Tuesday Seminar – 28 September

You can Sort but don’t Polarize: How Elite Polarization Shapes Opinion Formation

Semih Cakir (Université de Montréal)

A great deal of scholarly attention is given to whether political parties shape citizens’ opinions to which they subsequently respond. These works show that citizens indeed follow party cues and adjust their issue opinions even when they go against their personal interests. Moreover, recent studies show that ideological polarization moderates the elite-mass linkage. That is, while citizens prioritize the substance over party under low elite polarization, they tend to prioritize party over substance under high elite polarization. Given the prevalence of increasing polarization in the Western democracies, I aim to answer the following question: When a political party takes a more extreme ideological stance, do party supporters follow their party by also taking more polarized stances? In order to answer this question, I exploit a real-world sudden party polarization after a leadership change in the Labour Party of the United Kingdom in 2015 that shifted the party’s position away from center towards extreme left. Using British Election Study Internet Panel data, I find that while party polarization leads to ideological sorting of the masses along party lines, there is limited evidence that parties polarize masses.

Contact Semih Çakır if you would like to participate in the seminar.

This content has been updated on 19 October 2021 at 22 h 55 min.