The Differential Effects of Actual and Perceived Polarization

  • Adam M. Enders
  • Miles T. Armaly
Original Paper


Recent work on the nature of mass polarization has revealed that individuals perceive more polarization than actually exists, meaning they assume that out-party members are farther from them on the liberal-conservative continuum than they actually are according to measures of their personal preferences. But what are the consequences of this biased perception, and how do they differ from the consequences of actual polarization? In this paper, we use American National Election Studies data to estimate actual and perceived polarization at the individual level from 1972–2012. We find that the two types of polarization, while related themselves, are differentially related to other attitudinal and behavioral outcomes of normative interest. Namely, we find that perceived polarization is more strongly related to negative affective evaluations of out-parties and out-party candidates, voting, participation, trust, and efficacy than is actual polarization, which shares much weaker relationships with these constructs.


Polarization Identity Affect Perceptions of polarization Voting Trust 

Supplementary material

11109_2018_9476_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (110 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (pdf 109 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LouisvilleLouisvilleUSA
  2. 2.University of MississippiMississippiUSA

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