Affective polarization

There is growing evidence that citizens in Western democracies are becoming more hostile towards people with different views or party preferences. This process of affective polarization is potentially highly problematic. A functioning democracy can cope with disagreement but presupposes a certain minimum of mutual understanding. Affective polarization could erode the norms underpinning pluralist democracy. Despite growing scholarly awareness of affective polarization, we do not understand which factors shape it, nor how it affects democracy and society. This NWO funded Veni project (2019-2023) therefore aims to identify the origins and consequences of affective polarization in Europe. This knowledge is crucial to grasp the phenomenon and to formulate ways to avoid societal and political dysfunction.

Published research articles

  • Eelco Harteveld & Markus Wagner (2022). Does affective polarisation increase turnout? Evidence from Germany, The Netherlands and Spain. West European Politics. đź“„
  • Eelco Harteveld, Philipp Mendoza & Matthijs Rooduijn (2021). Affective polarization and the populist radical right: Creating the hating? Government and Opposition, 1-25. đź“„
  • Eelco Harteveld (2021). Ticking all the boxes? A comparative study of social sorting and affective polarization. Electoral Studies72. đź“„
  • Eelco Harteveld. Fragmented foes: affective polarization in the multiparty context of the Netherlands. Electoral Studies, 71. đź“„

Thermometer app

  • Try the Thermometer App to find out more about the ways in which politics divides citizens in the Netherlands.

Current work in progress

The Consequences of Affective Polarization (CONAP) survey

The Consequences of Affective Polarization (CONAP) survey was conducted in collaboration with colleagues Haylee Kelsall, Andrej Kokkonen, Lars Erik Berntzen, Jonas Linde and Stefan Dahberg. Fielded in March-May 2022, its aim is to gather individual level data on affective polarization and its downstream political and nonpolitical consequences among ~2,000 respondents each in 9 countries: Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This project is among the first to bring the systematic study of the alleged consequences of affective polarization – which in our study includes social avoidance, political intolerance, support for political violence, support for elite transgression, the erosion of democratic norms, democratic dissatisfaction, and politicized factual perceptions – to contexts outside the Anglosphere. To increase causal leverage, we exposed part of our respondents to a stimulus that either exogenously heightens or weakens negative affect towards political outgroups. As a result, we can observe whether, among whom, and through which mechanisms affective polarization results in more severe consequences for society and democracy. Through these contributions, we hope to further the discussion on possible remedies against (excessive) polarization around the world.

You can find the working paper here.

Handbook of affective polarization (co-edited with Mariano Torcal, UPF), Edward Elgar

This handbook provides an overview of the phenomenon of affective polarization, its theoretical implications , existing evidence of its presence indifferent democratic settings, its potential explanations, potential behavioural and attitudinal consequences, and possible avenues for interventions. Expected to be published in late 2024.