Reviews | Political polarization may not be all it’s meant to be

Voelkel and his colleagues specifically tested whether a reduction in emotional polarization had an impact on “the most significant societal outcomes of supporting undemocratic practices, undemocratic candidates and partisan violence.” They found that when they used a variety of techniques to successfully reduce emotional polarization, it did not produce “much less support for partisan violence,” nor “much less support for undemocratic candidates within the party.”

In sum, their research shows that

interventions can reduce both attitude and behavioral indicators of emotional polarization without reducing undemocratic attitudes. This challenges the commonly held assumption that undemocratic attitudes are downstream consequences of emotional polarization.

Cynthia Shih-Chia Wang, professor of management and organization at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, agreed that the Broockman and Voelkel papers suggest that analysts

Proceed with caution with the weight we have placed on emotional polarization – as disdain for the other side has increased, there is certainly a need for further analysis of the downstream consequences of emotional polarization.

But, she added, “it may be a bit early to dismiss emotional polarization as a predictor of undemocratic attitudes and other potentially pernicious outcomes.”

I asked Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist in Dartmouth, about the Broockman and Voelkel articles, and he replied, “These articles are very important. Although more research is needed, I am convinced that we have potentially overestimated the causal role of emotional polarization in many negative phenomena of American politics.

The articles by Broockman and Voelkel suggest, Nyhan continued, “that we should renew our examination of the role of elites and political systems in fostering illiberal behavior” and that the problem “is not emotional polarization as a whole. that such; it is a political system that fails to contain the significant democratic erosion and illiberalism led by the GOP elites (although emotional polarization can help encourage and enable such tactics).

Erik Peterson, a political scientist at Texas A&M University, explained in an email the importance of Broockman’s article:

The article by Broockman, Kalla and Westwood convincingly shows that a change in emotional polarization does not immediately translate into some of the political repercussions previously suggested by researchers. More importantly, they show that those who take a more negative view of their political opponents do not become more partisan in their voting behavior or accept signals from co-partisan politicians more.

Peterson cautioned, however, that the research he and Westwood conducted for an October 2020 article, “The inseparability of race and partisanship in the United States”, Found“ that changes in emotional polarization influence attitudes and behavior towards external racial groups. ”

What this suggests, Peterson continued, is that emotional polarization

could still have many indirect consequences for politics. At present, the evidence suggests that emotional polarization is most closely related to the intrusion of partisanship in social and interpersonal contexts.

Asked what explains the “Republicans'” continued belief in false allegations of widespread electoral fraud in 2020 “- if not emotional polarization – Peterson emailed to say he believes that

this is best explained by Republicans who draw inspiration from political leaders and partisan media expressing skepticism about election results. Even though emotional polarization does not magnify this process, cues from co-partisan politicians are still an important part of how people shape their opinions on politics.

Mina Cikara, professor of psychology at Harvard, responded to my survey by pointing out that there was reason to doubt some of the alleged consequences of emotional polarization before the publication of Broockman and Voelkel:

I’m not surprised that reducing emotional polarization leaves undemocratic preferences unaffected. The first piece of evidence is that we frequently see equivalent degrees of aversion on both sides, but there is only one party that seeks to restrict access to the vote and reject election results. The second piece of the puzzle is that a lot more people dislike the other side than to say they would take up arms against them. This suggests that while aversion outside the party may be necessary, for example, to support violence, it is clearly not enough. Other factors do the heavy lifting in correlating with support for and engagement in political violence, so we should be working to characterize and intervene on these.

The publication in May 2019 of a seminal essay in the Annual Review of Political Science, “The origins and consequences of emotional polarization in the United States,” through Shanto Iyengar from Stanford, Lelkes, Matthieu Levendusky from the University of Pennsylvania, Neil malhotra by Stanford and Westwood, reflects the importance of the theory of affective polarization before the publication of the Broockman and Voelkel articles.

Iyengar and his colleagues wrote:

Whereas previously polarization was primarily perceived only in terms of issues, a new kind of division has emerged in the general public in recent years: ordinary Americans increasingly hate and distrust those on the other hand. part. Both Democrats and Republicans say members of the other party are hypocritical, selfish and closed-minded, and unwilling to socialize across party lines. This phenomenon of animosity between the parties is known as emotional polarization.

More recently, the issue of polarization and violence has become particularly important. September 15, Westwood, with Justin grimmer from Stanford, Matthew Tyler Stanford and Clayton nall University of California-Santa Barbara, published an essay, “US support for political violence is weakArguing that the claims of sociologists and political scientists of a growing threat of political violence are exaggerated.


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