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Need for Chaos and Dehumanization Are Robustly Associated with Support for Partisan Violence (WP-23-37)

Alexander Landry, James Druckman, and Robb Willer

Recent, high-profile acts of partisan violence have stimulated interest among academics and the general public in the etiology of support for such violence. Here, Landry, Druckman, and Willer report results of an exploratory study that (1) measures support for partisan violence with both abstract items (e.g., general support for partisan violence) and support for more specific acts (e.g., support for a partisan motivated shooting), (2) follows recently established best practices by including attention checks to attenuate response bias, and (3) incorporates measures of a wide range of potential confounders as control variables. Across three data collections (total N = 2,003), including two with nationally representative samples, and tracking seven unique operationalizations of support for the use of violence against out-partisans, they find the most consistent and typically largest relationships with an individual’s reported “need for chaos” (e.g., agreement with statements like: “Sometimes I just feel like destroying beautiful things”) and the extent to which they dehumanize supporters of the opposing party. The researchers speculate this reflects a motivation to use extreme methods (need for chaos) toward one’s political rivals, liberated from the moral restraints that inhibit harming fellow human beings (dehumanization). System justification and social dominance orientation were also both positively related to support for partisan violence, which may reflect partisans’ desire to protect their preferred social order from out-partisans deemed to threaten it. Collectively, these results offer a framework for future research on support for partisan violence, highlighting the role of extreme orientations toward society and rival partisans.

Alexander Landry, Department of Business Administration, Stanford University

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

Robb Willer, Professor of Sociology and Director, Polarization and Social Change Lab, Stanford University

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