Issue (Dis)agreement and Intergroup Bias in Affective Polarization

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Principal investigator:

Lori Bougher

Princeton University



Sample size: 1447

Field period: 07/19/2017-12/01/2017

This study examines the relative balance of issue preferences and group attachment in affective polarization. Focus is on how issue (dis)agreement affects both candidate and party evaluations, across different group contexts (e.g., intragroup contests versus identity-salient intergroup contests). Intergroup bias exists, but it may not be as prolific as previous research suggests. Partisans were affectively responsive upon learning that they shared issue positions with the out-party. Further, rather than abating the effect of issue-based appeals, partisan group attachment, if anything, amplified positive effects. Even agreement on unimportant issues reduced affective polarization.

To what extent does simple group attachment vs. issue disagreement underlie affective polarization? The key hypotheses: Highlighting multiple issues on which participants agree with out-party candidates will decrease affective polarization at both the individual (candidate) and group (party) levels. This similarity in issue attitudes outweighs the effects of intergroup bias (i.e., group attachment). Effects will be moderated by partisan strength and issue salience.

Experimental Manipulations
Presentation of issue positions of two fictitious candidates running for local office. For each issue, participants were told which candidate held the position most similar to their own. Treatment varied the parties of the two candidates, the number of issues on which agreement occurred, and the salience of the issues on which agreement occurred.

Candidate- and party-level affective polarization

Summary of Results
Exposure to cross-pressured out-party candidates (i.e., those who agree with participants on some issues) reduced affective polarization at the candidate level, with modest spillover effects to the party level. In a contest between an in-party and out-party candidate, strong partisans responded even more positively when learning that they shared issue positions with the out-party candidate. Agreement on even non-salient issues decreased affective polarization.