Do polarized election campaigns intensify intergroup polarization?

In our ever more diverse societies, polarization becomes increasingly prominent. Surprisingly, however, the social sciences are lagging behind in answering basic questions such as what is intergroup polarization and how do we measure it. In this pilot study we aim to conceptualize and operationalize intergroup polarization. Our working definition of intergroup polarization is the sharpening of opposition between groups in society that may result in intergroup tension and increased segregation (along ethnic, religious, class lines). Using the municipality elections at 21 March 2018 in the severely polarized city of Rotterdam as our testing ground. In Rotterdam, the political extremes are occupied by radical right populist and immigrant parties. Moreover, on both sides of the continuum there is more than one party, which may not only enhance competition within the poles but also increase polarization between the poles. Hence, we expect a competitive and polarized election campaign.

Our basic assumption is that the more polarized the political campaign gets, the stronger intergroup relations in the neighbourhoods will polarize. That is, the more intergroup relations polarize, the more there will be a tendency to minimize intra- or ingroup differences, and to maximize inter- or outgroup differences. Thus attitudes about the ingroup tend to get more positive, while those about the outgroup tend to get more negative. Our study takes neighborhoods as the unit of analysis. The more polarized a neighbourhood, the more perceived intergroup tension and actual acts of intergroup conflicts we expect to observe.

Team: Jacquelien van Stekelenburg, Bert Klandermans, Peter Kerkhof, Otto Adang, Tilo Hartmann