A significant increase in polarization between Democrats and Republicans threatens the American political system. Interest in the decline of civility and trust between political groups, given its consequences (increased chance of gridlock, unwillingness to compromise or vote across party lines, fragmentation of social groups), is growing among scholars and journalists alike, particularly after the 2016 election.
My work explores the causes and consequences of polarization, especially affective polarization, in the United States. In particular, I focus on the role of selective attribution – the tendency for partisans to attribute positive effort and motives to ingroup behaviors and preferences, while dismissing and/or demonizing the same in the outparty.
In one paper, I show that citizens tend to make negative attributions about outgroup partisan preferences (i.e. they assume incompetence, selfishness, bigotry, etc. best explain what the other side wants), and that this behavior contributes as much to affective polarization as more common explanations, like policy extremity.
In a second paper, I argue that as a result of polarization, economic voting has declined over the past few decades, a trend previous scholars have largely missed. As polarization increases, partisans are increasingly apt to a) misperceive the state of the economy in a way consistent with their partisan leanings, and/or b) selectively attribute the state of the economy to luck or political effort, again depending on their partisanship. Both of these trends are associated with negative, not positive, partisanship.
Taken as a whole, my dissertation attempts to demonstrate that affective polarization is one of the most serious challenges faced by America as an advanced democracy, and that political scientists should work to understand and address this problem now to try to help the country avoid obstacles that will become insurmountable later.
Peer-reviewed Journal Articles
“The More You Know: Voter Heuristics and the Information Search” (with Rachel Bernhard). Political Behavior, forthcoming.
“The Importance of Knowing What Goes with What: Reinterpreting the Evidence on Policy Attitude Stability” (with Gabriel S. Lenz and Shad Turney). Journal of Politics, 2018.
“The Effect of Mandatory Mail Ballot Elections in California” (with Gabrielle Elul and Jake Grumbach). Election Law Journal, August 2017.
“Why Are American Cities Underpoliced? Constrained Politicians Respond to Myopic Voters.” (with Gabriel S. Lenz). Manuscript available by request.
“It’s No Longer the Economy, Stupid: Selective Perception and Attribution of Economic Outcomes”. Dissertation paper, available by request.
“Credit (and Blame) Where Due: Party Polarization and Attribution Errors”. Dissertation paper.
“False Equivalence and Motivated Reasoning”. Manuscript available by request.