Does Affective Polarization Undermine Democratic Norms or Accountability? Maybe Not


David E. Broockman, Joshua L. Kalla, Sean J. Westwood

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Broockman, D.E., Kalla, J.L. and Westwood, S.J. (2022), Does Affective Polarization Undermine Democratic Norms or Accountability? Maybe Not. American Journal of Political Science. First published online: 17 August 2022. DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12719.
Scholars warn that affective polarization undermines democratic norms and accountability. They speculate that if citizens were less affectively polarized, they would be less likely to endorse norm violations, overlook copartisan politicians’ shortcomings, oppose compromise, adopt their party's views, or misperceive economic conditions. We advance reasons to doubt that affective polarization influences political choices. We support this argument with five experiments that manipulate citizens’ affective polarization with multiple approaches. We then trace the downstream consequences of manipulating citizens’ affective polarization, such as their reactions to information about their actual representatives in Congress. In our experiments (total N = 12,341), we “rewind” the equivalent of three decades of change in affective polarization but find no evidence that these changes influence many political outcomes, only general questions about interpersonal attitudes. Our results suggest caution when assuming that reducing affective polarization would meaningfully bolster democratic norms or accountability.
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