Deficit Attention Disorder: Partisan-Motivated Reasoning About Government Overspending

30 November 2020, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


Government overspending remains a prominent concern in American politics. Yet, despite the burgeoning literature on partisan-motivated reasoning (PMR), we know little about the extent to which such concern arises from partisan considerations. We advance extant literature by uncovering a novel means by which citizens reason about deficits in a partisan-motivated fashion—i.e., by shifting the importance of the issue. Leveraging pre-registered experimental and observational studies, we find that partisans systematically adjust the importance of government overspending based upon which party occupies the presidency. Further, this proclivity to engage in PMR does not require explicit cues from elites, is symmetrical across parties, and appears to function both to protect one’s own party and rebuke the opposing party. Lastly, in a large-scale text analysis of transcripts from televised partisan media, we again find strong evidence of PMR on the issue of government overspending, though primarily in conservative media.


motivated reasoning


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