, Volume 35, Issue 2, pp 409-428
Date: 02 Mar 2012

The Impact of Elite Polarization on Partisan Ambivalence and Indifference

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Abstract

Considerable evidence documents the impact that elite polarization has had on the influence of partisanship on vote choice and attitudes. Yet, much of the electorate remains moderate. This paper seeks to shed some light on this paradox. Examining trends from 1952 to 2004 demonstrates that the electorate is now more opinionated about the parties than in the recent past, but that a significant portion of the increase is in the form of negative statements about an individual’s party—there are fewer indifferent individuals, but the electorate is not overwhelmingly more one-sided, instead there has been an increase in both the proportion of one-sided and ambivalent individuals. It is next examined if the intensity of one’s ideological and partisan self-identification influences how they respond to elite polarization. The results suggest that non-ideologues and pure independents are more likely to be indifferent; all other groups have shown a decline in the likelihood of being indifferent and an increase in ambivalence. The results demonstrate that the public is responding to the increased clarity in elite positions in the form of an increased number of opinions, but for many the increase results from a mix of positive and negative reactions.