Mass polarization: Manifestations and measurements


The debate on mass polarization is itself polarized. Some argue that the United States is in the midst of a culture war; others argue that the claims are exaggerated. As polarization is a multifaceted concept, both sides can be correct. I review four distinct manifestations of polarization that have appeared in the public opinion literature—ideological consistency, ideological divergence, perceived polarization, and affective polarization—and discuss ways in which each has been measured. Then, using longitudinal data from the American National Election Studies (ANES), I update past analyses in order to more clearly show the ways in which Americans have or have not polarized: Americans at the mass level have not diverged, nor have they become more consistent ideologically, but partisans have; perceptions of polarization have increased, but this change is driven by partisans, who increasingly dislike one another.

Public Opinion Quarterly, (80), Specialissue1, pp. 392–410,