Although much current research highlights differences between political partisans, our research provides evidence that strong partisan biases in meta-perceptions are largely symmetrical for Democrats and Republicans. This suggests that biased meta-perceptions are a consequence of shared psychology rather than merely a consequence of divergent ideological convictions. Meta-perceptions represent evaluations that are distinct from perceptions at a core psychological level: While negative perceptions, such as dehumanization, can be thought of as offensive or reprehensible, meta-perceptions are inferences about what others think and can, therefore, be false. The theoretical distinctions between perceptions and meta-perceptions suggest that practical approaches to reducing negative meta-perceptions may be distinct from those that aim to reduce negative perceptions.Abstract
People’s actions toward a competitive outgroup can be motivated not only by their perceptions of the outgroup, but also by how they think the outgroup perceives the ingroup (i.e., meta-perceptions). Here, we examine the prevalence, accuracy, and consequences of meta-perceptions among American political partisans. Using a representative sample (n = 1,056) and a longitudinal convenience sample (n = 2,707), we find that Democrats and Republicans equally dislike and dehumanize each other but think that the levels of prejudice and dehumanization held by the outgroup party are approximately twice as strong as actually reported by a representative sample of Democrats and Republicans. Overestimations of negative meta-perceptions were consistent across samples over time and between demographic subgroups but were modulated by political ideology: More strongly liberal Democrats and more strongly conservative Republicans were particularly prone to exaggerate meta-perceptions. Finally, we show that meta-prejudice and meta-dehumanization are independently associated with the desire for social distance from members of the outgroup party and support for policies that harm the country and flout democratic norms to favor the ingroup political party. This research demonstrates that partisan meta-perceptions are subject to a strong negativity bias with Democrats and Republicans agreeing that the shadow of partisanship is much larger than it actually is, which fosters mutual intergroup hostility.
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