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Affective Polarization, Local Contexts, and Public Opinion in America (WP-20-35)

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

Affective polarization has become a defining feature of 21st century American politics, but we do not know how it relates to citizens’ policy opinions. Answering this question has fundamental implications not only for understanding the political consequences of polarization, but also for understanding how citizens form preferences. Under most political circumstances this is a difficult question to answer, but the novel coronavirus pandemic allows us to understand how partisan animus contributes to opinion formation. Using a two-wave panel that spans the outbreak of COVID-19, the researchers find a strong association between citizens’ levels of partisan animosity and their attitudes about the pandemic, as well as the actions they take in response to it. This relationship, however, is more muted in areas with severe outbreaks of the disease. The authors’ results make clear that narrowing issue divides requires not just policy discourse but also addressing affective partisan hostility.

This paper has been published in Nature Human Behaviour.

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 and Stephen and Mary Baran Chair in the Institutions of Democracy, University of Pennsylvania

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

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