Affective Polarization, Local Contexts, and Public Opinion in America (WP-20-35)
James Druckman, Samara Klar, Yanna Krupnikov, Matthew Levendusky, and John Barry RyanAffective 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.