Does Contact Reduce Affective Polarization? Field Evidence from Germany

47 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2023 Last revised: 19 Jul 2023

Date Written: July 12, 2023


We analyze whether and how exposure to political opponents can impact attitudes toward political opponents (affective polarization) and extremity of political opinions (ideological polarization). We present findings from a quasi-experiment in Germany that matched 15,000 participants for a virtual one-on-one conversation with a stranger. Leveraging staggered treatment assignment, we find significant reductions in affective polarization among treated participants in both incentivized economic interactions and survey outcomes. The reductions are concentrated among participants who are more polarized and less interested in conversations at baseline. In contrast, we do not find corresponding effects on ideological polarization suggesting that exposure increases tolerance but not support for opposing positions. In ongoing work, we are extending the analysis to a series of field experiments in Brazil and the U.S. to study factors that drive demand for contact and mechanisms explaining under which conditions contact leads to durable reductions in animosity.

JEL Classification: D72, D74, D83, D91

Suggested Citation

Blattner, Adrian and Koenen, Martin, Does Contact Reduce Affective Polarization? Field Evidence from Germany (July 12, 2023). Available at SSRN:

Adrian Blattner (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Martin Koenen

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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