Partisan Dehumanization in American Politics
Despite evidence that dehumanizing language and metaphors are found in political discourse, extant research has largely overlooked whether voters dehumanize their political opponents. Research on dehumanization has tended to focus on racial and ethnic divisions in societies, rather than political divisions. Understanding dehumanization in political contexts is important because the social psychology literature links dehumanization to a variety of negative outcomes, including moral disengagement, aggression, and even violence. In this manuscript, I discuss evidence of partisan dehumanization during the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign and demonstrate how a focus on dehumanization can expose new relationships between moral psychology and partisan identity. Using data from two surveys conducted in October of 2016, I show that partisans dehumanize their political opponents in both subtle and blatant ways. When I investigate the correlates of dehumanization, I find that partisans who blatantly dehumanize members of the opposing party prefer greater social distance from their political opponents, which is indicative of reduced interpersonal tolerance. I also find that blatant dehumanization is associated with perceptions of greater moral distance between the parties, which is indicative of moral disengagement. These results suggest that dehumanization can improve our understanding of negative partisanship and political polarization.
KeywordsDehumanization Partisanship Social identity Political polarization Moral disengagement
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