Let's agree to disagree

Kevin Lewis

March 11, 2016

Do Campaign Donors Influence Polarization? Evidence from Public Financing in the American States

Jeffrey Harden & Justin Kirkland

Legislative Studies Quarterly, February 2016, Pages 119–152

Does the source of campaign funds influence legislative polarization? We develop competing theoretical expectations regarding the effects of publicly financed elections on legislative voting behavior. To test these expectations, we leverage a natural experiment in the New Jersey Assembly in which public financing was made available to a subset of members. We find that public financing exerts substantively negligible effects on roll-call voting. We then find a similar result in an examination of state legislatures. We conclude that, counter to the logic of the US Supreme Court, pundits, and reformers, the source of campaign funds exerts minimal influence on polarization.


Moral Opinion Polarization and the Erosion of Trust

Carolin Rapp

Social Science Research, forthcoming

Since Puntam’s seminal work on declining levels of social capital, the question of how social trust is formed has reached unprecedented heights of critical enquiry. While most of the current research concentrates on ethnic diversity and income inequality as the main influences driving down generalized trust, we focus on opinion polarization as another potential impact factor on trust. In more detail, we investigate the extent to which polarization over morally charged issues such as homsexuality, abortion and euthanasia affects individuals’ likelihood to trust others. We hypothesize that moral issues have a natural tendency to divide societies’ opinions into opposing poles and, thus, to challenge social cohesion in modern civil societies. Based on hierarchical analyses of the fifth wave of the World Values Survey (WVS) ― comprising a sample of 39 countries ― our results reveal that individuals living in countries characterized by more opinion polarization tend to have less trust in other people.


When the Spatial and Ideological Collide: Metaphorical Conflict Shapes Social Perception

Tali Kleiman, Chadly Stern & Yaacov Trope

Psychological Science, forthcoming

In the present article, we introduce the concept of metaphorical conflict — a conflict between the concrete and abstract aspects of a metaphor. We used the association between the concrete (spatial) and abstract (ideological) components of the political left-right metaphor to demonstrate that metaphorical conflict has marked implications for cognitive processing and social perception. Specifically, we showed that creating conflict between a spatial location and a metaphorically linked concept reduces perceived differences between the attitudes of partisans who are generally viewed as possessing fundamentally different worldviews (Democrats and Republicans). We further demonstrated that metaphorical conflict reduces perceived attitude differences by creating a mind-set in which categories are represented as possessing broader boundaries than when concepts are metaphorically compatible. These results suggest that metaphorical conflict shapes social perception by making members of distinct groups appear more similar than they are generally thought to be. These findings have important implications for research on conflict, embodied cognition, and social perception.


On the Grammar of Politics — or Why Conservatives Prefer Nouns

Aleksandra Cichocka et al.

Political Psychology, forthcoming

Previous research indicates that political conservatism is associated with epistemic needs for structure and certainty (Jost et al., 2003) and that nouns elicit clearer and more definite perceptions of reality than other parts of speech (Carnaghi et al., 2008). We therefore hypothesized that conservatives would exhibit preferences for nouns (vs. verbs and adjectives), insofar as nouns are better suited to satisfy epistemic needs. In Study 1, we observed that social conservatism was associated with noun preferences in Polish and that personal need for structure accounted for the association between ideology and grammatical preferences. In Study 2, conducted in Arabic, social conservatism was associated with a preference for the use of nominal sentences (composed of nouns only) over verbal sentences (which included verbs and adjectives). In Study 3, we found that more conservative U.S. presidents used greater proportions of nouns in major speeches, and this effect was related to integrative complexity. We discuss the possibility that conservative ideology is linked to grammatical preferences that foster feelings of stability and predictability.


Scientific literacy, optimism about science and conservatism

Noah Carl, Nathan Cofnas & Michael Woodley of Menie

Personality and Individual Differences, May 2016, Pages 299–302

It is frequently asserted that conservatives exhibit a cognitive style that renders them less well disposed toward science than progressives, and that they are correspondingly less trusting of scientific institutions and less knowledgeable about scientific ideas. Here we scrutinize these assertions, using data from the U.S. General Social Survey. We distinguish between three different definitions of ‘conservative’: first, identifying as conservative, rather than as liberal; second, holding socially conservative views, rather than socially progressive views; and third, holding economically conservative views, rather than economically leftist views. We find that self-identified conservatives and social conservatives are less scientifically literate and optimistic about science than, respectively, self-identified liberals and social progressives. However, we find that economic conservatives are as or more scientifically literate and optimistic about science than economic leftists. Our results highlight the importance of separating different sub-dimensions of political orientation when studying the relationships between political beliefs, scientific literacy and optimism about science.


The Politics of Insight

Carola Salvi et al.

Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, forthcoming

Previous studies showed that liberals and conservatives differ in cognitive style. Liberals are more flexible, and tolerant of complexity and novelty, whereas conservatives are more rigid, resistant to change and prefer clear answers. We administered a set of Compound Remote Associate problems, a task extensively used to differentiate problem solving styles (via insight or analysis). Using this task, several researches have proven that self-reports, which differentiate between insight and analytic problem solving, to be reliable and associated with two different neural circuits. In our research we found that participants self-identifying with distinct political orientations demonstrated differences in problem solving strategy. Liberals solved significantly more problems via insight instead of a step-by-step analytic fashion. Our findings extend previous observations that self-identified political orientations reflect differences in cognitive styles. More specifically, we show that type of political orientation is associated with problem solving strategy. The data converge with previous neurobehavioral and cognitive studies indicating a link between cognitive style and the psychological mechanisms that mediate political beliefs.


Ideologically Motivated Perceptions of Complexity: Believing Those Who Agree With You Are More Complex Than They Are

Lucian Gideon Conway et al.

Journal of Language and Social Psychology, forthcoming

While prior research has found linguistic complexity to be predictive across multiple domains, little research has examined how people perceive — or misperceive — linguistic complexity when they encounter it. Drawing from a model of the motivated ideological lens through which people view linguistic complexity, two studies examined the hypotheses that (a) participants are more likely to overestimate the complexity of political candidates when they believe they align with their own political views and (b) this complexity overestimation effect will be particularly strong for political liberals. Both studies presented participants with paragraphs from political candidates that varied in their actual integrative complexity levels and asked them to estimate the complexity of the paragraph. Consistent with expectations, Study 1 found that participants were significantly more likely to overestimate complexity levels for political candidates with whom they shared ideological beliefs and that this effect was particularly in evidence for political liberals. Study 2 replicated this basic pattern and further demonstrated that this effect was dependent on participants’ knowledge of their ideological agreement with the paragraph author. Because people misperceive linguistic complexity, researchers should move beyond thinking solely about how complex political rhetoric is; we have to also consider the degree that the intended audience may over- or underestimate complexity when they see it.


Religion and Secularism among American Party Activists

Geoffrey Layman & Christopher Weaver

Politics and Religion, forthcoming

Prior work has shown party activists and religious divisions to be two of the leading causes of party polarization in American politics. Using the Convention Delegate Studies, we examine the interaction between these two culprits and their impact on party polarization. We leverage a novel measure of secularism in the latest wave of the Convention Delegate Studies to demonstrate that active secularism is distinct both conceptually and statistically from low religiosity. Furthermore, we show that both religiosity and secularism drive party activists to take more extreme policy positions, to identify themselves as more ideologically extreme, and to exhibit less support for compromise. As the Democratic and Republican Parties have become more secular and religious, respectively, these results suggest religious polarization may compound existing divisions between the two parties and exacerbate the partisan divide in American politics.


Tea Party Support and Perceptions of Local Economic Conditions

Jonathan Rogers

Electoral Studies, June 2016, Pages 91–98

Researchers have long studied the underpinnings of voter perceptions of national economic conditions. Of growing interest though, is the effect of local economic evaluations on approval and voting behavior. Even though individuals engage more directly with the local economy than with that of the nation, perceptions of local conditions are colored as much by individual attitudes and demographics as by objective measures. Metropolitan area unemployment rates strongly predict local evaluations, but so do education, age, sex, and political attitudes. Of particular interest, even controlling for objective conditions, support for the Tea Party strongly predicts more negative evaluations and overpowers most other sources of bias.


Numeracy and the Persuasive Effect of Policy Information and Party Cues

Vittorio Mérola & Matthew Hitt

Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming

Numeric political appeals represent a prevalent but overlooked domain of public opinion research. When can quantitative information change political attitudes, and is this change trumped by partisan effects? We analyze how numeracy — or individual differences in citizens’ ability to process and apply numeric policy information — moderates the effectiveness of numeric political appeals on a moderately salient policy issue. Results show that those low in numeracy exhibit a strong party-cue effect, treating numeric information in a superficial and heuristic fashion. Conversely, those high in numeracy are persuaded by numeric information, even when it is sponsored by the opposing party, overcoming the party-cue effect. Our results make clear that overlooking numeric ability when analyzing quantitative political appeals can mask significant persuasion effects, and we build on recent work advancing the understanding of individual differences in public opinion.


News from the Other Side: How Topic Relevance Limits the Prevalence of Partisan Selective Exposure

Jonathan Mummolo

Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Prior research has demonstrated a preference among partisans for likeminded news outlets, a key mechanism through which the media may be polarizing Americans. But in order for source reputations to cause selective exposure, individuals must prioritize them above other competing attributes of news content. Evaluating the relative influence of various contributors to media choice is therefore critical. This study pits two such factors, source reputation and topic relevance, against one another in conjoint survey experiments offering randomly paired news items to partisans. Making a news source’s reputation politically un-friendly lowers the probability that an individual chooses an item, but this negative effect is often eclipsed by the positive effect of making a news topic relevant to the individual. In many popular modern news consumption environments, where consumers encounter a diverse mixture of sources and topics, the ability of source reputations to contribute to polarization via partisan selective exposure is limited.


The Language of Extremity: The Language of Extreme Members and How the Presence of Extremity Affects Group Discussion

Lyn Van Swol et al.

Journal of Language and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Using the linguistic software Linguistic Inquiry Word Count, we analyzed transcripts of group discussions of whether the words “under God” should be in the Pledge of Allegiance. We hypothesized that members with an extreme opinion would use less complex language and more you pronouns than other members. Furthermore, extreme members would have less influence when they used you pronouns or more complex language consistent with the illusion of understanding. Extreme members were more confident and perceived themselves as more knowledgeable, but they did not use less complex language than other members. When extreme members did use complex language, they were less influential. Extreme members used more you pronouns and use of you pronouns reduced their influence in the group. Groups containing at least one extreme member had a much lower level of complexity in their discourse than groups without extreme members. Results are situated within research in integrative complexity, illusion of understanding, and attitude extremity.


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