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

PRL Announces Launch of Interactive Data Explorer

The Lab is excited to announce a new interactive Data Explorer for visualizing the America’s Political Pulse survey data.

One of the Lab’s core goals is providing free and accessible research and information about partisan animosity in America. The launch of the dashboard is a critical contribution to those seeking to understand and address political polarization with scientific data.  

The Data Explorer allows users to interact with America’s Political Pulse survey data in real time. Users can analyze and visualize data pulled from any of the various survey questions the Lab collects each week. Users can compare and contrast the survey respondents based on demographic or political characteristics–such as exploring how Democrats and Republicans differ on issues such as institutional trust or perceptions of fair treatment. We also allow users to explore the survey data questions based on the demographic characteristics at either the state or county level. It is our hope that the dashboard will be an indispensable tool for researchers, practitioners, educators, students, and media. An FAQ and tutorial is available in the Data Explorer. 

Perceived vs. Actual Support for Political Violence

When it comes to many aspects of partisan animosity, Americans have remarkably inaccurate views on the other side, but nowhere is this clearer than with support for political violence. Democrats and Republicans think nearly 60% of the opposing side would support a person charged with politically motivated assault on a member of their party (57.5% for Democrats and 60% for Republicans). The actual numbers are up to 30 times smaller–1.9% of Democrats and 3% of Republicans would actually support the person charged with the crime.

When it comes to murder the pattern is the same, but on a smaller scale. Democrats think 44.3% of Republicans would support someone who murdered a Democrat, while Republicans think 43.7% of Democrats would support someone who murdered a Republican. Again, the truth is orders of magnitude smaller–1% for Democrats and 1.6% for Republicans.

Support for political violence is very low, but people have caricatures of the other side in their minds.

You can always view the results of the America’s Political Pulse tracking poll to see major findings, explore over-time trends, or download top-line results.

Where Do Election Skeptics See Fraud Determining Election Results?

We asked our respondents in a period of three weeks after the election in which states they thought fraud determined the 2022 midterm outcome. Among those who think fraud happened, the average respondents selected five states. The most commonly selected states were a combination of competitive states (Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia, etc.) and states that are deeply blue (California, New York, etc.). This suggests that election skeptics see fraud as both a way of swinging close elections and as a manifestation of partisan animosity.

Indeed, asking people how fraud on a massive scale could happen in this country, the most common response was blaming the out party.

You can always view the results of the America’s Political Pulse tracking poll to see major findings, explore over-time trends, or download top-line results.

Views on the Accuracy of the 2022 Midterms

We asked people about the accuracy of the 2022 midterms before and after the election. On average, Democrats always agreed that the election would/will reflect the preferences of those who voted, while Republicans moved from agreeing with this statement to being uncertain on average. Independent attitudes were mostly static over the period at a level between agreement and uncertainty.

This is consistent with a winner effect, where Democratic and Republican views moved in alignment with results of election day. As we will show in the coming weeks, independents represent a large pool of voters who lack trust in the system.

You can always view the results of the America’s Political Pulse tracking poll to see major findings, explore over-time trends, or download top-line results.

Perceptions on Voter Fraud in the 2022 Midterms

We asked approximately 6,000 Americans if they thought voter fraud occurred in the 2022 midterms. Despite a consistent lack of evidence, large numbers of Americans think the midterms were marred by fraud: 56% of Republicans, 33% of pure Independents and 8% of Democrats. 

In a followup question 42% of Republicans thought that fraud changed the results of the 2022 midterms, while 24% of pure Independents and 4% of Democrats held this view. These results suggest that mistrust in elections is not just a partisan issue, with nearly a quarter of independents questioning the legitimacy of election outcomes.

A sizable portion of Americans remain unconvinced that American elections are robust and fair.

You can always view the results of the America’s Political Pulse tracking poll to see major findings, explore over-time trends, or download top-line results.

Misinformation on Support for Political Violence

Our survey data show that citizens overestimate support among the opposing party for democratic norm violations by up to 48.7 percentage points. We recently added questions to capture differences between actual support for political violence and perceived support for political violence.  

Both parties have an extremely poor understanding of the extent to which the other side supports violence. Democrats overestimate Republican support for political violence by 45.5 percentage points (46.2% versus .7%). Similarly, Republicans overestimate Democratic support by 41.3 percentage points (43.1% versus 1.8%).  More striking than the difference between perceptions and truth is that truth is within the margin of error of 0, while perceptions are close to a majority. This is the difference between a problem in need of our attention and a problem set to metastasize into a civil war.  

Political violence may be rare in this country, but misinformation on its support among the electorate is rife.

You can always view the results of the America’s Political Pulse tracking poll to see major findings, explore over-time trends, or download top-line results.