Affective polarization or partisan disdain? Untangling a dislike for the opposing party from a dislike of partisanship

Samara Klar, Yanna Krupnikov, John Barry Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Recent scholarship suggests that American partisans dislike other party members so much that partisanship has become the main social divide in modern politics. We argue that at least one measure of this “affective polarization” conflates a dislike for members of the other party with a dislike for partisanship in general. The measure asks people how they feel about their child marrying someone from another party. What seems like negative affect toward the other party is, in fact, negative affect toward partisans from either side of the aisle and political discussion in general. Relying on two national experiments, we demonstrate that although some Americans are politically polarized, more simply want to avoid talking about politics. In fact, many people do not want their child to marry someone from their own party if that hypothetical in-law were to discuss politics frequently. Supplementary analyses using ANES feeling thermometers show that inparty feeling thermometer ratings have decreased in recent years among weak and leaning partisans. As a result, the feeling thermometer results confirm the conclusion from the experiments. Polarization is a phenomenon concentrated in the one-third of Americans who consider themselves strong partisans. More individuals are averse to partisan politics. The analyses demonstrate how affective polarization exists alongside weakening partisan identities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-390
Number of pages12
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 26 2018
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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