Champaign, Illinois – Partisanship is a particularly powerful source of group identity in contemporary American politics, and a new research paper co-written by an expert in political psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says the growing chasm between opposing groups is not limited to interactions in the political sphere.
Mounting evidence suggests that “emotional polarization” is permeating and coloring social situations — barbecues, book clubs, sporting events and the like — that previously existed outside of partisan politics, said Thomas J. Rudolph, Lincoln’s Distinguished Professor of Political Science. in Illinois.
“Consistent with other recent research, this study confirms that emotional polarization along partisan lines is real and that it exists in both political and non-political contexts,” said Rudolph.
Emotional polarization is “the tendency of people who identify as Republicans or Democrats to view opposition supporters negatively and joint party supporters positively,” according to the paper.
“Emotional polarization means that you are more likely to view the other side as ideologically extremist, that elections have significant risks and consequential outcomes,” Rudolph said. “Although it is not limited to the United States, it is a phenomenon that has increased and become more widespread locally over time.”
Using a survey of more than 280 college students in fall 2018 to analyze partisan emotional ratings, Rudolph and co-author Mark J. in context.
“We show that while emotional polarization does exist across both political and non-political contexts, its magnitude is nearly double that of political settings,” Rudolph said. “Although emotional polarization reflects a mixture of love within the party and external hate, we find that love within the party is the dominant source in non-political settings and external hatred dominates in political contexts. Since the United States is essentially a two-party system, the focus of all is always concentrated on the political rivalry itself.
Rudolph said the results are reassuring and troubling.
“On the one hand, it is reassuring that partisan polarization in social environments is not as pronounced as in political environments,” he said. “On the other hand, the fact that there is such a polarization at all in social settings is somewhat troubling.”
Although the public is used to seeing partisan animosity on display during election season or at political events such as rallies or protests, “we have seen relatively little of this animosity in normal social settings,” Rudolph said.
“Unfortunately, that may change somewhat as the polarization seeps increasingly into non-political spheres,” he said. “Consider the world of sports. Sports have been a place where Republicans and Democrats could check their politics at the revolving door and focus on watching a ball game and cheering for their favorite player or team. Today, athletes have become frequent targets of partisan criticism — or praise — for their positions on personal decisions like standing With the national anthem or vaccination.
“In recent weeks, the sports world has become more politically charged, as evidenced by the anti-Joe Biden chants that have swept sports stadiums across the country and spread on the Internet.”
According to Rudolph, we should be concerned that polarization continues to creep into the apolitical sphere.
“Our study certainly shows that there is partisan polarization in the social world and that it is a real, measurable phenomenon,” he said. “Social settings such as sporting events, book clubs, schools and workplaces provide regular opportunities for people to connect with others who may think differently than they do. These interactions are healthy because they expose people to diverse perspectives on the world, including the political world. But if partisan polarization permeates In every corner of the social world, people may retreat to their party corners and be less willing to engage with members of the opposing team and, as a result, be less able to understand or appreciate them.
This may permeate the political sphere, making it difficult to reach a compromise on some issues where there might otherwise be common ground. The net effect is that we see less of that among our leaders at the local, state and federal levels, which is very unfortunate.”
The paper was published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research.