Rising political polarization and declining civility in political engagement are critical problems of our time in part because they stand as barriers to addressing all other social problems. Without addressing entrenched political divisions, effective action on pressing issues like global warming, poverty, immigration, and health care is impossible.
The effects of polarization are getting worse and are not obviously self-limiting. There is good reason to expect current trends to continue, with potentially devastating consequences for political, economic, and ecological stability.
Our lab addresses these problems by conducting research on actionable solutions sufficient to check rising polarization and incivility in the U.S. Our multidisciplinary team theorizes interventions, rigorously evaluates them with experimental and observational data, pursues partnerships with organizations to directly intervene, and disseminates findings to political leaders and the general public.
Our work is focused on developing practical scientific knowledge in three main areas: paths to political consensus, reducing harms of polarization, and effective strategies of social activism.
How can consensus be built in a polarized society? We study the use of persuasive appeals for broadening political coalitions. Much of our research focuses on "moral reframing," a technique for persuasion that involves framing a political position in terms of the moral values of the audience targeted for persuasion. Our research suggests that moral reframing is effective for increasing support for policies and candidates, offering a means for building political coalitions in a pluralistic society.
Polarization in the contemporary U.S. is characterized by rising "tribalism," an increasing tendency to view politics as an arena of bitter intergroup conflict in which one's own group is morally superior, and the outgroup is maliciously motivated and a threat to the well-being of the country. Two negative effects of political tribalism are 1) high levels of bias in the handling of political information, and 2) incivility in political engagement. With support from the Civic Heath Project, we are testing interventions designed to address both of these harms of polarization, with the goal of identifying and driving uptake of effective interventions.2
Activism is a critical means for affecting positive social change, but what activist techniques are most effective? Much of our work has focused on the negative effects of violent or highly disruptive protest actions on public perception of social movements. In other work, we study the effects of white racial status threat in stimulating the rise of conservative social movements (e.g., the Tea Party), and Americans' perceptions of minority-lead activism.