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Bias Will Find a Way: Economic Perceptions, Attributions of Blame, and Partisan-Motivated Reasoning during Crisis

Partisans often perceive real world conditions in a manner that credits their own party. Yet recent findings suggest that partisans are capable of setting their loyalties aside when confronted with clear evidence, for example, during an economic crisis. This study examines a different possibility. While partisans may acknowledge the same reality, they may find other ways of aligning undeniable realities with their party loyalties. Using monthly survey data collected before and after the unexpected collapse of the British national economy (2004–10), this study presents one key finding: As partisans came to agree that economic conditions had gotten much worse, they conversely polarized in whether they thought the government was responsible. While the most committed partisans were surprisingly apt in acknowledging the economic collapse, they were also the most eager to attribute responsibility selectively. For that substantial share of the electorate, partisan-motivated reasoning seems highly adaptive.