In light of increasing discussions about political divides in the United States, we explore polarization in political and traditionally “non-political” domains on social media.
Praet, Stiene, Andrew M. Guess, Joshua A. Tucker, Richard Bonneau, and Jonathan Nagler. “What’s Not to Like? Facebook Page Likes Reveal Limited Polarization in Lifestyle Preferences.” Political Communication 39, no. 3 (2021): 311–338. https://doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2021.1994066
Nov 25, 2021
Area of Study
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.
During the last few U.S. presidential election campaigns, figures across diverse sectors of society used their platforms on social media to persuade or mobilize their fans. In a period of intense affective polarization at the mass level, politics threatened to ensnare popular celebrities in America. Athletes, for example, found themselves at the crosshairs of political controversy. As symbolic demonstrations of racial solidarity (e.g., kneeling during the National Anthem) have become more commonplace, a divide between players and fans can emerge. These episodes are a vivid illustration of how seemingly apolitical domains — like sports, food, artistic and cultural preferences, and consumer decisions — can become caught in the partisan currents. For this study, we want to examine the importance of social media as an area where lifestyle preferences intersect with politics.
First, we take information from page “likes” on Facebook to understand whether preference sorting across various lifestyle categories follows the pattern established in partisan politics. By combining survey and Facebook data from more than 1,200 respondents in the US, we directly test whether pages belonging to more “political” categories will be liked by more polarized audiences. Additionally, we test which, and whether, on the individual-level characteristics are associated with liking pages in more polarized categories or not. We also contribute to the literature on “lifestyle politics” -- the idea that political and ideological divisions extend to leisure activities, consumer choices, aesthetic taste, and personal morality.
In contrast to existing work, we find a clear divide between more politically polarized page categories (e.g., opinion leaders, partisan news sources, and topics related to identity and religion) and non-political categories (e.g., sports). Our results from analyzing Facebook “likes” data suggest that ideological divides are large in relatively political domains, such as news and media, civil society, and religion, but much less pronounced in areas such as culture, food, and sports. Our findings show that polarization does not permeate society as a whole: Lifestyle endeavors still offer cross-cutting spaces, and polarization, when it does emerge, seems limited to a narrow set of politicized examples. Considering that Facebook users primarily engage with non-political Facebook likes, our findings add nuance to debates about the divisive nature of social platforms.