PRL First Annual Meeting Convenes Top Scholars on Partisan Animosity

The Polarization Research Lab hosted its First Annual Meeting in collaboration with the Hoover Institution on March 2-3, 2023. Fifty-five attendees enjoyed an instructive two days of research and learning about partisan animosity at the Hoover Institution’s beautiful space in Palo Alto. 

The meeting brought together academic experts and graduate students across disciplines studying partisan animosity in the US and abroad, practitioners working with communities around the country to temper political polarization, and funders. The goal was to convene these groups in-person to bridge the academic to practitioner divide and share advances in the study of partisan animosity among the top researchers in the field. Few opportunities exist for young researchers and practitioners to attend a conference with senior faculty from political science, psychology, sociology, and economics, and PRL designed the conference to maximize opportunities for networking and mentoring.  

On March 2, Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution Condoleezza Rice, welcomed the attendees and introduced keynote speaker Utah Governor Spencer J. Cox. Dr. Rice and Governor Cox both spoke to the salience of a gathering on reducing partisan animosity and the critical importance of social science research in uncovering causes and effective treatments to reduce toxic polarization. Speaking about his campaign, Governor Cox highlighted his and his opponent’s efforts to campaign civilly and positively while maintaining intellectual debate about policy.    

The following two days included seven academic talks with discussant feedback and five panel presentations, all of which induced highly engaged audience questions. The meeting also introduced a venue for researchers to present their works in progress in a small group workshop format. For early-mid stage projects, this was a unique opportunity to receive cross-disciplinary feedback from the foremost scholars of partisan animosity and will help these projects get published in top journals. Fifteen poster presentations by graduate students and postdocs during a cocktail reception before a catered dinner rounded out a highly successful first day of the meeting. 

By the end of the second day of presentations, it was clear that the meeting succeeded in its goal of advancing our understanding of partisan animosity and laying a path for future work. A central theme of the research presented was ensuring that we understand the causes of partisan animosity, and polarization before we devise treatments, so that we are sure we are correcting the actual problem and not just a symptom of the problem. Presentations covered topics including what drives partisan animosity and how do we define it–it’s both identity and policy issues–and the extent and measurement of democratic backsliding in the United States–which may not be as severe as some discourse suggests. 

Another highlight was presentations and posters that included initial results from experiments designed to correct misperceptions and depolarize study participants. While academic conferences often dwell on the theoretical, the PRL meeting prioritized discussions that advance our understanding of how to effectively treat and scale polarization interventions. Again, clear themes emerged, and robust dialogue centered on the specific conditions under which misperceptions, particularly toward the out-party, can be corrected as well as how journalists can help counter misinformation in the way they frame story headlines. 

Researchers also presented initial findings from studies that used data from PRL’s America’s Political Pulse survey, the Lab’s signature data collection effort to track partisan animosity through weekly surveys. As part of its core focus on providing public goods and advancing our understanding of political polarization, the Lab offers survey time free of charge to researchers through an RFP and has already fielded 17 surveys with another 10 accepted this winter. The high-quality research presented at the meeting showcased the importance of well-designed and replicable experiments in understanding and treating partisan animosity.   

In his opening, PRL Faculty Director Sean J. Westwood spoke about new projects coming from the Lab in 2023, including the Library of Partisan Animosity and the Pledge of Civility. The Library is a core public good provided by the Lab and will provide summaries of the seminal works on partisan animosity as well as information about experimental design and methodology. Covering more than 100 articles it will be an indispensable resource for students, educators, practitioners, and the media. The Pledge of Civility is an elite-level intervention designed by the Lab aimed at lowering political hostility in America with a simple audited pledge–”I pledge to choose civility when campaigning”– from future elected officials and staffers. 

The Polarization Research Lab is funded by the Koch Foundation, New Pluralists, and the Knight Foundation. The Lab was founded in 2022 by Sean J. Westwood, Associate Professor  at Dartmouth College, Yphtach Lelkes, Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and Shanto Iyengar, Professor at Stanford. Questions or media inquiries can be directed to Sean J. Westwood at

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