It seems like common sense that if Republicans and Democrats could come together for good faith dialogue, the conversations would reduce tensions and ease the corrosive polarization that threatens U.S. democracy.
According to a new study co-authored by a UC Berkeley political scientist, brief, cross-partisan conversations about sensitive political topics have little power to narrow differences. Conversation about neutral topics can create some goodwill but it doesn't last.
There is an assumption that the conversations will have positive consequences. Someone might say, "I've gotten to know the other side, and I like them more, and so now I'm more comfortable with my representative working with a representative from the other side, and I'm less likely to vote for a politician in my opinion."
We did not find any of that. Simply liking the other side's voters doesn't seem to affect your political behavior.
Today's research was published in the journal Science Advances. It was co-authored by two people.
The dynamics of political division and the role of communication have been the focus of recent research.
His research has shown that talking about people's life experiences can have a long-term impact on persuading people to support a cause. He reported earlier this year that conservative Fox News viewers who spent a month tuning to CNN instead experienced a broad shift in their political opinions until they came back to watching Fox.
Reducing the hostilities associated with political polarization may not improve the health of democracy, according to a paper co-authored by Broockman.
Insights on what works and what doesn't.
A growing number of organizations in the U.S. are trying to bridge the divide in the electorate. BridgeUSA, a nonprofit with close ties to Berkeley, is working on university and high school campuses to encourage discussion that isn't partisan and focuses on defining challenges and solutions.
In an interview, he stressed that his research doesn't undermine those efforts. He said it's important to study what kind of engagement works and how to make positive results last longer.
Two experiments are covered in the research. The authors put hundreds of Republicans and Democrats together for a one-on-one discussion about what makes a perfect day.
The conversations produced large reductions in the number of people with different views of the world. Within three months, the reductions were gone.
The second experiment brought Republicans and Democrats together for one-on-one discussions that focused on potentially tense political topics. In one group, pairs of Democrats and Republicans were assigned to talk about why they identify with their own parties, and in the other, they were assigned to talk about why they dislike each other.
The conversations had no effect on reducing the number of people with different opinions.
The study showed how we can get along. The research subjects felt their discussion partners weren't listening to them when they talked about their own parties. 13 1/2 minutes is how long those conversations usually last.
The people assigned to discuss what they disliked about the opposing party seemed to have more time to think about it. Their conversations were usually around 18 minutes long.
People were more likely to say that cross-partisan conversations were important after the chats. There were signals of hope found in the study that suggested slight reductions in polarization and an increase in warmth towards the opposing party.
People think their own party is okay, but they don't love it. Their feelings aren't very strong. Most people will agree with someone else that the party isn't perfect.
Real life is more civil than Facebook would suggest.
That points to something else from the study. The conversations were recorded with participants' consent and the transcripts were civil.
The kind of arguments that you would see on Facebook were not part of the conversations that he looked at. The research participants hated each other less. People would have expected this to be worse.
We tend to think about the people on the other side when we think about the other side. The average person doesn't interact like that when they're talking face to face.
The insights suggest that further research could shed light on a recipe for political discussions that might reduce polarization and improve democracy.
It might be interesting to see what would happen if the person-to-person engagements were more extensive and longer term. He said that researchers could study the interventions that could help to sustain and build on trust if they could find a way to reduce polarization through one-on-one engagements.
We probably should allow common sense to temper our optimism. Conflict is a feature of the system.
He said that democracy existed to manage the inevitable differences of opinion. The differences of opinions are not a problem. People need to talk about them.More information: Erik Santoro et al, The promise and pitfalls of cross-partisan conversations for reducing affective polarization: Evidence from randomized experiments, Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abn5515