Interventions reducing affective polarization do not necessarily improve anti-democratic attitudes

Voelkel, Jan G.; Chu, James; Stagnaro, Michael N.; Mernyk, Joseph S.; Redekopp, Chrystal; Pink, Sophia L.; Druckman, James N.; Rand, David G.; Willer, Robb
Nature Human Behaviour

There is widespread concern that rising affective polarization—particularly dislike for outpartisans—exacerbates Americans’ anti-democratic attitudes. Accordingly, scholars and practitioners alike have invested great effort in developing depolarization interventions that reduce affective polarization. Critically, however, it remains unclear whether these interventions reduce anti-democratic attitudes, or only change sentiments towards outpartisans. Here we address this question with experimental tests (total n = 8,385) of three previously established depolarization interventions: correcting misperceptions of outpartisans, priming inter-partisan friendships and observing warm cross-partisan interactions between political leaders. While these depolarization interventions reliably reduced affective polarization, we do not find compelling evidence that these interventions reduced support for undemocratic candidates, support for partisan violence or prioritizing partisan ends over democratic means. Thus, future efforts to strengthen pro-democratic attitudes may do better if they target these outcomes directly. More broadly, these findings call into question the previously assumed causal effect of affective polarization on anti-democratic attitudes.