Toward Conflict or Compromise? How Aggressive Cues Polarize (or Moderate) Partisan Attitudes
36 Pages Posted: 21 May 2014 Last revised: 1 Jan 2015
Date Written: December 31, 2014
When will partisans take more polarized policy positions apt for conflict, and when will they adopt conciliatory stances toward compromise? We argue that aggressive cues in everyday political speech signal approaching hostilities, and that partisans respond to these cues by aligning closer with partisan views before the clash or by seeking middle ground less tied to partisanship. These distinct responses to signs of conflict, we suggest, depend on each partisan’s orientation toward aggression in everyday life. In two survey experiments, we find considerable support for our predictions: exposure to violent metaphors increases partisan differences on policy views among aggressive citizens but reduces differences among low-aggression partisans. These findings reveal the hidden power of aggression in public opinion, they highlight the conditional nature of polarization dynamics, and they speak to the normative challenge that even mild language poses for political conflict among leaders and citizens.
Keywords: policy attitudes, metaphors, personality, aggression, trait-situation interactions, polarization
JEL Classification: D72, D74, D70, C90, C93
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation