The Ideological Foundations of Affective Polarization in the U.S. Electorate

Webster, Steven W.; Abramowitz, Alan I.
American Politics Research

Democratic and Republican partisans dislike the opposing party and its leaders far more than in the past. However, recent studies have argued that the rise of affective polarization in the electorate does not reflect growing policy or ideological differences between supporters of the two parties. According to this view, though Democratic and Republican elites are sharply divided along ideological lines, differences between the policy preferences of rank-and-file partisans remain modest. In this article, we show that there is a close connection between ideological and affective polarization. We present evidence from American National Election Studies surveys that opinions on social welfare issues have become increasingly consistent and divided along party lines and that social welfare ideology is now strongly related to feelings about the opposing party and its leaders. In addition, we present results from a survey experiment showing that ideological distance strongly influences feelings toward opposing party candidates and the party as a whole.