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J Pers Soc Psychol. 2012 Jul;103(1):84-100. doi: 10.1037/a0028145. Epub 2012 Apr 30.

Political polarization projection: social projection of partisan attitude extremity and attitudinal processes.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder, CO 80309-0345, USA.


What influences perceptions of political polarization? The authors examine the polarization of people's own political attitudes as a source of perceived polarization: Individuals with more extreme partisan attitudes perceive greater polarization than individuals with less extreme partisan attitudes. This "polarization projection" was demonstrated in 3 studies in which people estimated the distribution of others' political attitudes: one study with a nationally representative sample concerning the 2008 presidential election, and 2 studies concerning university students evaluating a policy regarding scarce resource allocation. These studies demonstrate that polarization projection occurs simultaneously with and independently of simple projection, the tendency to assume that others share one's partisan political attitudes. Polarization projection may occur partly because people assume that others engage in similar attitudinal processes as the self, such as extensive thought and emotional arousal. The projection of various attitudinal processes was demonstrated in a study concerning health care reform policies. Further supporting this explanation, polarization projection increased when people introspected about their own attitudinal processes, which increased the accessibility of those processes. Implications for perceptions of partisanship, social judgment, and civic behavior are discussed.

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