Podcast episodes about political polarization
For my psychology podcast, People Who Read People, I’ve done quite a few interviews with various experts and academics on the subject of political polarization, social media effects on polarization, and some other polarization-related topics. I wanted to put all of those episodes in one place for people interested in political polarization and working to reduce it.
Why is polarization important?
Many people, when they hear about polarization, think something like, “One political group is horrible so it makes sense for us to be polarized. Polarization isn’t a problem at all; it’s necessary.”
If you think that, I highly recommend listening to some of these episodes below, so you can understand why so many smart people consider polarization to be such a huge problem. If you’re worried about the U.S. becoming increasingly chaotic and dysfunctional, you owe it to yourself to learn more about how polarization dynamics work, and the psychology that drives it. At the very least, understanding these topics better will help you make better, more persuasive political arguments.
One thing I’d also say to that objection is: you can continue thinking one political group is much worse than the other while learning about polarization, recognizing it as a problem, and thinking about reducing it. I think many people think that acknowledging polarization is a problem means taking some sort of “both sides are equally bad” false equivalency stance, but that’s not at all what it’s about.
Personally, I think that if we’re going to avoid worst-case scenarios in this country, we need more people to make the effort to understand polarization and more people working to heal our us-versus-them divides.
Polarization-related episodes from my podcast
Here are some of the episodes I think are most important for understanding polarization and specifically American polarization:
- Political polarization: its causes and effects, with democracy and polarization expert Jennifer McCoy. We talk about why extreme (aka “pernicious”) polarization is a problem, the common ways polarization unfolds, and discuss examples in various countries (e.g., Venezuela).
- Does Facebook increase political polarization?, with Jaime Settle. Settle is a political psychology researcher and the author of the book “Frenemies: How Social Media Polarizes America.” She talks about the mechanisms by which Facebook and other social media may be amplifying animosity.
- The role of insults in political conflicts, with Dr. Karina Korostelina. Political researcher Korostelina is the author of the book “Political Insults: How Offenses Escalate Conflicts,” and we talk about the role of insults in conflict and polarization, including how social media may create more opportunities for insult generation and perception.
- How many Americans actually support political violence?: a talk with political scientist Thomas Zeitzoff, who has researched political conflicts. We talk about surveys that show an alarming amount of people seem to be supportive of political violence and what that means.
- How many Trump supporters actually believe the election was rigged? A talk with political scientist Thomas Pepinsky discussing election distrust and what it really might mean when people say “I think the election was rigged” on surveys.
- An examination of “election was stolen” beliefs: a talk with Peter Wood, who firmly believes the 2020 election was illegitimate. I examine the logic of this stance, and also discuss liberal-side election distrust.
- How does social media affect political polarization?, with Emily Kubin? Kubin reviewed more than 100 studies related to how social media may be affecting political polarization.
- Are a large percentage of Americans actually racist? A talk with political researcher Leonie Huddy, who has researched prejudice. We talk about framings (like this one) that state that most Americans, or most white Americans, are racist. Are these claims defensible? Or are they irresponsible and contributing to polarization?
Other political polarization-related episodes:
- Liberal-side reactions to the Rittenhouse verdict and how that relates to polarization.
- Why do so many people “want to watch the world burn”?, with Kevin Arceneaux. Arceneaux and his team researched the so-called “need for chaos,” a seeming desire for antisocial, destructive outcomes found in a surprisingly high number of people from across the political spectrum. This may be related to polarization in various ways (e.g., polarization may make people feel more chaotic and anti-social; or modern life, in increasing loneliness and angst, may add to polarization).
- Perspectives on being a black conservative: depolarization group Braver Angels leader John Wood Jr. discusses his views on American polarization and what it’s like being a black conservative.
- How democracy breaks down and authoritarianism rises, with Thomas Carothers. I ask democracy expert Carothers about how he sees democracy erosion relating to some fundamental aspects of our human psychology, and how that might explain why so many of these nations-falling-apart scenarios seem so similar.
- Are some political party stances due to chance?, with Dr. Michael Macy. Part of polarization is people believing the other group’s set of beliefs makes them bad people. But research shows we often are much more emotion-based and team-based in our stances on issues, and not as ideologically consistent as we think. Macy’s research is relevant because it shows how some groupings of issue stances may be due to randomness and initial conditions.
- How social media may be amplifying our divides, by Zach Elwood. A reading of a piece I wrote about the inherent aspects of internet communication that may be amplifying polarization. This focus on inherent aspects was meant to be a contrast with a focus on product feature choices, which get most of the attention. For the text version, click here.
- Does blaming “media” help us avoid responsibility?, with Elizaveta Friesem. Friesem’s book “Media Is Us” pushes back on the common perception that media is something separate from us, and argues we should see all media as simply reflecting aspects of our human nature. We talk about how modern media acts as an accelerant of human communication, and how that amplifies some of the darker sides of our nature.
- Questioning if social media plays a big role in polarization, with Levi Boxell. Boxell and his team’s research showed that older people were more polarized than younger people, which suggested that social media may not be a big driver of polarization. We discuss his work.
Below are episodes about some specific political issues. My interest in talking about these topics is mostly about wanting to examine aspects of the psychology of polarization and how it distorts our abilities to have respectful and nuanced conversations.
- Factors in excessive police force, with police captain James Mitchell: Part 1, Part 2. We talk about the problem of police brutality and excessive use of force in the U.S., with the goal of understanding the factors that can lead to unjustified and too aggressive police responses.
- The political impacts of violent protests and riots, with Dr. Omar Wasow. A key driver of polarization is that the extreme behaviors of people in one political group can amplify anger and bad behavior on the other side. In this talk, Wasow talks about his research showing how civil-rights-associated rioting in the U.S. in the 60s resulted in an increase in voting for conservatives.
- Interview with a militant Portland-based antifa/BLM protester. An interview from September, 2020. This was an attempt to understand what exactly was driving some of the aggressive and violent left-associated rioting behavior in Portland.
- Can gender identity theory itself create more gender dysphoria?, with Carey Callahan. Callahan is detransitioned and writes about trans issues. We talk about how polarization has made transgender issues very hard to talk about.
- How has polarization affected beliefs about election security?, with Jennifer Cohn. Since the 2016 election, Cohn has been trying to draw attention to the vulnerability of the U.S. election system. I was interested in hearing how extreme polarization and Trump’s claims about the election had changed how interested people are in talking about election vulnerabilities.
- Did Cambridge Analytica actually perform a “great hack”?, with Dave Karpf. Political researcher Karpf explains why it’s likely that CA was exaggerating their abilities and didn’t actually do anything that impressive with their Facebook political advertising. We tend to look for people or organizations to blame for our political animosity, when much of this is due simply to our us-versus-them polarization, which may not necessarily need much help from technology.
- Is paying so much attention to politics hurting us societally and emotionally?, with Chris Freiman. Freiman is the author of the book “Why It’s OK to Ignore Politics,” and we discuss his ideas, including how the widely held assumption that we need to pay attention to politics may be making us more angry and dysfunctional.