Toward Conflict or Compromise? How Aggressive Cues Polarize (or Moderate) Partisan Attitudes

36 Pages Posted: 21 May 2014 Last revised: 1 Jan 2015

See all articles by Nathan P. Kalmoe

Nathan P. Kalmoe

George Washington University - School of Media & Public Affairs

Joshua R. Gubler

Brigham Young University - Department of Political Science

David A. Wood

Brigham Young University - School of Accountancy

Date Written: December 31, 2014

Abstract

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

Kalmoe, Nathan P. and Gubler, Joshua R. and Wood, David A., Toward Conflict or Compromise? How Aggressive Cues Polarize (or Moderate) Partisan Attitudes (December 31, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2439278 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2439278

Nathan P. Kalmoe

George Washington University - School of Media & Public Affairs ( email )

Washington, DC 20052
United States

Joshua R. Gubler

Brigham Young University - Department of Political Science ( email )

764 Kimball Tower
Provo, UT 84602
United States
801-422-2829 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://scholar.byu.edu/jgubler

David A. Wood (Contact Author)

Brigham Young University - School of Accountancy ( email )

518 TNRB
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
United States
801-422-8642 (Phone)
801-422-0621 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://marriottschool.byu.edu/employee/employee.cfm?emp=daw44

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