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Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies - European University Institute

Interview | Shanto Iyengar on affective polarisation in US and European politics

On the eve of the first presidential debate between President Biden and candidate Trump, Professor Shanto Iyengar was interviewed by Professor Dietlind Stolle addressing questions on affective polarisation, the 2024 US elections, the role of media in politics, and polarisation in non-political domains.

05 July 2024 | Event - Video

On 27-28 June, the European Governance and Politics Programme hosted Professor Shanto Iyengar, who delivered the keynote speech at the workshop titled 'Towards affective depolarisation? Finding remedies to affective polarisation in democracies.'

Shanto Iyengar is William Robertson Coe Professor and Professor of Political Science and of Communication, Director of the Communication at Stanford University. He is also currently the co-principal investigator of the American National Elections Studies.

In the interview with Dietlind Stolle, James McGill Professor in Political Science at McGill University, Iyengar shared insights on affective polarisation in US and European politics, the media's role, and the spillover of polarisation into daily life, including education, public health, and misinformation.

Regarding whether the presidential debate could influence voter opinions, Iyengar stated, “The country [US] is highly polarised. This has happened over the last 50 or 60 years and it has reached the point where two political parties see each other as existential threats... So my sense is that the debate, given the polarised state of American politics, it’s not going to change anyone’s opinion.” He noted that the only voters potentially swayed by the debate are the independent ones, who make up only about 15-17% of the electorate.

Iyengar also examined the European political landscape, highlighting immigration as a common divisive issue on both continents. “It is that which has led to the rise of populist movements and populist parties, and therefore you [Europe] have now a very similar intense argumentation over this issue which increases people’s emotional stake that they have in politics.” He further explained the differences between US and European party systems, signaling that the issue of affective polarisation in Europe is more complicated.

When discussing the spillover of affective polarisation, Iyengar remarked, “The divide has spread into entirely non-political debates. People are now dating co-partisans... About 80% of American households today, if you have two adults living together, they have the same party registration.

Regarding whether this phenomenon is ‘treatable’, Iyengar suggested, “I think the next step, logically, is to get a causal dynamics... And my view is that you have to look at the media environment as the fundamental cause.

A full recording of Professor Shanto Iyengar’s keynote speech, titled 'Affective polarisation: assessing the state of the field' is available on the European Governance Programme’s YouTube channel.

Last update: 05 July 2024

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