Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Power of the Dark Side: Negative Partisanship and Political Behaviour in Canada

  • Nicholas J. Caruana (a1), R. Michael McGregor (a2) and Laura B. Stephenson (a1)

The origins and implications of partisan identification are well-studied, but negative partisan attitudes—dislike for a particular party—have escaped such scrutiny, even as the politics of negativity enjoys sustained popularity, especially come election time. In this paper we build upon the comparatively modest negative partisanship literature to consider the effects of negative partisan attitudes on a range of political behaviours. There are reasons to suspect that negative and positive partisanship may have different effects; thus, accounting for the unique influence of negative attitudes is important for understanding the full effect of partisanship on political behaviour. Our results, based upon Canadian Election Study data from 2008 and 2011, reveal that, in addition to vote choice, negative partisanship influences voter turnout and a range of political activities, both related and unrelated to parties. These findings provide evidence of the power of the “dark side” of partisanship.

Les origines et les implications de la partisannerie sont bien connues, mais les orientations partisanes négatives–c'est à dire, l'antipathie ou l'aversion envers un parti politique en particulier–sont méconnues et ceci, alors même que la politique de la négativité demeure largement répandue, surtout en période électorale. Cet article cherche à étoffer le modeste corpus d’études relatives à la partisannerie négative en considérant les effets des attitudes partisanes négatives sur un éventail de comportements politiques. Il y a de nombreuses raisons de croire que la partisannerie négative et positive engendrent différents effets. Il est donc important de tenir compte de l'influence spécifique des attitudes négatives pour comprendre l'effet de la partisannerie sur le comportement politique. Nos résultats, fondés sur les données des Études électorales canadiennes des années 2008 et 2012, démontrent qu'en plus du choix électoral, la partisannerie négative influence le taux de participation ainsi qu'une variété d'activités politiques, liées ou non aux partis. Ces résultats attestent de la force du «côté obscur» de la partisannerie politique.

Corresponding author
University of Western Ontario, Department of Political Science, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 5C2, email:
Department of Politics and International Studies, Bishop's University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada, J1M 1Z7 email:
University of Western Ontario, Department of Political Science, London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 5C2, email:
Hide All
Bafumi, Joseph and Shapiro, Robert Y.. 2009. “A New Partisan Voter.” The Journal of Politics 71: 124.
Bassili, John N. 1995. “On the Psychological Reality of Party Identification: Evidence from the Accessibility of Voting Intentions and of Partisan Feelings.” Political Behavior 17: 339–58.
Baumeister, Roy F., Bratslavsky, Ellen, Finkenauer, Catrin and Vohs, Kathleen D.. 2001. “Bad Is Stronger Than Good.” Review of General Psychology 5: 323–70.
Blais, André. 2000. To Vote or Not to Vote: The Merits and Limits of Rational Choice Theory. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
Blais, André, Gidengil, Elisabeth, Nadeau, Richard and Nevitte, Neil. 2002. Anatomy of a Liberal Victory: Making Sense of the Vote in the 2000 Canadian Election. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
Budge, Ian, and Farlie, Dennis. 1976. “A Comparative Analysis of Factors Correlated with Turnout and Voting Choice.” Party Identification and Beyond. Representations of Voting and Party Competition, ed. Budge, Ian, Crewe, Ivor and Farlie, Dennis. Toronto: J. Wiley.
Cacioppo, John T. and Gardner, Wendi L.. 1999. “Emotion.” Annual Review of Psychology 50: 191214.
Carmon, Ziv and Ariely, Dan. 2000. “Focusing on the Forgone: How Value Can Appear So Different to Buyers and Sellers.” Journal of Consumer Research 27: 360–70.
Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E. and Stokes, Donald E.. 1960. The American Voter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Coulson, Tony. 1999. “Voter Turnout in Canada: Findings from the 1997 Canadian Election Study.” Electoral Insight November 1999. (March 1, 2014).
Crewe, Ivor. 1980. “Negative Partisanship: Some Preliminary Ideas Using British Data.” Paper presented at the Planning Session on Problems in Comparative Survey Research in Political Behaviour: Issues in Data Collection and Analysis, Joint Sessions of the European Consortium for Political Research, March 1980.
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.
Estrada, Luis M. 2005. “Party Identification in Mexico.” Doctoral dissertation. University of California, San Diego.
Fiorina, Morris P. 1981. Retrospective Voting in American Elections. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Garry, John. 2007. “Making ‘Party Identification’ More Versatile: Operationalising the Concept for the Multiparty Setting.” Electoral Studies 26: 346–58.
Gidengil, Elisabeth, Blais, André, Nevitte, Neil and Nadeau, Richard. 2004. Citizens. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Gidengil, Elisabeth, Nevitte, Neil, Blais, André, Everitt, Joanna and Fournier, Patrick. 2012. Dominance and Decline: Making Sense of Recent Canadian Elections. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Goren, Paul. 2005. “Party Identification and Core Political Values.” American Journal of Political Science 49: 881–96.
Grabe, Maria Elizabeth, Lang, Annie, Zhou, Shuhua and Bolls, Paul David. 2000. “Cognitive Access to Negatively Arousing News: An Experimental Investigation of the Knowledge Gap.” Communication Research 27 (1): 326.
Green, Donald, Palmquist, Bradley and Schickler, Eric. 2002. Partisan Hearts and Minds: Political Parties and the Social Identities of Voters. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Greene, Steven. 1999. “Understanding Party Identification: A Social Identity Approach.” Political Psychology 20: 393403.
Johnston, Richard. 2006. “Party Identification: Unmoved Mover or Sum of Preferences?Annual Review of Political Science 9: 329–51.
Kahneman, Daniel and Tversky, Amos. 1979. “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk.” Econometrica: Journal of the Econometric Society 47: 263–91.
Kahneman, Daniel, Knetsch, Jack L. and Thaler, Richard H. 1990. “Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 5: 193206.
Key, V.O. Jr. 1966. The Responsible Electorate. Cambridge MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Loewen, Peter John. 2010. “Affinity, Antipathy, and Political Participation: How Our Concern for Others Makes Us Vote.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 43: 661–87.
Maggiotto, Michael A. and Piereson, James E.. 1977. “Partisan Identification and Electoral Choice: The Hostility Hypothesis.” American Journal of Political Science 21: 745–67.
Martin, Paul S. 2008. “The Mass Media as Sentinel: Why Bad News about Issues is Good News for Participation.” Political Communication 25: 180–93.
McGregor, R. Michael, Caruana, Nicholas and Stephenson, Laura. 2014. Negative Partisanship in a Multi-Party System: The Case of Canada.” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties (forthcoming).
McGregor, R. Michael. 2012. “Voter Sincerity and the Time-of-Voting-Decision.” Electoral Studies 31: 715–25.
Medeiros, M. and Noël, A. 2014 . The Forgotten Side of Partisanship: Negative Party Identification in Four Anglo-American Democracies. Comparative Political Studies (forthcoming).
Nevitte, Neil. 1996. The Decline of Deference: Canadian Value Change in Cross-national Perspective. Peterborough: Broadview Press.
Newhagen, John E. and Reeves, Byron. 1992. “The Evening's Bad News: Effects of Compelling Negative Television News Images on Memory.” Journal of Communication 42: 2541.
Norris, Pippa. 1999. Critical Citizens: Global Support for Democratic Government. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pammett, Jon H. and LeDuc, Lawrence. 2003. “Explaining the Turnout Decline in Canadian Federal Elections: A New Survey of Non-Voters. Report for Elections Canada. (March 1, 2014).
Powell, G. Bingham Jr. 1986. “American Voter Turnout in Comparative Perspective.” American Political Science Review 80: 1743.
Rose, Richard and Mishler, William. 1998. “Negative and Positive Party Identification in Post-Communist Countries.” Electoral Studies 17: 217–34.
Rozin, Paul and Royzman, Edward B.. 2001. “Negativity Bias, Negativity Dominance, and Contagion.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 5: 296320.
Sigelman, Lee and Gant, Michael M.. 1989. “Anticandidate Voting in the 1984 Presidential Election.” Political Behavior 11: 8192.
Smets, Kaat and van Ham, Carolien. 2013. “The Embarrassment of Riches? A Meta-analysis of Individual-level Research on Voter Turnout.” Electoral Studies 32: 344–59.
Smirnov, Oleg, Dawes, Christopher T., Fowler, James H., Johnson, Tim and McElreath, Richard. 2010. “The Behavioral Logic of Collective Action: Partisans Cooperate and Punish More Than Nonpartisans.” Political Psychology 31: 595616.
Soroka, Stuart, Nir, Lilach and Fournier, Patrick. 2013. “Negativity Biases in Reaction to Network News: A Cross-national, Psychophysiological Pilot Study.” Paper presented at the Toronto Political Behaviour Workshop, November 2013. Cited with permission.
Taylor, Shelley E. 1991. “Asymmetrical Effects of Positive and Negative Events: The Mobilization-Minimization Hypothesis.” Psychological Bulletin 110: 6785.
Thaler, Richard. 1980. “Toward a Positive Theory of Consumer Choice.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 1: 3960.
Wattenberg, Martin P. 1982. “Party Identification and Party Images: A Comparison of Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United States.” Comparative Politics 15: 2340.
Zaller, John. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed