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Keywords:

  • presidential approval;
  • motivated reasoning;
  • partisan groups

Research in political psychology has shown the importance of motivated reasoning as a prism through which individuals view the political world. From this we develop the hypothesis that, with strong positive beliefs firmly in place, partisan groups ignore or discount information about the performance of political figures they like. We then speculate about how this tendency should manifest itself in presidential approval ratings and test our hypotheses using monthly presidential approval data disaggregated by party identification for the 1955–2005 period. Our results show that partisan groups generally do reward and punish presidents for economic performance, but only those presidents of the opposite party. We also develop a model of presidential approval for self-identified Independents and, finally, a model of the partisan gap, the difference in approval between Democrat and Republican identifiers.