Political Polarization and Radicalization

The aim of this working group is to foster rigorous, interdisciplinary research on polarization. Through a series of regular meetings and occasional public discussions, we will engage emerging debates on the following three main themes:

1. Social psychological mechanisms of ideological, affective, and partisan polarization in mass publics
How do ideological, affective, and partisan forms of polarization exacerbate one another? Which forms of polarization are potentially constructive and destructive, from the perspective of normative theories of democracy? Are there left-right ideological asymmetries in constructive and destructive forms of political polarization and, if so, why? What are the causes and consequences of polarization around climate and other scientific policies? Which social psychological interventions are most successful in reducing destructive forms of polarization and anti-democratic attitudes and behaviors?

2. Polarization, populism, and political extremism
Polarization has been cited as one of the factors contributing to the rise of radical politics in the United States, including the capture of the Republican Party by Donald Trump. As a growing number of issues and identities become aligned with partisan identity and affective animosity between the parties grows, opportunities for bipartisan compromise and effective governance diminish. Moreover, incentives for abandoning democratic norms increase, endangering the stability of political institutions. This raises further questions for scholars of political culture. How does polarization function in European multiparty democracies? What are the connections between polarization and radicalization, both at mass and elite levels? Are there plausible countermeasures against increasing polarization? How can liberal democracies continue to function in the era of zero-sum political conflict?

3. Elite polarization: Its causes and consequences
There is a lot of focus on polarization in the mass public, relying on surveys, experiments, and big data. While this is important, most changes in public opinion are the consequence of elite polarization. Thus, to better understand political change, we need to also actively research party, media, and interest groups dynamics. In this vein, a comparative perspective could be particularly useful to better grasp the role of institutions (i.e., party systems and electoral laws), economic trends (i.e., inequality), and the media environment. Finally, moving from causes to consequences, we need to understand whether stronger partisan identities have become a driving force that determines behavior in other domains of social life, including decisions about friendship formation, mating, residence, and business, or partisanship remains largely a by-product of socio-demographic conditions and life-style decisions.

If you are interested in learning more about this group please contact graduate student organizer Stuart Perrett, at smp759@nyu.edu.

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