Educating the Public on Evidence-based methods for improving inter-group civility.

Political Science

Political science focuses on the holistic and systemic factors that affect political attitudes and behavior. Some recent popular press books describe how different environments may engender greater demonization of political opponents. For example, Bill Bishop argues that people tend to live in communities composed primarily of people who share their political beliefs (see our summary of this book). In other words, liberals tend to live near other liberals and conservatives tend to live near other conservatives. Dante Chinni and James Gimpel show how these communities are differ in many ways that go far beyond politics. Communities differ in how they are affected by the current economic recession, the ratio of bookstores to gunstores or grocery co-operatives to Wal-Marts, and which religions residents follow. These differences make it more difficult for liberals and conservatives to understand one another, as they do not experience the same political realities. At CivilPolitics, we hope to understand what creates this divide and what institutional changes might reduce the negative impact they have on political discussion.

To learn about the rise in partisan rancor since the 1980s and its causes:

  • Start with this fabulous paper: Nivola (2010) "Putting Partisanship in Perspective." it gives an overview of what has happened to our country, why, and whether the rise in polarization since the 1940s is all bad.
  • Read this paper which reviews the evidence on what really caused the polarization of political elites in the USA in recent decades. Hetherington, M. (in press) Putting Polarisation in Perspective. British Journal of Political Science.
  • Read this article: Reconcilable Differences, by Ronald Brownstein, in The Atlantic, September 2008. From the article: "Hyper-partisanship” is how the Republican strategist Ken Mehlman aptly describes the current political environment. Its price is a paralyzing inability to confront the most difficult problems facing the nation: health care, global warming, energy independence, immigration, entitlement reform, and the path forward in Iraq. On these controversial issues, meaningful progress is virtually impossible without bipartisan support. Indeed, the three most ambitious domestic-policy initiatives of the past 15 years—Clinton’s attempt to provide universal health care, in 1993; Newt Gingrich’s effort to remake the federal budget, in 1995; and Bush’s drive to redesign Social Security around private investment accounts, in 2005—all failed for the same reason: in each case, the authors were unable to attract any meaningful support for their ideas outside their own coalition, in the country or in Congress.
  •  Follow this Civil Politics blog post to Bill Keller's Op-ed 'States Gone Wild'.  Keller is perplexed by the tendencey of many states to veer from the political mainstream. He is unconvinced by the usual explanations and with the help of Professor Samuel Abrams uncovers perhaps a major clue to understanding the growth of partisanship–it's the product of a minority: highly engaged culture-warring political elites

To learn about civility and its importance for democracy:

Online Resources:

  • Read the report of this exepriment, demonstrating that exposure to uncivil news/talk programs decreases viewers' trust in government and polticians, and harms the democratic process. (Mutz, C., & Reeves, B. (2005). The new videomalaise: Effects of televised inciviliyt on political trust. American Political Science Review, 99). [link to come]
  • See the "library" of readings at The Village Square.
  • Read this paper by Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson concerning the "uncompromising mindset", that is useful in campaigning, vs. the "compromising mindset", which is essential in governing.  The authors argue that the "permanent campaign" leads to the intrusion of the uncompromising mindset into governance, to the detriment of policy.  They talk more about the structural causes of this phenomenon, but their analysis could be supplemented by examining the psychological causes of the uncompromising mindset, as is laid out on our moral psychology page.
  • [more is needed here; suggestions welcome]


Misc. resources:

  • A list of interesting studies (June 2011) on political psych and polarization, from Kevin Lewis at National Affairs
  • A newer list (jan 2012) of recent studies on political psych and polarization, from Kevin Lewis at National Affairs. [posted by haidt]

–This page is maintained by Matt Motyl

Our goal is to educate the public about social science research on improving inter-group relations across moral divides.