Toward conflict or compromise? How violent metaphors polarize partisan issue attitudes

Abstract

We know much about how opinion leaders drive mass partisan polarization with position-taking cues but little on how different message types polarize citizens, and who responds most to those messages attributes. This article contributes new insights by investigating how exposure to common violent metaphors interacts with audience personality traits to polarize partisans on issues. Building from research on conflict orientations, we theorize that aggressive rhetoric primes aggression in aggressive partisans, motivating greater intransigence on party positions. As a consequence, aggressive partisans are pulled further apart on issues, thereby reducing prospects for compromise. We find support for our predictions in two large nationally diverse survey experiments conducted in very different political contexts. Our results demonstrate the subtle power of aggression in public opinion and highlight the important moderating role of individual differences in the communication of partisan conflict.

Publication
Political Communication