Americans are increasingly polarized, with more aligned partisanship, identities, and ideology. Bob Lupton finds that our views and identities have become more tightly associated through deeply-held values like moral traditionalism and egalitarianism. But only among those with conservative values, due to distinct messages from each side’s elites. But perhaps some of us are just repeating what we hear, following friends and leaders more than our inner values. Elizabeth Chase Connors finds that people with more ideologically aligned discussion networks are more likely to link their values and partisanship and people who monitor how others see them can be convinced to endorse values when they hear them from political elites. They agree that our values and social relationships increasingly go together, limiting conflicts between partisanship, views, and identities. The true ideologues among us can enforce conformity on both sides of the political divide.

Studies: “Values and Political Predispositions in the Age of Polarization” and “The Social Dimension of Political Values.”

Guests: Robert Lupton, University of Connecticut; Elizabeth Chase Connors, University of South Carolina


Matt Grossmann: How political values and social influence drive polarization, this week on the science of politics. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. Americans are increasingly polarized with more aligned partisanship identities and ideology, suggesting that differences over deeply held values may drive us apart. But we may instead be repeating what we hear in our clustered social networks and information environments, following friends and leaders more than our inner values, or some people may be more likely to trust their values while others want to conform to group norms. Today, I talk to Bob Lupton of the University of Connecticut about his British Journal of Political Science article with Steven Smallpage and Adam Enders, Values and Political Predispositions in the Age of Polarization. He finds that partisanship and ideological self identification have become increasingly tightly associated through values like social traditionalism and egalitarianism, but only among those with conservative values due to distinct messages from each sides elites.

I also talk to Elizabeth Chase Connors of the University of South Carolina about her political behavior article, The Social Dimension of Political Values. She finds that people with more ideologically aligned social networks are more likely to link their values and partisanship as networks enforce conformity and people who monitor how others see them can be convinced to endorse values when they hear them from political elites. They agree that our values and social relationships increasingly go together, limiting conflicts between partisanship, views and identities. Lupton finds core values help align views with partisanship, at least among conservatives.

Robert Lupton: Our goal in the article was to examine the role of core values in the process of sorting citizens ideology in partisanship. A good deal of American politics scholarship shows that individuals ideological self identifications are more closely connected to their party affiliation, meaning self-identified liberals are more likely to call themselves Democrats and self-identified conservatives are more likely to call themselves Republicans now relative to the past. And we want to know of core values, citizens’ fundamental principles that define what is good and bad in the world influence the sorting process that has brought individuals ideological identities to their natural partisan homes. And our key finding was that the alignment or the sorting of ideological partisan identities since 1988 has been driven largely by individuals who possess conservative core values, specifically toward egalitarianism and moral traditionalism.

Matt Grossmann: He says core values should be durable public views.

Robert Lupton: Values generally are important to the political realm because they transcend specific situations and thus they’re more stable than ordinary political attitudes or opinions, which for many or most people are transient. So for example, someone’s core value orientations, what we call them, should be more durable than the person’s attitude toward for example whether government spending should be increased or decreased, or what the level of defense spending should be, for example, or tax policy. And we examine egalitarianism and moral traditionalism specifically because evidence and experience show that these values are prominent in American political culture. Egalitarianism is measured as a six item scale capturing the extent to which the individual believes that social, economic and political equality is a problem in need of government redress, or if inequality is a natural and perhaps even a preferred societal state.

So the egalitarian scale includes questions such as our society should do whatever’s necessary to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. And if people were treated more equally in this country, we’d have many fewer problems. So they are agree disagree format. And moral traditionalism captures the culture war division between individuals who are tolerant of different lifestyles and moral codes and those who believe that newer lifestyles are contributing to moral decay and that traditional family arrangements foster healthier society. Questions in this four item scale, also in agree to disagree format, include statements such as the world is always changing and we should adjust our view of moral behavior to these changes. Decades of research demonstrates that these two values are important for understanding individual subsequent political attitudes, attachments, and behavior. We show the value orientations exist on a continuum ranging from egalitarian and morally progressive to anti-egalitarian and morally traditional.

Matt Grossmann: But Connors wanted to challenge the notion that political values are grounding.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: Political scientists for decades have worried about the ability of everyday citizens to make rational political choices given little political knowledge, and then findings that people shift their attitudes seemingly randomly or in response to framing effects. So among the saviors of the everyday citizen was these political values. Political scientists believed that, yes, people are not entirely knowledgeable, somewhat easily persuadable by the elites, by the media, and their social context, but political values can ground them. If people believe in equality, for example, they can use that value to guide them to make sound political choices. What I find doesn’t fit with that rosy picture. Instead, I find that political values can’t be these guideposts because they themselves are guided by or are a function of social contexts. Democrats say they value equality because that’s what Democrats are supposed to value, and Republicans say they value moral traditionalism because that’s what Republicans are supposed to value. And so my results suggest that political values are not these stable guideposts and that we can’t rely on them to save or guide the everyday citizen.

Matt Grossmann: And social networks could matter for the alignment of values and partisanship.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: I argue that this occurs because people have an innate desire to impress others or to fit in, and that this desire plays out in politics, including in people’s value expressions. I find evidence of this in a few different ways. First I’ll talk about the observational that you said, but then I’m going to quickly touch on some of the experimental stuff because I think it speaks to sort of the question of why this occurs. First, I not only find that people with more ideologically aligned social networks are more likely to link their values to their partisanship, but this is true even if people sort of assigned social networks, meaning their work colleagues and their neighbors. I’ll give you an example to help explain this. I find, for example, that a Democrat who has all Democratic neighbors and coworkers in their social network is more likely to endorse equality than is a Democrat who has Democratic and Republican neighbors and coworkers in their social network, all else being equal.

This gives me a bit more leverage to say that it’s not people choosing their networks based on these values in their partisanship, but that it is more of a social influence story of people adopting the values they think they’re supposed to be adopting. But beyond the social network effects, I also use an individual level treat called self-monitoring to get at this mechanism of the why this occurs, why people are adopting their party’s political values. This trait is a measure of how willing people are to morph themselves into social contexts. So this means that people higher in the trait are more willing to succumb to social desirability or to social pressure. And what I find is that when I tell people that a socially desirable group endorses compromise, those higher in this trait are more likely to also endorse compromise. So together these network and self-monitoring results suggest that it is this desire to impress others that is guiding people’s adoption of political values.

Matt Grossmann: Overall, as Lupton finds, Americans now have more aligned partisanship and ideology.

Robert Lupton: By sorting, it just means again that individuals who think of themselves as, for example, a conservative when people are asked, do you identify, do you think of yourself as liberal or conservative? And so someone who says I’m a conservative, who attach that label to themselves, they’re more likely to also call themselves a Republican, to identify with that political party and think of themselves as Republican now more than the past. And so core values then are these enduring abstract principles that drive citizens evaluations of world and guide their behavior.

Matt Grossmann: And polarization has helped this process along.

Robert Lupton: To your point, I think political elites are crucial to the story because their communication strategies connect citizens values, ideology, and partisanship. So more generally as elites have become more polarized and adopted rhetoric accordingly, they’ve resonated with citizens core values and rendered values cleavages more salient to political competition. And so in the article, as you know, we measured this elite polarization using DW-NOMINATE score showing that as congressional polarization, as measured by roll call votes, has increased, so too has this sorting. In future work, I would like to test experimentally directly how elite rhetoric connects to citizens core values.

Matt Grossmann: Conservative elites especially have helped lead the alignment.

Robert Lupton: Our theory was that individuals with conservative value orientations, that is those who are anti-egalitarian and morally traditional are driving the sorting process. So the alignment of ideological and partisan identifications and our thinking was that because conservative political elites, elected officials, party activists, and the media use more ideological language than their liberal counterparts, this would help connect core value orientations to the appropriate ideological label and party attachment among the mass public. And so we thought that this process would mean that conservative value orientations would be the driver of this process. In other words, I think our results testified to the different communication strategies among Democrats and Liberals versus Republicans and Conservatives.

Matt Grossmann: And liberals may now be following.

Robert Lupton: One way to think about it is I think in recent years, especially since the last year, even the we exam 2012, liberal identification has increased sharply among Democrats, perhaps due to Trump backlash on the Republican agenda. I think updating this, I would expect to see a greater connection between democratic partisanship and liberal ideology among liberal values holders now, relative to the past. Although I still might expect to see a stronger connection among conservative values holders for the reasons I mentioned, it is true that it seems in recent election cycles, Democrats really seem to be endorsing the liberal label more. It explains a lot of among, whites at least, among people who have left the Democratic Party or who did during this previous time.

Matt Grossmann: Connors’ experiment shows how elite standards can move voters through group norms.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: The experimental setup was sort of a maneuver to deal with the fact that the world already knows that Democrats endorsed equality and that Republicans endorsed moral traditionalism, for example. So what I did was I took a value that could be political, but that people didn’t necessarily associate with a party when I pretested this. But I decided on compromise from these pretests and compromise would be as opposed to standing your ground. So the value of compromise versus standing your ground. And I also took a socially desirable group or a group that people would want to associate with. I also pre-tested this and found that the most socially desirable group are the ones that I looked at was those that listened to new sources that support both political parties, which I thought was interesting on its own.

So I pick this group that would endorse the compromise end of this compromise versus standing your ground value. And what I did was I randomly assigned people to either be … Simply asked which they value more, compromise or standing your ground? Or be asked this after they were told that the socially desirable group, those that listen to news sources that support both political parties, endorses compromise. And what I found is that when people were told that the socially desirable group endorses compromise, endorsement of compromise went up. And it went up even more so among those higher in self-monitoring, the trait that I mentioned earlier, suggesting that the mechanism behind this adoption of compromise is these self-presentation desires or the desire to impress others that I talked about.

Now, of course, all political values, aren’t the same. So there may be some that are harder to move with a simple social cue because people have internalized these values more, even if they were originally adopted through the process that I’m talking about, they just might be more stable. And this could also differ by person and likely does differ by person. Some people may deeply believe in compromise or another political value while others just don’t have a strong feeling towards it, and they’re thus more able to be swayed by the social cue.

Matt Grossmann: And social influence can come from any group or elite norm.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: I think the main idea is that as long as you create social norm within a group, it doesn’t necessarily matter if the origin of the social pressure is from political elite. So for example, political elites deciding that equality is the value of the Democratic Party, as long as that becomes like the norm within Democrats. The social influence story could originate from political elites and it could originate from, like I said, people actually believe it. Democrats actually believe in equality, but it’s exacerbated once this norm is created. Once everyone knows that Democrats endorsed equality and Republicans endorsed moral traditionalism, and thus to be a good Democrat, you have to endorse equality and to be a good Republican, you have to endorse moral traditionalism.

Matt Grossmann: The people who are high in self-monitoring are the most likely to be influenced. Connors explains what that means.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: Everyone can perceive if something is socially desirable or not, those that are higher in self-monitoring are those that are more willing to change themselves to fit that socially desirable norm. So for example, it could be a social norm or a socially desirable norm to exercise regularly. And everyone could witness that this is the case, but high self-monitors are more willing to lie and say that they exercise more to fit that norm. Whereas low self monitors would say, yes, it’s socially desirable, but I only exercise once a month, and I’m willing to tell you that.

The way that it’s measured, our research on this trait goes back from Snyder in the seventies, and it was originally measured I think with like 24 questions, it went down to 18, I think. Now it’s three questions. Adam Berinsky is looked into how to get the three best measures to create this construct. The questions are, when you are with other people, how often do you put on a show to impress or entertain them? And then when you are in a group of people, how often are you the center of attention? And then, how good or poor of an actor would you be?

They give five different response options from good to bad. And so you put these three measures together and then create a construct called self-monitoring. That’s a 13 point scale. In observational data, they certainly do pay more attention to everything. They vote more. They’re more interested in politics. They watch news all the time. But given research that I’ve done in past research, I don’t believe this to be the case. I’m actually, at some point in the future, it’s kind of this project that keeps moving down the line, but I want to look at how to better validate these measures because obviously there’s so much social desirability within them.

And just briefly what I’ve found is that, yeah, the high self-monitors are basically lying about paying attention. They say they read news more, for example, but they don’t have higher political knowledge. And for low self-monitors, reporting paying attention to news, predicts political knowledge, but for high self-monitors it doesn’t, probably because they are lying about paying attention.

Matt Grossmann: Polarization, she finds, increases social influences.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: One outcome of polarization is basically that it makes social influence within parties easier. And this is both because social polarization and effective polarization. Imagine a world of less social polarization in which half of my friends are Republicans and half are Democrats. In this world I’m getting social signals from both parties. Now imagine a world that we live in today in which all of my friends are Democrats.

In the non-polarized world, social cues are constantly competing with each other, and so it’s harder for me to see what is socially desirable. But in the polarized world, I get the same social cues over and over again from my democratic friends. It’s abundantly obvious what is socially desirable. And not only from my friends, but also my day-to-day life. In the polarized world that we live in today, people can even figure out who is a Democrat and who’s a Republican by looking at the car they drive, for example. So I’m again, getting more social signals about what Republicans and what Democrats do.

Another part of this polarization story is the effective side. So Democrats liking Democrats more than Republicans and vice versa. This also can make signaling easier because the more I like a group or the more I like a person, the more social influence they can have over me. So just like I explained in the experiment, a socially desirable group is able to guide people, especially high self-monitors. So when I like my fellow party members, that means they have more power. If I like them less, for example, in a world of no effective polarization, they wouldn’t have this power. And as you’ve noted, there is research that shows people’s political values have become more polarized during this time of partisan polarization. And I would argue that at least some of this value polarization is just the result of social influence and of polarization.

Matt Grossmann: Lupton says there is reciprocal causation among partisanship and values, but core values still matter.

Robert Lupton: Core values such as egalitarianism, moral traditionalism, and predisposition such as ideological self-identification and party identification, are indeed difficult to untangle, as you suggest. All these constructs are important for understanding citizens’ approach to politics and many accounts consider partisanship the fundamental lens through which citizens see the political world. Unraveling these interconnected concepts is made more difficult through data limitations, fortunately, but most panel data analysis that have investigated these relationships, including in my own work, show that core value shape party identification, especially more than the reverse over time. So, I do not believe that one can deny that these relationships are in some sense reciprocal, but the bulk of the evidence, which I’m aware, supports theoretical accounts of values, primacy in citizens belief systems, that they are the bedrocks that more so than the reverse shape ideology and party identification.

Matt Grossmann: And core values may help lead many other aspects of polarization.

Robert Lupton: This article is one component of my agenda investigating the role of core values for understanding polarization of contemporary American politics. As you know, in egalitarian and morally traditional postures, especially the former were important to the Southern Republican realignment. And my most recent article shows the core value extremity promotes disdain for one’s opposing party and its candidates and affiliated ideological groups.

More generally, I believe that values despite a rich, theoretical and empirical history in political science are too often overlooked in current scholarly portraits of polarization. I find inescapable, the role of egalitarianism and moral traditionalism in elite political rhetoric and in how ordinary citizens talk about politics.

To me, this country is divided fairly, obviously between those who believe that social, political and economic equality plagues our society, and those who feel that unequal resources are the uniquely American outcome of differences in talent, ingenuity, and effort. These fundamental differences extend to debates concerning redistributive tax policy, racial and gender equality, environmental justice. And more similarly, we disagree about tolerance for alternative lifestyles and modes of conduct, which now most squarely impinges on LGBTQ plus issues, but also still very much, for example, includes the abortion issue.

Matt Grossmann: Polarization is about real differences in views, but not necessarily on policy specifics.

Robert Lupton: Values underline many of the identities and political attitudes that are commonly viewed as drivers of political polarization. So a simple, but a poignant quote in a recent Evans and Neundorf article is, “It seems unlikely that people randomly attach themselves to parties.” And so similarly, I find values important for aligning citizens’ social and political identities, which I do not believe occurs spontaneously due to for example, some empty form of tribalism.

And so I don’t think that core values render citizens more “ideological” per se, than we usually believe, because I don’t believe that values produce consistent political attitudes across domains for example. They don’t shape a far-flung or complex belief system, but I do think that citizens possess coherent value orientations that provide them with a clear map of the political world than we often suggest.

So my early work, for example, I show that polarization’s not produced any appreciable increase in ideological thinking among vast swaths of the electorate. Those increases have been confined instead to interested, involved and knowledgeable citizens. But I do think that value orientations do promote more crystallized political thinking than we ordinarily consider, I think.

Matt Grossmann: Values are also important in explaining group identity alignment.

Robert Lupton: I do not view core values as an alternative to narratives focus on racial, gender, religious influences, on political attitudes, attachments to behavior. Instead, I view them as complimentary. I believe that values, for example, are important for understanding identity alignment. Some of the best recent political scholarship, including pathbreaking work by Liliana Mason and others highlights that polarization can be pernicious precisely because it aligns citizens’ political identities with their racial, gender, and religious identities, for example, and the loss of cross cutting attachments undermines empathy and the potential for political compromise.

Much of my current work seeks to understand core values role in the sorting of these identities or this identity alignment. In other words, I endeavor to see if there’s a there there to polarization. And I do think that values are important for understanding this identity alignment. And I should say, yeah, that questions of equality, especially in American politics are racialized although we still see a role for egalitarianism across many issues on attachment, even controlling for racial resentment for example, or racial attitudes,

Matt Grossmann: But Connor finds that social influence on group identity is also strong.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: Identities matter in social influence, at least in so far as if people are identifying with something they’re potentially a part of that group and they also then are more easily influenced by that group, both because they interact with them more often and because they want to appease them. So for example, we’ll just talk about partisanship since we have been. If you identify as a partisan, you are a part of that group and you likely surround yourself with other Democrats if you’re a Democrat and you also want to seem like a good Democrat to other Democrats.

So the social influence story there is not necessarily how much you identify with the group, but as long as you’re a part of that group and you want to appease them and you spend time with them, their social influence stories should sort of be the same. So I look in the values piece that we’re talking about, but also in a more recent polarization piece, I actually test if the treatments work differently, not just by self-monitoring, which is what I hypothesize to be important, but also by a partisan strength with the idea that potentially it’s that the stronger these identities are to people the more easily they are to be socially influenced by that group.

But I don’t find that to be the case. So it seems to be just that as long as you’re a part of that group and you associate with that group, you can be socially influenced by them. And the variation is not dependent on how much you identify with them, but how much you’re willing to change yourself to appease them.

Matt Grossmann: Lupton says campaign context and discussions can matter for values, especially their expression.

Robert Lupton: I think the core values are socially constructed in that political rhetoric and competition help align citizens with certain value orientations on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Additionally, plenty of work, including Elizabeth’s excellent Political Behavior article shows that values are not totally immutable or immune from social context or campaign effects, for example.

Robert Lupton: So indeed even in my own work, in my own early work, coauthors and I show that discussion network disagreement can attenuate the connection between core values and partisanship, for example. So I definitely see the potential social influences on values.

Matt Grossmann: But he says social influence doesn’t undermine the influence of values.

Robert Lupton: I think it could be potentially for some people. So for these high self-monitors, people who are particularly conscientious or are joiners potentially, but I think the evidence is too strong over time regarding values influence on not only political attitudes, but again, fundamental predispositions, such as partisanship and ideology for values to be entirely just this process of individuals becoming egalitarians or morally traditionalist because they believe that these are the positions they’re supposed to adopt. So I would say that’s much too strong of a interpretation of those [inaudible 00:27:54].

Matt Grossmann: And Connor says social influence could make the true values voters more important by spreading their messages.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: There are very different people. There are some people that are going to hear that as a good Democrat, you’re supposed to endorse equality and so they’ll do so, but there are also people that really believe in equality and they might have picked the Democratic Party because of that. I mean, those people are probably guiding the ones who are then adopting those values.

Matt Grossmann: Both stories can be true because individuals vary.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: I think that while values could certainly matter for some people in aligning political ideology and partisanship as Bob finds, all of these contracts have some level of social influence within them. So for some people potentially the politically interested or politically sophisticated or some other variable, this social influence could be negligible.

So they could be a Democrat, really care about equality and align their ideology, all these things kind of work together because they care about these things. For others, especially high self monitors like I find it could be the only thing tying these three constructs together, meaning a high self-monitor for example, a high self-monitor Republican could only be a conservative who endorses moral traditionalism because they’ve received cues that this is what they’re supposed to do as a Republican. It’s the only thing tying these three constructs together.

And actually in their more recent piece that I think is building off the one that you were originally talking about in PSRM, they also find that value extremity predicts polarization. And I actually find in a more recent piece that I mentioned before that polarization, or at least effective polarization is also guided by social context, just like values are.

So again, I think a lot of these constructs can work together for some people, just from a social influence story. And for other people they could work together because they actually do care about these things and they have aligned their partisanship to the values that they really believe in.

So there are different people in the world. Some are more likely to follow my story and some are more likely to follow Bob’s story.

Matt Grossmann: Lupton says the Trump era has likely kept polarization on values growing.

Robert Lupton: I can only imagine that the Trump era rendered values more salient given the sharp divisions that his administration evoked. So one value that’s potentially more potent now relative to the pre-Trump era is authoritarianism. Although I believe that links closely to egalitarianism. For example, folks who are willing to estew political norms to gain power on who believe in strict racial and political hierarchies and are almost certainly anti-egalitarian. And ultimately to our earlier discussion of value alignment, I believe that the Trump administration only served to heightened the connection between core value orientations and subsequent political attachments, attitudes, and behaviors. So I think it would be a further polarization along these lines, fault lines.

Matt Grossmann: And class D alignment is not making egalitarianism any less important.

Robert Lupton: I think that particularly [inaudible 00:31:07] is only more salient now than in the past because the Republican elite posture on that is that democratic elites are trying to social engineer to tell people in the lower class that they’re not good enough and that somehow they need government assistance, but that really we just want government to leave us alone. And it also implicitly also speaks to people’s fear of equality, so that people who are receiving this message can still say, “Well I’m still above the below even if I’m below the upper.” So I think that egalitarianism is only more relevant now than ever before as a division in the parties. And so for example, one existing project about which I’m excited and ongoing project examines the role of egalitarianism specifically in the Democratic party.

So existing work shows that the Democrats are not as overtly ideological as Republicans, because the former is more a collection of organized interests than an ideological movement. So this scholarship channels the famous Will Rogers quip, “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” However, our evidence suggests that egalitarianism is in fact arguably the central organizing principle of the contemporary Democratic party. And so it is exactly these high income, high educated, sophisticated voters who do not stand necessarily to benefit from Democratic policy priorities that nonetheless endorsed them on account of their egalitarian postures.

Matt Grossmann: Connors says Trump showed that elite influence can change opinion through social norm.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: Elite rhetoric can potentially create a social norm about what is desirable within that party. So for example, Trump could create the norm that it’s socially desirable to say that there was election fraud. I actually in recent work do find that to be the case that Republicans believe it is socially desirable for them to say that there is election fraud. And Democrats say that it’s the opposite. And that likely originated from Trump, that was likely an elite story, but an elite story that eventually became a social influence story. So I think all these things are tied together. Elite rhetoric matters in as much that it can create socially desirable norm within a party.

Matt Grossmann: Lupton is pursuing a lot more to understand core values.

Robert Lupton: I’m eager, again, just to examine the role of value divisions in the Biden era. I think that the electorate’s only become more divided over these central core values. I think it shapes policy debates. And I’m also interested in the comparison of value profiles among party activists. So those individuals who attend the Democratic and Republican national party conventions and the mass public, and I’m also engaged in current work with Adam Enders examining how consistent value orientations promote what we call political constraint or crystallized political thinking.

And so people who are consistent in their posture toward egalitarianism and moral traditionalism demonstrate higher levels of ideological constraint relative to other citizens. And they also are more likely to place the parties and candidates correctly in ideological space. And they have stronger effect of orientations toward the parties, candidates, and ideological groups. And these results hold even after controlling for factors such as education, income, political interest, and knowledge. And so that’s one thing that I’m continually interested in exploring is how value consistently promotes a type of political sophistication, independent of traditional predictors of complex thinking. Because I think core value orientations, again, provide people with a clear map of the political world.

Matt Grossmann: And Connors is doing a lot more work on social influence, including where it might be a positive.

Elizabeth Chase Connors: Where I’m going from here is a lot of work tied to what we’ve been discussing. The polarization piece that I was talking about, basically a lot of work looking at partisan social pressure or the desire to fit in with your partisan group could influence reports of polarization or belief in election fraud or attitudes and values, et cetera. But I’m also trying to balance this out, still staying in my line of research on social influence and looking at what I’ve been finding thus far, which is somewhat depressing results or depressing implications from my results. I’m trying to look at how social interactions and social context and social cues can actually be helpful to normative democracy rather than contributing to polarization or over-reporting polarization. So actually one piece that I’m really excited about, and it’s not necessarily tied to the 2020 election or Biden, et cetera, but it’s about social interactions with people and how these social interactions can potentially save us from the world that we’ve been living in in the recent years.

So I look at how, in one piece, I look at how tone can matter and how people disagree and that people expect politics to be heated and they don’t like that, or most people don’t like that understandably. And so what they do is they turn off from engaging in political discussions with people with which they might disagree. And we know that these interactions are normatively beneficial. And so people disengaging from them is a problem for the reasons that we know and then also for reasons like creating even worse effective polarization and social polarization, just like separating the world into Republicans versus Democrats. And so I am trying to move towards normatively helpful research that could maybe give us recommendations about how we should be interacting with each other and how we can make the world a better place. Maybe a place where Republicans don’t feel social pressure to say that they endorse election fraud or a place where partisans don’t feel pressured to say that they hate the other party and like their own.

Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The science of politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center and part of the Democracy Group network. I’m your host, Matt Grossman, thanks to Bob Lupton and Elizabeth Chase Connors for joining me. Please check out values and political predispositions in the age of polarization and the social dimension of political values. And then listen in next time.