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Have Americans’ Attitudes Become More Polarized? – an Update

Working Paper #24, Spring 2003

John H. Evans
Department of Sociology
University of California, San Diego

Objective: I update the analysis of attitudinal polarization originally presented in DiMaggio, Evans and Bryson (DEB) (1996) by using newly available years of survey data. Method: Like DEB, I derive aggregate distributional parameters for social groups in each year of the surveys, and then regress the year of the surveys on each parameter. Results: As in DEB’s original paper, there is little evidence of general polarization in attitudes between the early 1970s and today. However, while DEB found some evidence that polarization in the public may be the result of polarization in our political system, with the additional years of data this conclusion is inescapable. Conclusions: While political scientists have recently found polarization among our elected officials on economic issues, it seems clear that members of the public who are involved with politics are becoming polarized on moral issues. Political scientists should follow up on this research to see not only if elected officials are polarized on these issues, but the causal direction of the link between officials and the public.

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