Talking across the aisle

Category: Applied Microeconomics and Organization Seminar
When: 24 April 2024
, 14:15
 - 15:30
Where: RuW 4.201

Title: Talking across the aisle (with Luca Braghieri and Peter Schwardmann)

Abstract: Over the last decades scholars, public intellectuals, and policy makers have raised concerns about the potential negative effects of political echo chambers, environments in which individuals interact and share information primarily with co-partisans rather than counter-partisans. Such concerns are generally articulated along two distinct dimensions: the impairment of information aggregation and the perpetuation of affective polarization.

We conduct an online experiment that randomly assigns participants to co- or cross-partisan face-to-face conversations about facts that relate to contentious and important political issues. Our paradigm allows us to measure whether knowledge is distributed across partisan lines and, hence, whether there is potential for information aggregation and learning from cross-partisan interactions. We also observe actual learning and collect incentivized measures for how much participants expect to learn and how willing they are to engage in the conversation in the first place. While we find that cross-partisan interactions offer a higher potential for learning than co-partisan interactions, participants are less able to learn from them. They also expect to learn less from cross-partisan interactions, a relative pessimism that persists even after the conversation. Finally, participants are less willing to engage in cross-partisan conversations. Taken together, our results identify the existence of several barriers to information sharing across party lines.

While cross-party conversations do not lead to greater relative informedness, they meaningfully reduce factual and affective polarization. We leverage data on prior attitudes and conversational scripts and video recordings to uncover the most important emotional and behavioral predictors of the depolarizing effect of cross-partisan contact.