Political Polarization

As the U.S. becomes increasingly politically polarized, many blame social media platforms for incentivizing outrage and escalating division. Our experts explore ways to quantify polarization and examine its impact on society.

Research

  • Journal Article

    What’s Not to Like? Facebook Page Likes Reveal Limited Polarization in Lifestyle Preferences

    Political Communication, 2021

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    Increasing levels of political animosity in the United States invite speculation about whether polarization extends to aspects of daily life. However, empirical study about the relationship between political ideologies and lifestyle choices is limited by a lack of comprehensive data. In this research, we combine survey and Facebook Page “likes” data from more than 1,200 respondents to investigate the extent of polarization in lifestyle domains. Our results indicate that polarization is present in page categories that are somewhat related to politics – such as opinion leaders, partisan news sources, and topics related to identity and religion – but, perhaps surprisingly, it is mostly not evident in other domains, including sports, food, and music. On the individual level, we find that people who are higher in political news interest and have stronger ideological predispositions have a greater tendency to “like” ideologically homogeneous pages across categories. Our evidence, drawn from rare digital trace data covering more than 5,000 pages, adds nuance to the narrative of widespread polarization across lifestyle sectors and it suggests domains in which cross-cutting preferences are still observed in American life.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Nov 25, 2021

  • Journal Article

    Testing the Effects of Facebook Usage in an Ethnically Polarized Setting

    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021

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    Despite the belief that social media is altering intergroup dynamics—bringing people closer or further alienating them from one another—the impact of social media on interethnic attitudes has yet to be rigorously evaluated, especially within areas with tenuous interethnic relations. We report results from a randomized controlled trial in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), exploring the effects of exposure to social media during 1 wk around genocide remembrance in July 2019 on a set of interethnic attitudes of Facebook users. We find evidence that, counter to preregistered expectations, people who deactivated their Facebook profiles report lower regard for ethnic outgroups than those who remained active. Moreover, we present additional evidence suggesting that this effect is likely conditional on the level of ethnic heterogeneity of respondents’ residence. We also extend the analysis to include measures of subjective well-being and knowledge of news. Here, we find that Facebook deactivation leads to suggestive improvements in subjective wellbeing and a decrease in knowledge of current events, replicating results from recent research in the United States in a very different context, thus increasing our confidence in the generalizability of these effects.

    Area of Study

    Date Posted

    Jun 22, 2021

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