Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Psychology & Neuroscience

First Advisor

Leaf Van Boven

Abstract

Political polarization is a theme common in the media especially during presidential elections. Not everyone sees America as being extremely polarized. Some people view political parties as being more similar rather than opposites (Fiorina, Abrams, & Pope, 2010). Why do some people perceive more political polarization than others? What influences perceived polarization? This paper looks at how one’s own attitude extremity and party identification strength relate to perceived polarization. For our study we examined six different political issues, political ideology and party identification by measuring participant’s self-attitude and perceived attitudes of political parties. We suggest that the extremity of an individual’s attitude on a political will predict how much polarization they perceive between political parties on that political issue. This could be partly due to the projection of attitudinal processes. If an individual reflects on the process of the formation of their own attitudes, such as extensive thought or emotional arousal, that person might project that same process onto members of the other political party (Van Boven, Judd, & Sherman, 2012). Therefore the more extreme someone’s own attitude is, the more extreme they may perceive others’ attitudes, but on the opposite side of an issue. We suggest that party identification might be formed differently than political attitudes and therefore does not predict perceived polarization between parties. Influences of perceived polarization and the consequences of greater perceived polarization are discussed.

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