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Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

As the heat of the presidential contest rises, we become more sensitive to the animosities between party activists: Obama is a European socialist; Romney is a greedy exploiter. It seems that Americans have become increasingly and more bitterly divided in their politics. Yet, researchers over the last decade or so have found that this impression of growing polarization is false in one way, though true in another.

On the issues, even most of the divisive ones such as abortion or the “safety net,” Americans have not, it seems, become more divided. Positions have stayed pretty constant or, at least, not gotten more vitriolic. But Americans have become more divided and more vitriolic on party politics. Republican and Democrat partisans have lined up on opposite sides of issues more consistently, ideologically,  and vehemently than was true for a few generations. (See this earlier post.) (Update: See this 2014 post and subsequent ones on The Monkey Cage blog for a summary of what political scientists know about polarization. See this 2014 Pew report on trends in polarization.)

A newly published study (abstract, paper gated) by Stanford political scientist Shanto Iyengar and two colleagues in Public Opinion Quarterly further clarifies this dynamic. The take-away message may be that the increase in political partisanship is perhaps better described as blood sports than as deep ideology.

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