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Sociology Department Talk: Barum Park

November 19, 2019 - 12:30pm
McClatchy Hall, Building 120, Studio 40

Please join us for a colloquium being given by Barum Park from New York University.

Rethinking Polarization

According to many accounts, the U.S. public is more polarized than ever. In this talk, I identify three major forms of ideological disagreement that have been discussed under the umbrella term "polarization" and redefine them into analytically distinct and non-overlapping concepts. I show that while Democrats and Republicans have diverged in opposite directions on economic and civil rights issues, all three forms of ideological disagreement point toward a depolarizing trend on moral issues that started after the turn of the millennium. Further, I demonstrate that a secular trend, not polarization, accounts for public opinion dynamics in the moral domain. On a large set of issues, from gay rights to women’s role in society and marijuana legalization, both partisan camps have become more liberal. I argue that this secular change has been misinterpreted by scholars as a sign of polarization or even a Culture War. The growing gap between Democrats and Republicans on moral issues was not created by diverging trends but by the different pace at which partisans have been adopting the same, more liberal, views. The talk concludes with a reflection on the social network dynamics that brought about this change, especially the unprecedented speed at which the public changed its views on gay rights issues.