Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization

Source: Shanto Iyengar and Sean J. Westwood, Stanford University and Princeton University, June 2014

When defined in terms of social identity and affect toward in- and out-groups, the polarization of the American electorate has clearly increased. We document the scope and consequences of affective polarization using implicit, explicit, and behavioral indicators. Our evidence demonstrates not only that hostile feelings for the out-party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ psyches, but also that affective polarization based on party surpasses polarization based on race and other social cleavages. After documenting the extent of implicit party polarization, we show that party cues exert powerful effects on non-political judgments and behaviors. Partisans discriminate against out partisans, and do so to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race. In concluding, we note that heightened partisan affect and the intrusion of partisan bias into non-political domains means that American parties now resemble the model of the “mass membership” party.
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