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The Effects of Need for Cognition and Need for Affect on Partisan Evaluations



The voting behavior literature has advanced two prominent theoretical models of partisanship: the social psychological and rational models. Implicit to both stylized models is the assumption that all partisans process information similarly. Yet, growing research in psychology suggests that individuals possess different motivations when evaluating information. We propose that the applicability of the stylized models of partisanship is conditioned on individuals' need for cognition (NFC) and need for affect (NFA), with the social psychological model being most applicable to individuals who have a high NFA and the rational model most applicable to those with a high NFC. To test this proposition, we fielded a survey in which respondents who identified with the two major political parties in the United States (Democrat or Republican) were randomly assigned factual information that depicted either their party or their opposing party in a negative light. Respondents were then asked to assess the actions of that party and subsequently evaluate both political parties. We find evidence that is generally consistent with the proposition that the stylized models of partisanship are conditionally dependent on the extent to which individuals possess a need to engage in effortful thinking or a need to seek out emotions.