of Psychology, New York University,
Vishal Singh, Associate Professor, Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University,


When political polarization is high, it may be assumed that citizens will trust the government more when the chief executive shares their own political views. However, evidence is accumulating that important asymmetries may exist between liberals and conservatives (or Democrats and Republicans). We hypothesized that an asymmetry may exist when it comes to individuals’ willingness to trust the government when it is led by the “other side.” In an extensive analysis of several major datasets (including ANES and GSS) over a period of five decades, we find that in the United States, conservatives trust the government more than liberals when the president in office shares their own ideology. Furthermore, liberals are more willing to grant legitimacy to democratic governments led by conservatives than vice versa. A similar asymmetry applies to Republicans compared with Democrats. We discuss implications of this asymmetrical “president-in-power” effect for democratic functioning.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 2018 

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An earlier version of this paper was presented at the conference of the International Society of Political Psychology in Edinburgh in July 2017. We thank Hanspeter Kriesi, participants in the Social Justice Lab at New York University, and three anonymous reviewers for extremely helpful feedback. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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