One theme emerges in much of the research: Our politics tend be more emotional now. Policy preferences are increasingly likely to be entangled with a visceral dislike of the opposition. The newly embraced academic term for this is “affective polarization.”
“It’s feelings based,” said Lilliana Mason, a political scientist at Johns Hopkins University and author of “Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity.” “It’s polarization that’s based on our feelings for each other, not based on extremely divergent policy preferences.”
Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford political psychologist who coined the term “affective polarization,” explained in a 2018 paper why people typically identify with a group.
“Homo sapiens is a social species; group affiliation is essential to our sense of self. Individuals instinctively think of themselves as representing broad socioeconomic and cultural categories rather than as distinctive packages of traits,” he wrote.
...Research shows that affective polarization is intensifying across the political spectrum. Recent survey data revealed that more than half of Republicans and Democrats view the other party as “a threat,” and nearly as many agree with the description of the other party as “evil,” Mason said.
Asked in the summer of 2022 if they agree or disagree that members of the other party “lack the traits to be considered fully human — they behave like animals,” about 30 percent in both parties agreed, Mason’s research shows.