Does Talking to the Other Side Reduce Inter-party Hostility? Evidence from Three Studies

Eran Amsalem*, Eric Merkley, Peter John Loewen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

According to recent scholarship, citizens in various Western democracies show a growing sense of dislike and distrust toward members of opposing political parties. While political communication processes have been shown to influence inter-party hostility, the literature has so far focused mainly on mass-mediated communication. We argue here that affective polarization might also be determined by interpersonal political communication. Specifically, we hypothesize that “heterogeneous” political discussions–those transcending partisan and ideological boundaries–are associated with decreased hostility toward the other side. We test this hypothesis with three studies conducted in Canada: A cross-sectional survey (N = 3,596), a two-wave panel (N = 3,408), and an instrumental variable analysis (N = 2,005). We find that heterogeneous discussion indeed is associated with reduced polarization, a conclusion that holds across indicators of affect, obtains for both face-to-face and online discussions, and is consistent across studies. Having a heterogeneous (compared to homogeneous) discussion network predicts substantial decreases of up to 0.76, and no less than 0.09, standard deviations in out-party hostility. These findings inform scholarly debates about the antecedents of affective polarization and are consistent with the claim that cross-cutting political discussion can benefit democracy.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)61-78
Number of pages18
JournalPolitical Communication
Volume39
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

Keywords

  • Affective polarization
  • intergroup contact
  • interpersonal communication
  • peer networks
  • political discussion

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