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Megastudy Identifying Successful Interventions to Strengthen Americans’ Democratic Attitudes (WP-22-38)

Jan Voelkel, Michael Stagnaro, James Chu, Sophia Pink, Joseph Mernyk, Chrystal Redekopp, Matthew Cashman, James Druckman, David Rand, and Robb Willer

Deep partisan conflict in the mass public threatens the stability of American democracy. The researchers conducted a megastudy on a national sample of American partisans (n = 32,059) testing 25 interventions designed to reduce anti-democratic attitudes and partisan animosity. These interventions were selected from a pool of 252 interventions submitted by social scientists, practitioners, and activists as part of the Strengthening Democracy Challenge. Contrary to the expectations of expert forecasters, the authors find that nearly every selected intervention (23 out of 25) significantly reduced partisan animosity. They also identify several interventions that successfully reduced the other outcomes targeted in the Challenge – support for undemocratic practices and partisan violence – as well as a number of related secondary outcomes, including support for undemocratic candidates, opposition to bipartisan cooperation, and biased evaluations of politicized facts. Furthermore, by examining the observed pattern of effect sizes, the authors also gain insight into the underlying structure of these outcomes. There is little overlap between the interventions that affect partisan animosity and those that affect support for undemocratic practices or partisan violence, suggesting that these outcomes are largely driven by separate factors. However, they do find substantial overlap between the interventions that affect partisan animosity and those that affect a number of important outcomes, including biased evaluation of politicized facts, general social distrust, and preferences for social distance from outpartisans. They also found that support for undemocratic candidates was moved by interventions that affect either partisan animosity or support for undemocratic practices, suggesting two separate causal paths. Taken together, their findings provide a toolkit of promising interventions for practitioners, and shed new theoretical light on challenges facing American democracy.

Read the working paper here.

Jan Voelkel, Department of Sociology, Stanford University

Michael Stagnaro, Postdoctoral Associate, MIT Sloan School

James Chu, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

Sophia Pink, Operations, Information and Decisions Department, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Joseph Mernyk, Department of Sociology, Stanford University

Chrystal Redekopp, Research Director, Polarization and Social Change Lab and Laboratory for Social Research, Stanford University

Matthew Cashman, Management, MIT Sloan School

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

David Rand, Professor of Management Science and Brain & Cognitive Sciences, MIT

Robb Willer, Professor of Sociology, Psychology, and the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University