Partisans’ receptivity to persuasive messaging is undiminished by countervailing party leader cues


It is widely assumed that party identification and loyalty can distort partisans’ information processing, diminishing their receptivity to counter-partisan arguments and evidence. Here we empirically evaluate this assumption. We test whether American partisans’ receptivity to arguments and evidence is diminished by countervailing cues from in-party leaders (Donald Trump or Joe Biden), using a survey experiment with 24 contemporary policy issues and 48 persuasive messages containing arguments and evidence (N = 4,531; 22,499 observations). We find that, while in-party leader cues influenced partisans’ attitudes, often more strongly than the persuasive messages, there was no evidence that the cues meaningfully diminished partisans’ receptivity to the messages—despite them directly contradicting the messages. Rather, persuasive messages and countervailing leader cues were integrated as independent pieces of information. These results generalized across policy issues, demographic subgroups and cue environments, and challenge existing assumptions about the extent to which party identification and loyalty distort partisans’ information processing.

Nature Human Behaviour
Ben Tappin
Research Fellow