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“Reaching Across the Aisle: Does Affective Polarization Hinder Grassroots Climate Mobilization?”
Political action spreads through social networks, so citizens may have power to shape policy both through their own advocacy and by recruiting others to act. Do citizens try to spread grassroots action? If so, do they work to build broad, bipartisan coalitions or to recruit others like them? We focus on the climate movement, where most citizen advocates are Democrats. Mobilizing bipartisan action could more effectively promote climate policy in Congress, but record-high affective polarization—animosity towards counter-partisans—may impede cross-party grassroots cooperation. In online experiments with over 20,000 participants, we connect Democrats with other Americans across the political spectrum (all of whom believe climate change is human-caused) to understand whether and how they try to recruit others to push for climate policy. Democrats are motivated to recruit others—they are 10% more likely to email Congress when doing so allows them to invite others to act. Even while Democrats say that a bipartisan climate movement would be more effective, however, they are 27% more likely to invite other liberals than conservatives to email Congress. This gap does not arise from Democrats’ own distaste for engaging with counter-partisans, but rather can be explained by their correct beliefs that their invitation will have about half as much impact on conservatives’ action. Anticipated affective polarization drives these beliefs: Democrats estimate that conservatives would respond three times more to invitations that did not identify them as liberals.
Lucy Page is a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at MIT, where she studies collective action on climate change.
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