The Electoral Consequences of Affective Polarization? Negative Voting in the 2020 US Presidential Election

Date01 May 2022
Published date01 May 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2022, Vol. 50(3) 303311
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221074633
The Electoral Consequences of Affective
Polarization? Negative Voting in the 2020 US
Presidential Election
Diego Garzia
and Frederico Ferreira da Silva
About one third of American voters cast a vote more againstthan fora candidate in the 2020 Presidential election. This
pattern, designated by negative voting, has been initially understood by rational choice scholarship as a product of cognitive
dissonance and/or retrospective evaluations. This article revisits this concept through the affective polarization framework in
the light of the rise of political sectarianism in American society. Based on an original CAWI survey f‌ielded after the 2020
election, our regression analysis demonstrates that the predicted probability of casting a negative vote signif‌icantly increases
among individuals for whom out-candidate hate outweighs in-candidate love. Negative voting is less prevalent among partisans
as their higher levels of in-group affection can offset out-group contempt. By asserting the enduring relevance of negative voting
in American presidential elections, we aim at stimulating further research and discussion of its implications for democratic
affective polarization, negative personalization, negative partisanship, political behavior, retrospective voting
Not unlike the most recent presidential contests, also the 2020
US Presidential election was characterized by widespread
negativity. This occurrence f‌its with a theoretical account of
rising politicalsectarianism among American voters, whereby
out-party hate has progressively emerged as a stronger force
than in-party love (Finkel et al., 2020).
A growing body of research has documented an intensi-
fying affective polarization trend among the US electorate
(Abramowitz & Webster, 2016;Boxell et al., 2020;Iyengar
et al., 2012). However, much less is known about the political
and electoral consequences of affective polarization, as most
studies have focused on the more surprising apolitical rami-
f‌ications(Iyengar et al., 2019: 139). In this paper, we con-
tribute to f‌illing this gap by revisiting the notion of negative
voting, that is, an electoral choice more strongly driven by
negative attitudes toward opposed parties and candidates than
by positive attitudes toward ones preferred party and candi-
date. Based on an original post-electoral survey of American
citizens eligible to vote, we f‌ind that about one third of voters
cast a negative vote in the 2020 Presidential election.
From a theoretical point of view, we contribute to the
existing literature by advancing a composite model for the study
of negative voting. Our model combines insights from the
classic rational choice literature (i.e., retrospective performance
evaluations and rationalization mechanisms) with the most re-
cent contributions from the socio-psychological literature on
affective polarization.
Our results provide empirical conf‌irmation for the validity
of our composite model. On the one hand, we f‌ind that
negative voting is linked to both retrospective performance
evaluations and strength of partisanship. On the other hand,
we highlight the relevance of votersaffection towards parties
and candidates. While despise toward the opposition emerges
as a necessary condition for voting against,we also f‌ind that
the tendency towards negative voting is compensated by
positive attitudes towards ones preferred party and candi-
date. Indeed, what seems to really differentiate positive voters
from negative voters does not lie in the extent to which they
dislike the oppositionboth type of voters are very negative
towards the othercandidate. What makes the difference is
whether they like their own candidate enough.
University of Lausanne Faculty of Social and Political Science, Lausanne,
Corresponding Author:
Frederico Ferreira da Silva, University of Lausanne Faculty of Social and
Political Science, Quartier Mouline-Geopolis, Lausanne 1015, Switzerland.

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