From The Hill
Political polarization in the U.S. is at its highest level in decades. This isn’t surprising, especially in the wake of the recent presidential election.
It’s hard to go on social media, much less cable news these days and not see reports that support one political side and vilify the other. Is there any hope for bringing the country closer together? We think so.
In a recent study, we found that the way information is presented can influence political polarization. When it is presented in a way that engages people in an objective analysis of the information at hand, political polarization can decrease. Yet when the same information provokes people to think about their relevant political preferences, people remain polarized.
In other words, people might moderate their views when they have more information on how a contentious policy works, but not if they’re busy thinking about what they want or why they want it.
In our study, we examined people’s views on the divisive issue of federal taxes. We found that providing a “taxpayer receipt” — an impartial, objective breakdown of how the government spends one’s tax dollars — decreases polarization regarding the perceived legitimacy of taxes.
After we showed a nationally representative sample the taxpayer receipt, the previously strong relationship between how conservative or liberal someone was, along with his or her view on taxes, virtually disappeared. Liberals were less satisfied with taxes than before, and conservatives were more satisfied than before. Both groups moved closer to the middle.
However, this depolarization effect was fragile. It vanished if we simply asked people how they want their taxes to be spent when we showed them the receipt. People were equally polarized if we asked them about their preferences when presenting the facts as they were when we asked them about their preferences and showed them nothing.
Read the full post at The Hill.
Evan Apfelbaum is the W. Maurice Young (1961) Career Development Professor and an Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Erik Duhaime is a Ph.D. student in the Work and Organization Studies Department at the MIT Sloan School of Management.