Untangling a Dislike for the Opposing Party from a Dislike of Parties

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Principal investigators:

Samara Klar

University of Arizona

Email: klar@email.arizona.edu      

Homepage: https://sgpp.arizona.edu/user/samara-klar

Yanna Krupnikov

Stony Brook University

Email: yanna.krupnikov@stonybrook.edu

Homepage: https://www.yannakrupnikov.com/

Sample size: 2030

Field period: 10/06/2015-02/10/2016

Recent scholarship suggests that American partisans dislike other party members so much that partisanship has become the main social divide in modern politics. We argue that at least one measure of this “affective polarization” conflates a dislike for members of the other party with a dislike for partisanship in general. The measure asks people how they feel about their child marrying someone from another party. What seems like negative affect toward the other party is, in fact, negative affect toward partisans from either side of the aisle and political discussion in general. Relying on two national experiments, we demonstrate that although some Americans are politically polarized, more simply want to avoid talking about politics. In fact, many people do not want their child to marry someone from their own party if that hypothetical in-law were to discuss politics frequently. Supplementary analyses using ANES feeling thermometers show that inparty feeling thermometer ratings have decreased in recent years among weak and leaning partisans. As a result, the feeling thermometer results confirm the conclusion from the experiments. Polarization is a phenomenon concentrated in the one-third of Americans who consider themselves strong partisans. More individuals are averse to partisan politics. The analyses demonstrate how affective polarization exists alongside weakening partisan identities.
Individuals are happier about out-party marriage when the out-partisan speaks rarely about politics; they are less happy about in-party marriage when the in-partisan speaks frequently about politics.
Experimental Manipulations
We manipulate whether the hypothetical in-law speaks about politics frequently or rarely.
Happiness about the idea of a child marrying someone from the out-party compared with the in-party.
Summary of Results
Respondents in our surveys appear willing to spend time with individuals with whom they disagree as long as they do not talk about politics. We argue that the extent to which modern Americans are “affectively” polarized may be overstated. Rather, there are two distinct phenomena that are easily conflated: affective polarization and a desire to avoid partisan politics.
Klar, Samara, Yanna Krupnikov, and John B. Ryan. 2018. “Affective Polarization or Partisan Disdain?: Untangling a Dislike for the Opposing Party from a Dislike of Partisanship.” Public Opinion Quarterly 82(2): 379-390.