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Elite Polarization and Public Opinion: How Polarization Is Communicated and Its Effects

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  • Joshua Robison
  • ,
  • Kevin Mullinix, Appalachian State University,NC, USA
Elite polarization has reshaped American politics and is an increasingly salient aspect of news coverage within the United States. As a consequence, a burgeoning body of research attempts to unravel the effects of elite polarization on the mass public. However, we know very little about how polarization is communicated to the public by news media. We report the results of one of the first content analyses to delve into the nature of news coverage of elite polarization. We show that such coverage is predominantly critical of polarization. Moreover, we show that unlike coverage of politics focused on individual politicians, coverage of elite polarization principally frames partisan divisions as rooted in the values of the parties rather than strategic concerns. We build on these novel findings with two survey experiments exploring the influence of these features of polarization news coverage on public attitudes. In our first study, we show that criticism of polarization leads partisans to more positively evaluate the argument offered by their non-preferred party, increases support for bi-partisanship, but ultimately does not change the extent to which partisans follow their party’s policy endorsements. In our second study, we show that Independents report significantly less political interest, trust, and efficacy when polarization is made salient and this is particularly evident when a cause of polarization is mentioned. These studies have important implications for our understanding of the consequences of elite polarization—and how polarization is communicated—for public opinion and political behavior in democratic politics.
OriginalsprogEngelsk
TidsskriftPolitical Communication
Vol/bind33
Nummer2
Sider (fra-til)261-282
Antal sider22
ISSN1058-4609
DOI
StatusUdgivet - 2016

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