Political polarization on COVID-19 pandemic response in the United States.
ABSTRACT: Despite calls for political consensus, there is growing evidence that the public response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been politicized in the US. We examined the extent to which this polarization exists among the US public across two national studies. In a representative US sample (N = 699, March 2020) we find that liberals (compared to conservatives) perceive higher risk, place less trust in politicians to handle the pandemic, are more trusting of medical experts such as the WHO, and are more critical of the government response. We replicate these results in a second, pre-registered study (N = 1000; April 2020), and find that results are similar when considering partisanship, rather than political ideology. In both studies we also find evidence that political polarization extends beyond attitudes, with liberals consistently reporting engaging in a significantly greater number of health protective behaviors (e.g., wearing face masks) than conservatives. We discuss the possible drivers of polarization on COVID-19 attitudes and behaviors, and reiterate the need for fostering bipartisan consensus to effectively address and manage the COVID-19 pandemic.
Project description:The tendency to see life as zero-sum exacerbates political conflicts. Six studies (N = 3223) examine the relationship between political ideology and zero-sum thinking: the belief that one party's gains can only be obtained at the expense of another party's losses. We find that both liberals and conservatives view life as zero-sum when it benefits them to do so. Whereas conservatives exhibit zero-sum thinking when the status quo is challenged, liberals do so when the status quo is being upheld. Consequently, conservatives view social inequalities-where the status quo is frequently challenged-as zero-sum, but liberals view economic inequalities-where the status quo has remained relatively unchallenged in past decades-as such. Overall, these findings suggest potentially important ideological differences in perceptions of conflict-differences that are likely to have implications for understanding political divides in the United States and the difficulty of reaching bipartisan legislation.
Project description:Given research revealing conservatives are more sensitive to disease threat, it is curious that U.S. conservatives were less concerned than liberals with the COVID-19 pandemic. Across four studies that spanned almost ten months throughout the pandemic, we evaluated three potential reasons why conservatives were less concerned: (1) Motivated Political reasons (conservatives held COVID-specific political beliefs that motivated them to reduce concern), (2) Experiential reasons (conservatives were less directly affected by the outbreak than liberals), and (3) Conservative Messaging reasons (differential exposure to/trust in partisan conservative messaging). All four studies consistently showed evidence that political (and not experiential or partisan messaging) reasons more strongly mediated conservatives' lack of concern for COVID-19. Additional analyses further suggested that while they did not serve as strong mediators, experiential factors provided a boundary condition for the conservatism➔perceived threat relationship. These data on over 3000 participants are consistent with a new model of the ideology-disease outbreak interface that can be applied to both the ongoing pandemic and future disease outbreaks.
Project description:Vital scientific communications are frequently misinterpreted by the lay public as a result of motivated reasoning, where people misconstrue data to fit their political and psychological biases. In the case of climate change, some people have been found to systematically misinterpret climate data in ways that conflict with the intended message of climate scientists. While prior studies have attempted to reduce motivated reasoning through bipartisan communication networks, these networks have also been found to exacerbate bias. Popular theories hold that bipartisan networks amplify bias by exposing people to opposing beliefs. These theories are in tension with collective intelligence research, which shows that exchanging beliefs in social networks can facilitate social learning, thereby improving individual and group judgments. However, prior experiments in collective intelligence have relied almost exclusively on neutral questions that do not engage motivated reasoning. Using Amazon's Mechanical Turk, we conducted an online experiment to test how bipartisan social networks can influence subjects' interpretation of climate communications from NASA. Here, we show that exposure to opposing beliefs in structured bipartisan social networks substantially improved the accuracy of judgments among both conservatives and liberals, eliminating belief polarization. However, we also find that social learning can be reduced, and belief polarization maintained, as a result of partisan priming. We find that increasing the salience of partisanship during communication, both through exposure to the logos of political parties and through exposure to the political identities of network peers, can significantly reduce social learning.
Project description:OBJECTIVE:To examine perceptions, behaviors, and impacts surrounding COVID-19 early in the pandemic response. MATERIALS AND METHODS:A cross-sectional survey of 1,030 U.S. adults was administered on March 31st, 2020. This survey examined attitudes toward media, government, and community responses to COVID-19 by political ideology and sociodemographic factors. Knowledge, anxieties, and impacts of COVID-19 were also assessed. RESULTS:Conservatives were more likely to report that COVID-19 was receiving too much media coverage and people were generally overreacting; liberals were more likely to report the government had not done enough in response to the pandemic. Females and those with lower income experienced more COVID-19 related economic anxieties. Those working and with children at home reported higher social, home, and work disruption. Social distancing behaviors were more common among liberals and were associated with increases in depressive symptoms. General knowledge about COVID-19 was widely exhibited across the sample, however, Black and Hispanic respondents were less likely to correctly answer questions about the availability of a vaccine and modes of transmission. CONCLUSIONS:Public health experts should consider the political climate in crafting messaging that appeals to the values of those across the political spectrum. Research on the COVID-19 pandemic should continue to monitor the effects of social distancing on mental health and among vulnerable populations.
Project description:Political polarization impeded public support for policies to reduce the spread of COVID-19, much as polarization hinders responses to other contemporary challenges. Unlike previous theory and research that focused on the United States, the present research examined the effects of political elite cues and affective polarization on support for policies to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in seven countries (<i>n</i> = 12,955): Brazil, Israel, Italy, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Across countries, cues from political elites polarized public attitudes toward COVID-19 policies. Liberal and conservative respondents supported policies proposed by ingroup politicians and parties more than the same policies from outgroup politicians and parties. Respondents disliked, distrusted, and felt cold toward outgroup political elites, whereas they liked, trusted, and felt warm toward both ingroup political elites and nonpartisan experts. This affective polarization was correlated with policy support. These findings imply that policies from bipartisan coalitions and nonpartisan experts would be less polarizing, enjoying broader public support. Indeed, across countries, policies from bipartisan coalitions and experts were more widely supported. A follow-up experiment replicated these findings among US respondents considering international vaccine distribution policies. The polarizing effects of partisan elites and affective polarization emerged across nations that vary in cultures, ideologies, and political systems. Contrary to some propositions, the United States was not exceptionally polarized. Rather, these results suggest that polarizing processes emerged simply from categorizing people into political ingroups and outgroups. Political elites drive polarization globally, but nonpartisan experts can help resolve the conflicts that arise from it.
Project description:Political partisans see the world through an ideologically biased lens. What drives political polarization? Although it has been posited that polarization arises because of an inability to tolerate uncertainty and a need to hold predictable beliefs about the world, evidence for this hypothesis remains elusive. We examined the relationship between uncertainty tolerance and political polarization using a combination of brain-to-brain synchrony and intersubject representational similarity analysis, which measured committed liberals' and conservatives' (<i>n</i> = 44) subjective interpretation of naturalistic political video material. Shared ideology between participants increased neural synchrony throughout the brain during a polarizing political debate filled with provocative language but not during a neutrally worded news clip on polarized topics or a nonpolitical documentary. During the political debate, neural synchrony in mentalizing and valuation networks was modulated by one's aversion to uncertainty: Uncertainty-intolerant individuals experienced greater brain-to-brain synchrony with politically like-minded peers and lower synchrony with political opponents-an effect observed for liberals and conservatives alike. Moreover, the greater the neural synchrony between committed partisans, the more likely that two individuals formed similar, polarized attitudes about the debate. These results suggest that uncertainty attitudes gate the shared neural processing of political narratives, thereby fueling polarized attitude formation about hot-button issues.
Project description:People tend to interpret political information in a manner that confirms their prior beliefs, a cognitive bias that contributes to rising political polarization. In this study, we combined functional magnetic resonance imaging with semantic content analyses to investigate the neural mechanisms that underlie the biased processing of real-world political content. We scanned American participants with conservative-leaning or liberal-leaning immigration attitudes while they watched news clips, campaign ads, and public speeches related to immigration policy. We searched for evidence of "neural polarization": activity in the brain that diverges between people who hold liberal versus conservative political attitudes. Neural polarization was observed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC), a brain region associated with the interpretation of narrative content. Neural polarization in the DMPFC intensified during moments in the videos that included risk-related and moral-emotional language, highlighting content features most likely to drive divergent interpretations between conservatives and liberals. Finally, participants whose DMPFC activity closely matched that of the average conservative or the average liberal participant were more likely to change their attitudes in the direction of that group's position. Our work introduces a multimethod approach to study the neural basis of political cognition in naturalistic settings. Using this approach, we characterize how political attitudes biased information processing in the brain, the language most likely to drive polarized neural responses, and the consequences of biased processing for attitude change. Together, these results shed light on the psychological and neural underpinnings of how identical information is interpreted differently by conservatives and liberals.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>The novel coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage communities across the United States. Opinion surveys identified the importance of political ideology in shaping perceptions of the pandemic and compliance with preventive measures.<h4>Objective</h4>The aim of this study was to measure political partisanship and antiscience attitudes in the discussions about the pandemic on social media, as well as their geographic and temporal distributions.<h4>Methods</h4>We analyzed a large set of tweets from Twitter related to the pandemic, collected between January and May 2020, and developed methods to classify the ideological alignment of users along the moderacy (hardline vs moderate), political (liberal vs conservative), and science (antiscience vs proscience) dimensions.<h4>Results</h4>We found a significant correlation in polarized views along the science and political dimensions. Moreover, politically moderate users were more aligned with proscience views, while hardline users were more aligned with antiscience views. Contrary to expectations, we did not find that polarization grew over time; instead, we saw increasing activity by moderate proscience users. We also show that antiscience conservatives in the United States tended to tweet from the southern and northwestern states, while antiscience moderates tended to tweet from the western states. The proportion of antiscience conservatives was found to correlate with COVID-19 cases.<h4>Conclusions</h4>Our findings shed light on the multidimensional nature of polarization and the feasibility of tracking polarized opinions about the pandemic across time and space through social media data.
Project description:The COVID-19 disease pandemic is one of the most pressing global health issues of our time. Nevertheless, responses to the pandemic exhibit a stark ideological divide, with political conservatives (versus liberals/progressives) expressing less concern about the virus and less behavioral compliance with efforts to combat it. Drawing from decades of research on the psychological underpinnings of ideology, in four studies (total <i>N</i> = 4441) we examine the factors that contribute to the ideological gap in pandemic response-across domains including personality (e.g., empathic concern), attitudes (e.g., trust in science), information (e.g., COVID-19 knowledge), vulnerability (e.g., preexisting medical conditions), demographics (e.g., education, income) and environment (e.g., local COVID-19 infection rates). This work provides insight into the most proximal drivers of this ideological divide and also helps fill a long-standing theoretical and empirical gap regarding how these various ideological differences shape responses to complex real-world sociopolitical events. Among our key findings are the central role of attitude- and belief-related factors (e.g., trust in science and trust in Trump)-and the relatively weaker influence of several domain-general personality factors (empathic concern, disgust sensitivity, conspiratorial ideation). We conclude by considering possible explanations for these findings and their broader implications for our understanding of political ideology.
Project description:Liberals and conservatives exhibit different cognitive styles and converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs. In particular, a recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure, with liberals showing increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and conservatives showing increased gray matter volume in the in the amygdala. Here, we explore differences in brain function in liberals and conservatives by matching publicly-available voter records to 82 subjects who performed a risk-taking task during functional imaging. Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala. In fact, a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations yields a better fitting model of partisanship than a well-established model based on parental socialization of party identification long thought to be one of the core findings of political science. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.