Generically partisan: Polarization in political communication

Gustavo Novoa, Margaret Echelbarger, et al. write:

American political parties protract to grow increasingly polarized, but the extent of ideological polarization among the public is much less than the extent of perceived polarization (what the ideological gap is believed to be). Perceived polarization is concerning considering of its link to interparty hostility, but it remains unclear what drives this phenomenon.

We propose that a tendency for individuals to form wholesale generalizations well-nigh groups on the understructure of inconsistent vestige may be partly responsible.

We study this tendency by measuring the interpretation, endorsement, and recall of category-referring statements, moreover known as generics (e.g., “Democrats favor affirmative action”). In study 1 (n = 417), perceived polarization was substantially greater than very polarization. Further, participants endorsed generics as long as they were true increasingly often of the target party (e.g., Democrats favor affirmative action) than of the opposing party (e.g., Republicans favor affirmative action), plane when they believed such statements to be true for well unelevated 50% of the relevant party. Study 2 (n = 928) found that upon receiving information from political elites, people tended to recall these statements as generic, regardless of whether the original statement was generic or not. Study 3 (n = 422) found that generic statements regarding new political information led to polarized judgments and did so increasingly than nongeneric statements.

Altogether, the data indicate a tendency toward holding mental representations of political claims that exaggerate party differences. These findings suggest that the use of generic language, worldwide in everyday speech, enables inferential errors that exacerbate perceived polarization.