ASU faculty discuss partisanship from a psychological perspective in panel discussion
When it comes to politics and partisanship, what is going on in the minds of American voters today?
That’s the question Arizona State University professors discussed during a virtual roundtable held this week.
“America’s Political and Psychological Elections” took place on October 4, ahead of November’s midterm elections.
Moderator Victor Peskin, associate professor in ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies, was joined by other professors from the school for a panel that touched on issues such as extreme partisanship, a multiparty system and the potential path to unity.
Political polarization was one of the main themes of the hour-long conference.
The panel said polarization is inherent in what is essentially a two-party political system. On the other hand, some countries like Switzerland (four main political parties) or Germany (five or more) offer more choices to voters.
Peskin asked if a multiparty system could change the current polarization and dynamics in political psychology seen in recent years.
Matthew Dempsey, a lecturer in ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies, doesn’t see that happening.
“There will never be more than two parties in the United States,” said Dempsey, who worked on political campaigns before coming to ASU. “That’s the rule of the game. I agree that a two-party system creates more polarization than a multi-party system would. But this is a futile discussion.
Ideology or identity?
Panelists cited studies that show political leanings often have more to do with identity than ideals.
“So how do we know if people choose their party based on their beliefs or their beliefs based on their party?” Peskin asked.
For many, social identity trumps values when it comes to embracing a particular party, several panelists explained. Individuals may first choose a party and then, without consideration or reflection, accept that party’s platform as their own.
“It’s driven more by social identities than by real ideological agreements,” said Fabian Neuner, an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Politics and Global Studies.
Family ties can also influence political partisanship. Like DNA, most families seem to share the same political leanings.
“If you go back historically, what we know about parties is that people get their partisanship very early in life – from their parents,” said Foundation professor Kim Fridkin, citing a study on political affiliations of several generations within a family. “It’s stable and part of their social identity.”
A 20/20 look at the 2020 elections
Regarding the 2020 election, the question has been asked: how do we understand the belief that the election was stolen?
“Some people sincerely believe the election was stolen,” said Neuner, who studies political psychology, political behavior and public opinion in the United States.
“Others know it wasn’t stolen,” he said, but think it “would reflect badly on their party to express that.” So they give an opinion that they know is incorrect.
Neuner also explained how some people will engage in expressive response — the process of participating in a survey and knowingly providing insincere responses to advance partisan goals.
“It’s a problem because you can’t take people at face value. We need to question the motivations behind these responses,” Neuner said.
politics in the neighborhood
The phenomenon of politically segregated geographical areas was also mentioned.
“The problem we’ve seen over the last 20 or so years…we’re seeing that counties are more and more leaning towards one party or the other, so your neighbors are going to be more like you, at least politically speaking,” said Dempsey said “We’re actually locking ourselves up in our own quarters.”
This idea also extends to people who listen to the media that espouses only their ideals.
People today have a lot more choice about where they get information, said Fridkin, who teaches cognition and emotions in political thought.
“When I was growing up, there were only a few TV channels…everyone was watching the same thing, everyone was reading the same news, everyone had the same set of facts,” she said. declared.
Fridkin developed a theory called “citizen-centered campaign theory” which is based on the idea that the abundance of political information available to voters today can make them more active and, at the same time, focus only on the information they wish to seek. and retain.
Peskin asked the panelists if a domestic or international crisis or threat to the United States could provide a positive shock to our political system and revive a sense of collective national identity, where polarization would diminish and rhetoric could be softer and softer.
Neuner responded by saying that even another external threat, like 9/11, would not lessen the country’s division or create a sense of unity. Instead, it would become an opportunity to shift blame to the other party.
“There will always be someone, somewhere within a political party, who will try to use it for political gain.”
Top image by Tara Winstead via Pexels