A functioning democracy relies on social interactions between people who disagree—including listening to others’ viewpoints, having political discussions, and finding political compromise.
Yet, social life in the contemporary United States is characterized by a relative lack of interaction between Democrats and Republicans (or, social polarization). We argue that political
anger contributes to social polarization by causing Americans to cut off ties with opposing partisans. We first draw on data from the American National Election Studies and the Wesleyan
Media Project to show that the mass public is increasingly angry and that politicians often seek to elicit anger. We then present results from a survey experiment on nearly 3,500 Americans,
finding that the exogenous introduction of anger leads partisans to socially polarize across a range of settings. Our findings suggest that increasing levels of political anger paralyze politics
and harm democracy by influencing Americans’ social interactions and relationships.
From the study:
An important aspect of these results is that they persist across a range of social settings. Political anger causes Democrats and Republicans to socially distance themselves from out-partisans in
both “easy” and “hard” cases. Accordingly, we see that anger increases social polarization when it pertains to items like doing favors for a neighbor or talking about politics with a friend; we also see
that anger exacerbates social polarization on issues such as ending a close friendship or distancing one’s self from a close family member that supports the opposing political party. Anger, then,
plays a broad role in shaping the amount of social polarization that we see between Democrats and Republicans in the contemporary American electorate.