Does Affective Polarization Undermine Democratic Norms or Accountability? Maybe Not

David Broockman (University of California - Berkeley)

March 5, 2021, 16:00–17:00


Room Zoom Meeting


Scholars warn that affective polarization undermines democratic norms and accountability. If citizens increasingly detest the other party’s supporters, are they more likely to endorse norm violations, overlook copartisan politicians’ shortcomings, oppose compromise, adopt their party’s views, or misperceive economic and public health conditions? A large, influential literature speculates as such. However, such speculation remains difficult to test. We argue the contrary: affective polarization’s consequences should be generally confined to interpersonal domains, with more circumscribed political implications. We support this argument with unique experiments which exogenously manipulate citizens’ levels of affective polarization and trace downstream consequences, such as their reaction to information about their actual representatives. In our experiments (N = 9,836) we produce the equivalent of three decades change in affective polarization, but find no evidence that these changes in affective polarization influence a broad range of political behaviors—only interpersonal attitudes. Our results raise doubt about the view that reducing affective polarization would meaningfully bolster democratic norms or accountability.


David Broockman (University of California - Berkeley), Does Affective Polarization Undermine Democratic Norms or Accountability? Maybe Not, IAST General Seminar, Toulouse: IAST, March 5, 2021, 16:00–17:00, room Zoom Meeting.