Partisan Thinking

Trump vs Kimmel at the Oscars

RNfinity | 25-03-2024

At the recent Oscars event, the host Jimmy Kimmel read out a tweet that Donald Trump had posted on the social platform Truth social, which was less than complimentary to the host. Jimmy Kimmel responded by poking fun at the former president jesting that it was both too late for him to be awake and a free man. The joke garnered a mainly positive response from the gathered Hollywood luminaries but there was a moment of hesitancy and discomfort before the audience rallied to a supportive response.

The spat continued through further broadcasts issued by Trump and Kimmel. Whilst this beef has seemingly spilled over from being political to becoming personal in nature, I am sure that these two individuals have no actual grievances other than their political ideologies.

We live in different times. Whilst It would have been unusual for a former president to attack a media celebrity, it is common for comedians to make fun of politicians, but to perpetually castigate one politician is engaging in political propaganda.

It would be unfair to label Kimmel as the worst Oscar host ever as he proved to be more than adequate, but using the Oscars as a platform for political propaganda is unedifying and I don’t think the public at large buy into this.

I am sure it would be impossible for Donald Trump and Jimmy Kimmel to utter anything balanced or constructive about each other and it is a pity that thoughts and opinions need to be modified and shackled by political perspectives, particularly when there are no direct grievances involved.

Two party politics perhaps forces people into extreme positions as may be necessary to move far apart from one’s opponents to lob political grenades at them without undermining one’s own positions. The hope is that in this battle of ideologies, the resultant policy compromise is the most balanced, comprehensive, and successful solution. But the adversarial and disrespectful nature of the discourse does not lend itself to bipartisan cooperation and political gridlock is the most likely outcome.

Political persuasion can encroach into thinking, and this has been examined in a number of studies. One study explores counterfactual thinking of alternative outcomes: the question of what if. If you ask what if, it is usually in the context of regret, if only this happened then the outcome might have been better. It is a mechanism where we try to understand what went wrong and how we might get a better outcome in the future. This is termed an upward counterfactual. Alternatively, we could say it is a good job we did this cause things could have turned out a lot worse. This is termed a downward counterfactual. It turns out that we rarely engage in this kind of thinking except for one circumstance, and yes you have guessed it, when there is politics at stake. The overall propensity for upward counterfactual thinking perhaps accords with other research which demonstrates that the pain of loss is about double the joy of an equivalent gain.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (2000). Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty. Choices, Values, and Frames, 44-66.

One US study examined counterfactual statements with a political leaning amongst those who identified as either Democratic or Republican. This study found that the tendency for upward counterfactuals was reversed when the statements contained sentiments opposing to the participants' own political ideology, regardless of if they were Democratic or Republican in their outlook. Interestingly in this study cohort of college Students, this reversal in counterfactual preference was more pronounced in the Democratic relative to the Republican cohort. 

Polarized imagination: partisanship influences the direction and consequences of counterfactual thinking

Another study found that a tendency for more extreme political persuasion be it right or left wing was more common amongst individual who displayed greater cognitive rigidity in psychomotor tests.

 The Partisan Mind: Is Extreme Political Partisanship Related to Cognitive Inflexibility?

What is Partisan thinking? 

Partisan thinking refers to the mindset where individuals approach political, social, or ideological issues primarily from the perspective of their chosen political party or group affiliation. This mindset often involves a strong, unwavering loyalty to one's party, along with a tendency to prioritize the party's interests and beliefs above other considerations. Here are some key aspects of partisan thinking:



Group Identity: Partisan thinkers often see themselves as part of a larger group with shared values, beliefs, and goals. This group identity can be a significant part of their personal identity, shaping how they see the world and interact with others.


Us vs. Them Mentality: Partisan thinkers tend to view political issues as a battle between "us" (their party or group) and "them" (opposing parties or groups). This can create a polarized view of the world, where those outside of their group are seen as adversaries.


Confirmation Bias: Partisan thinkers may seek out information and media sources that confirm their existing beliefs while dismissing or distrusting information that contradicts their views. This can lead to an echo chamber effect, where individuals are only exposed to ideas that align with their party's stance.


Emotional Attachment: Partisan thinking often involves strong emotional attachments to one's party or ideology. This emotional investment can make it challenging for individuals to consider alternative viewpoints or engage in constructive dialogue with those who hold different beliefs.


Cognitive Dissonance: When faced with information that challenges their beliefs, partisan thinkers may experience cognitive dissonance—a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. In response, they may rationalize or reject the new information rather than reconsider their beliefs.



Polarization: Partisan thinking contributes to the polarization of society, where people become increasingly divided along political and ideological lines. This can lead to gridlock in political systems, making it difficult to find common ground or pass legislation.


Reduced Critical Thinking: The strong allegiance to a party or ideology can hinder independent critical thinking. Instead of evaluating issues based on their merits, partisan thinkers may default to their party's stance without considering alternative perspectives.


Diminished Trust: Partisan thinking can erode trust in institutions, media, and even interpersonal relationships. When individuals see everything through the lens of their party, they may become suspicious of information or people associated with opposing views.


Ingroup Bias: People tend to favour members of their own group over others. Partisan thinking exacerbates this tendency, leading individuals to support policies or actions primarily because they benefit their party, even if it may not be in the best interest of society as a whole.


Voter Behaviour: Partisan thinking strongly influences voter behaviour, with individuals often voting along party lines regardless of the specific candidates or issues. This can create a situation where candidates prioritize appealing to their base rather than pursuing policies that benefit a broader range of people.


Mitigating Partisan Thinking:

Promote Critical Thinking: Encouraging individuals to critically evaluate information, consider multiple perspectives, and fact-check claims can help counteract partisan thinking.


Media Literacy: Teaching media literacy skills can empower individuals to navigate the vast array of information sources available, distinguishing between credible reporting and biased or misleading content.


Foster Dialogue: Creating spaces for respectful dialogue and debate can encourage people to listen to opposing views, challenge their assumptions, and find common ground.


Encourage Independent Thinking: Emphasizing the importance of forming opinions based on evidence, reason, and personal values rather than blindly following party lines can help individuals break free from rigid partisan thinking.


Support Cross-Party Collaboration: Highlighting examples of successful bipartisan cooperation and the benefits of finding middle-ground solutions can show the value of moving beyond strict partisan divides.


In essence, partisan thinking is a complex phenomenon deeply rooted in social identity, emotional attachment, and cognitive biases. While it can provide a sense of belonging and purpose for individuals, it also poses challenges for constructive discourse, governance, and societal cohesion. Recognizing these challenges and actively working to mitigate the negative effects of partisan thinking is crucial for promoting a more informed, open-minded, and collaborative society.