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(Mis-)Estimating Affective Polarization (WP-19-25)

James Druckman, Samara Klar, Yanna Krupnikov, Matthew Levendusky, and John Barry Ryan

Affective polarization—the tendency of ordinary partisans to dislike and distrust those from the other party—is a defining feature of contemporary American politics. High levels of out-party animus stem, in part, from misperceptions of the other party’s voters. Specifically, individuals misestimate the ideological extremity and political engagement of typical out-partisans. When partisans are asked about “Democrats” or “The Republican Party,” they bring to mind stereotypes of engaged ideologues, and hence express contempt for the other party. The reality, however, is that such individuals are the exception rather than the norm. The researchers show that when partisans learn that reality, partisan animus falls sharply; partisans do not have much animus toward the typical member of the other party. Their results suggest antidotes for vitiating affective polarization, but also complicate understandings of good citizenship.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Samara Klar, Associate Professor, School of Government and Public Policy, University of Arizona

Yanna Krupnikov, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University

Matthew Levendusky, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania

John Barry Ryan, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University

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