The 2016 election did not increase political polarization

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would disagree that American politics are highly partisan. Partisanship has been on the rise since the 1970s, and the consensus among the media seems to be that political polarization has skyrocketed since the beginning of the campaign season for the 2016 presidential election.

Cartoon Democrat donkey butting heads with a cartoon Republican elephant.

But a new study from the Annenberg School for Communication does not support this popular belief. Professor Yphtach Lelkes and his research collaborators conducted a series of studies in 2014 and then replicated these studies in 2017, allowing them to compare levels of political polarization in the U.S. before and after Donald Trump was elected president. They found no increase in polarization, leading them to conclude that President Trump has not made things worse.

“I’ve been studying polarization for a long time,” Lelkes says, “and elite discourse is arguably at its worst, which led us to theorize that partisanship would be worse since Trump took office. But we found that things really have not budged.”

These studies certainly indicate that America is politically polarized—evidenced by a preference for media critical of the other party rather than one’s own, among other findings—but the research shows no statistical difference between the levels of partisanship in 2014 and 2017. America is no doubt polarized; just not more so than it was before Trump entered the political arena.

Read more at Annenberg School for Communication.