Conservatives and liberals don’t just disagree—they actually like to hate each other. And it’s getting uglier.
If you’re confused about why a president whose campaign is under investigation for its possible ties to Russian hackers, whose approval ratings are abysmal only halfway into his first year, whose legislative agenda is already off the rails, and who launches bizarre Twitter rants each day still commands the fealty of the Republican Party, don’t be. Donald Trump thrives amid all this chaos because of the rise of a phenomenon that we have labeled “negative partisanship.”
The concept is pretty simple: Over the past few decades, American politics has become like a bitter sports rivalry, in which the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose. Republicans might not love the president, but they absolutely loathe his Democratic adversaries. And it’s also true of Democrats, who might be consumed by their internal feuds over foreign policy and the proper role of government were it not for Trump. Negative partisanship explains nearly everything in American politics today—from why Trump’s base is unlikely to abandon him even if, as he once said, he were to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, to why it was so easy for vulnerable red-state Democrats to resist defecting on the health care bill.
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