Political Behavior

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 731–762 | Cite as

The Correlates of Discord: Identity, Issue Alignment, and Political Hostility in Polarized America

  • Lori D. BougherEmail author
Original Paper


The American public remains largely moderate on many issues, but incivility and hostility are rife in American politics. In this paper, I argue that the alignment of multiple issue attitudes along the traditional ideological spectrum helps explain the asymmetrical rise in negative political affect. I introduce belief congruence theory as a supplemental theoretical framework to social identity theory. Cross-sectional data reveal a significant association between issue alignment and negative out-party affect that is neither mediated nor moderated by partisan identity. A first-difference approach using two panel studies then addresses potential heterogeneity bias by testing a change-on-change model within individuals. Both panels, which are from different time periods, covering different issues, reveal significant associations between issue alignment and outgroup dislike. In contrast, partisan identity was only significantly associated with ingroup affect. This work suggests that cross-cutting issue preferences could help attenuate political hostility and reiterate the need to reconsider the role of issue-based reasoning in polarized America.


Political polarization Social identity theory Belief congruence theory Issue alignment 



I thank the editor and anonymous reviewers for their instructive recommendations. I also thank Matt Levendusky, Markus Prior, Kabir Khanna, Katie McCabe, Guarav Sood, and Sean Westwood for their feedback on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for the Study of Democratic PoliticsWoodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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