Partisan identification is a fundamental force in individual and mass political behavior around the world. Informed by scholarship on human sociality, coalitional psychology, and group behavior, this research argues that partisan identification, like many other group-based behaviors, is influenced by forces of evolution. If correct, then party identifiers should exhibit adaptive behaviors when making group-related political decisions. The authors test this assertion with citizen assessments of the relative physical formidability of competing leaders, an important adaptive factor in leader evaluations. Using original and novel data collected during the contextually different 2008 and 2012 U.S. presidential elections, as well as two distinct measures obtained during both elections, this article presents evidence that partisans overestimate the physical stature of the presidential candidate of their own party compared with the stature of the candidate of the opposition party. These findings suggest that the power of party identification on political behavior may be attributable to the fact that modern political parties address problems similar to the problems groups faced in human ancestral times.
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Vol. 36 • No. 2