Lecture Core Connections Lectures
Current debates over the extent of polarization among the American public focus on the extent to which policy preferences have moved. While “maximalists” claim that partisans’ views on policies have become more extreme over time, “minimalists” respond that the majority of Americans remain centrist, and that what little centrifugal movement has occurred reflects sorting, i.e., the increased association between partisanship and ideology.
I propose an alternative definition of polarization, based on the classic concept of social distance. Evidence from a variety of sources demonstrates that Republicans and Democrats increasingly dislike, even loathe each other. Moreover, partisan affect is only weakly founded in policy attitudes; thus movement in policy attitudes may not explain affective polarization. The more plausible explanation lies in the nature of political campaigns; exposure to messages attacking the out-group only confirms partisans’ biased views of their opponents.