August 15, 2022 – Free Speech & Peace

Top scholars launch Polarization Research Lab to solve America’s toxic division


Polarization is on the rise. Americans’ trust in each other is dropping. And more and more people do not just disagree, they see their opponents as morally wrong. 

With support from the Charles Koch Foundation (CKF), the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and New Pluralists, researchers at Dartmouth, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania will collaborate to study the causes, consequences, and solutions to this political animosity. Sean Westwood, Yph Lelkes, and Shanto Iyengar, three of the most impactful scholars studying the issue of affective polarization, launched the Polarization Research Lab

“America is suffering from a crisis of division, and solving the problem starts with understanding it,” said CKF Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “The Polarization Research Lab will do just that, exploring the causes of our country’s trends, opening that data to other scholars, journalists, and practitioners, and equipping people to address these challenges. This project shows how scientific research can play a big role in bridging divides.”

Together the researchers will track data on trends in political animosity, including three interconnected phenomena: affective polarization (or the extent to which individuals like their own party and strongly dislike the other), support for the violation of democratic norms, and support for political violence. They will also open the data to the public. 

As the universities’ announcement details, the Polarization Research Lab: 

  • Plans to conduct the largest survey investigation of partisan animosity in America, to date. Through 156,000 survey interviews over the next three years, the lab will track how citizen attitudes vary over time and how they correspond to the actions of federally elected officials (“elites”). This will enable the researchers to track how elite animosity causes citizen animosity, how major news events may cause citizen animosity, and how these things may work together. 
  • Will merge public opinion data with elite rhetoric. To capture elite rhetoric, the lab will track and categorize all political tweets, press releases, floor speeches, and media appearances by federal elected officials, using machine learning techniques.
  • Will make its data available to other academics, students, and the general public in real-time through a free interactive dashboard. The dashboard will allow users to select the variables that they are interested in such as finding out where polarization is highest and lowest in the U.S., by state and generate a visualization. As part of the lab’s commitment to making its information useful and accessible, plain English summaries about the lab’s work will also be available in addition to raw tabular data.

Read the full press release announcing the Polarization Research Lab.