The Consequences of Social Interaction on Outparty Affect and Stereotypes

Erin Rossiter (Washington University in St. Louis)

*Award for Best Graduate Student Poster - Applications*

Abstract: Americans increasingly dislike members of the opposite political party and associate negative stereotypes with them such as close-minded, mean, and hypocritical. Yet, Americans interact, whether talking about politics or not, with opposing party members in their everyday lives. How do social interactions across party lines impact the negative feelings and perceptions Americans hold for opposing party members? How might the consequences of social interactions that touch on politics differ from those that do not? I develop two novel methodological approaches to facilitate an experimental test of my hypotheses. First, I adapt the blocked cluster experimental design for the setting in which researchers have control over what clusters (i.e., social interactions) form, which is common in the political discussion literature. Second, I develop conversation software so participants can engage in written, online conversations in real-time. Using these approaches, I conduct an experiment that manipulates whether or not a pair of opposing party members engage in social interaction, and if so, whether they discuss a political or non-political topic. I find that social interaction mitigates negative outparty affect and deters future use of negative stereotypes to describe the outparty. This positive effect holds for both non-political and political conversations. Surprisingly, I do not find evidence that the effect of political conversation is any less than the effect of non-political conversation on improving a partisan's negative view of the outparty. These results provide new evidence that interparty social interaction, regardless of whether the conversation is politically-charged or not, can work to undo the negative view of outparty members held by many Americans.

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