Events & Media

The Bren School of Environmental Science & Management
at the University of California, Santa Barbara



"Perceiving American Political Polarization: Attitude Extremity, Partisan Identification, and
Policy Implications"

Leaf Van Boven
Associate Professor
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience,
University of Colorado Boulder

Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013
11:30 - 12:30
Bren Hall 1424

Hosted by Matthew Potoski

Amid ongoing political rancor, it may be useful to scrutinize Americans' sense of political polarization. Although many people see stark political polarization occurring in America, others see political polarization as starkly exaggerated. This talk will examine who is most inclined to see American political polarization, and why. My colleagues and I have examined data from more than three decades of nationally representative samples, from controlled laboratory experiments, and from recently conducted surveys in the contexts of presidential elections, environmental policy, and the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, AZ. We discovered four things. First, Americans have historically exaggerated polarization between the attitudes of Democrats and Republicans. Second, the more extreme people's own partisan attitudes are, the more polarization they perceive among other Americans. Third, the more strongly people identify as either Democrat or Republican, the more they perceive political polarization; this is an effect apparently tied to in-group defensive strategies. Finally, perceptions of political polarization may contribute to arbitrary partisanship in policy evaluation. Both Democrats and Republicans exhibit strong partisan reactions to otherwise equivalent environmental policies. I conclude optimistically, noting that arbitrary partisanship can be mitigated by encouraging reflection on the proper role of partisanship in a healthy democracy.

Leaf Van Boven is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Colorado Boulder. He was previously assistant professor of behavioral science at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, assistant professor of marketing at the University British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, and visiting assistant professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. Leaf is director of the Center for Research on Judgment and Policy; director of the Emotion, Decision, Judgment, and Intuition (EDJI) lab; and an associate editor for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. His research examines the interrelation of emotion, judgment, and decision-making in contexts of contemporary significance, including politics, the environment, and well-being. He is an avid cyclist (road and mountain), skier, and hiker. He lives in Boulder, CO, with his wife and their two teenage children.

NOTE:??Research colloquia are hosted by Bren faculty members and are generally high-level talks about research in a particular area of environmental science and management.


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