The Skeleton Scoop: Breaking down one story each week to the bare bones

Published: March 10, 2016

This week: Negative Partisanship — what is it, and why will it drive this year’s election?

By: Zachary Dyer


According to a recent report by CBS news, the voter turnout in the Democratic primaries so far is much lower than it was in 2008, which boasted a “huge” turnout. The number of voting-aged Democrats that came out to vote for the South Carolina Democratic primary, for example, was 30 percent less than it was in 2008. The Republicans, on the other hand, are hitting record highs – their turnout in South Carolina was 20 percent more than it was in the 2012 election.

Many Democrats are worried that this trend could carry over to the general election, which is looking more and more like it will be between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (barring a massive swing in Democratic superdelegate voting preferences).

Opinions by political experts vary on this, but many are of the mindset that, if Trump and Clinton run against each other in the general election, it’s a very real possibility that the 2016 election could actually have numbers even higher than those in 2008. These numbers will be driven by “negative partisanship.”


Negative partisanship is the phenomenon that occurs when people come out to vote for their party’s candidate based on reasons that have more to do with disdain for the other party’s candidate than their support for their own.

If you want a brief glimpse into negative partisanship, you need only look back a few weeks at the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. As soon as Scalia passed, leaving an open spot on the Supreme Court of the United States, Republican leaders stated that they would vehemently deny any Justice that President Barack Obama would appoint.

What this means in terms of a general election, simply, is that the reasoning for whom people are voting is based more on not wanting a candidate from the other party to win than it is on the merits of their own party’s candidate.

In a paper published by Emory University, authors Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster pointed out that there have been “sharp increases in party loyalty and straight ticket voting across all categories of party identification,” and “growing consistency between the results of presidential elections and the results of House and Senate elections.”


Negative partisanship is going to have a huge part to play in the coming election.

As Ben LaBolt, an adviser to President Obama in his 2008 campaign, stated “Donald Trump will do as much to unify the Democratic Party as any Democratic nominee is going to. The threat of an opposition that presents the absolute opposite of Barack Obama’s record and temperament may coalesce the party on its own.”

This is a sad thing to see in an election season – that the main force behind voters isn’t their beliefs, but their hatred of other party candidates.

“It kind of feels like something you would see in a third grade classroom,” says Master’s student Joseph Giannetta. “People aren’t voting because of the issues that are important to them. They’re voting because of how much they hate the other party, and that could have an effect on the results of an election. It’s just one more thing to show how frustrating a two-party system is and the problems it can create.”

If these predictions hold true, it’s looking as if Clinton will bring out a huge number of voters that have yet to be seen, just to see Trump lose the general election – not to see Clinton win.

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