Origin of (A)symmetry: The Evolution of Out-Party Distrust in the United States


Partisans tend to be skeptical of governments only when they are led by the other side. This president-in-power effect threatens democratic functioning by limiting partisans’ ability to hold their own party accountable. As polarization rises, the problems associated with this phenomenon are likely to aggravate. This paper examines the evolution and drivers of the president-in-power effect since 1974. Mirroring the general rise in polarization, we document a steady increase in the president-in-power effect. Our research demonstrates that this increase can be attributed to an intensification of partisan identification, combined with a growing perceived ideological distance towards the opposed party. Contrasting the narrative that polarization is stronger on the right, however, we find evidence that the president-in-power effect has grown faster for Democrats than for Republicans. To explain this pattern, we show that highly educated people, who display a stronger president-in-power effect, have shifted towards the left in recent years.

Journal of Politics, C. Accepted
George Melios
George Melios

My research primarily focuses on the foundations of democracy how democratic institutions function, how citizens interact with them and how they can be improved.