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Polarization - is NGO campaigning part of the problem? And what can we do to make things better?

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Polarization - is NGO campaigning part of the problem? And what can we do to make things better?

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Presentation from ECF Europe 2019 in Berlin - more info https://europe.ecampaigningforum.com/alison-goldsworthy/

It's hard to escape the sense that our societies are deeply divided, with people struggling to connect across differences of political and social values - and that it's getting worse. But what role has the rise, and success, of single-issue NGO campaigning had on how people see the world, the positions they take, and how they view people who disagree? When we optimise our campaigns in terms of 'bad guys' and urgent 'now or never' opportunities, do we risk leading people to take stronger positions than they might otherwise, or them to demonise people who think differently? Could we be part of the problem? And if we are, what can we do about it?

Ali Goldsworthy and Alex Chesterfield draw on the principles of behavioural science and their work with the Depolarization Project, based at Stanford University in the USA to examine these questions, looking at ways that we could research and understand whether (and how) campaign actions might influence people beyond the 'single issue', and what a different approach might look like.

Presentation from ECF Europe 2019 in Berlin - more info https://europe.ecampaigningforum.com/alison-goldsworthy/

It's hard to escape the sense that our societies are deeply divided, with people struggling to connect across differences of political and social values - and that it's getting worse. But what role has the rise, and success, of single-issue NGO campaigning had on how people see the world, the positions they take, and how they view people who disagree? When we optimise our campaigns in terms of 'bad guys' and urgent 'now or never' opportunities, do we risk leading people to take stronger positions than they might otherwise, or them to demonise people who think differently? Could we be part of the problem? And if we are, what can we do about it?

Ali Goldsworthy and Alex Chesterfield draw on the principles of behavioural science and their work with the Depolarization Project, based at Stanford University in the USA to examine these questions, looking at ways that we could research and understand whether (and how) campaign actions might influence people beyond the 'single issue', and what a different approach might look like.

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Polarization - is NGO campaigning part of the problem? And what can we do to make things better?

  1. 1. Polarization and Campaigning
  2. 2. Affective polarization will impact you, even if you think it isn’t going to. Especially if you think it isn’t going to.
  3. 3. Alex Chesterfield Behavioural scientist Worked for consultancies, non profits and regulators Mum of two, married to Will Lives in Guildford, England Grew up going to local schools Conservative, former politician
  4. 4. Alison Goldsworthy Welsh Lives in California, with Doug CEO The Depolarization Project and Conflict and Polarization Lab @ Stanford Led campaigns for some of the UK’s biggest NGOs Vice Chair of a philanthropic trust Former Deputy Chair of the Liberal Democrats
  5. 5. The Psychology of Polarization
  6. 6. Affective Polarization Issue Polarization “Divisions formed around one or more policy positions or issues” “Divisions formed around our social/group identity with increasing distrust and dislike of people from the opposing side.”
  7. 7. Affective polarisation – a new phenomenon? Democratic attitudes about the Republican Party Republican attitudes about the Democratic Party 100%100% 68% 82% Unfavorable 17% 43% Unfavorable 57% 79% Unfavorable 16% 38% Unfavorable 2014199420141994 Source: 2014 Political Polarization in the American Public Note: Republicans include Republican-leaning independents; Democrats include Democratic-leaning independents PEW Research Center Perception of Remainers Closed-minded Hypocritical Selfish Honest Open-minded Intelligent Agreement 54321 Perception of Leavers Closed-minded Hypocritical Selfish Honest Open-minded Intelligent Agreement 54321 Remainer ID Leaver ID
  8. 8. We like to put people into in and out groups and that alters how we behave towards them
  9. 9. Do you think you would feel the same effects? Bad news there is some evidence if you are more educated and liberal you are particularly likely to be effected
  10. 10. Supporter joins a campaign Get them to take a second action quickly Ask them to share on social media Get them to sign up others Claim victory, and that they made the difference ONE OF US
  11. 11. Why does this matter for campaigners? If you need to persuade people, affective polarization makes it harder to win
  12. 12. Credit: Adapted from Canvas (Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies)
  13. 13. About your teams We all support the same/similar political parties 0.25 There is a range of political parties supported within the team 0.17 One or two have different views, but the majority of the team support similar political parties 0.58
  14. 14. Sorting Decline of cross- cutting identities Media Political campaigns Increasing homogeneity of networks
  15. 15. Investment decisions Medical advice Job hiring
  16. 16. Questions and thoughts?
  17. 17. In Summary • The world is polarizing. And it is getting worse • Campaigning is (probably) contributing to the problem • This is hard, really really hard to solve • So what can you do?
  18. 18. A Basic Experiment... Outcomes for both groups are measured Population is divided into two groups at random Control Intervention
  19. 19. Be open to changing your mind. Your perceptions may be wrong. Grab examples from submission. It can be a *great* way to start a conversation.
  20. 20. Alex Chesterfield Alex@depolarizationproject.com T: @alxchesterfield Alison Goldsworthy Alison@depolarizationproject.com T: @aligoldsworthy

Editor's Notes

  • Excited to be here to talk about Polarization and Campaigning
    There will be pause points for questions during the presentation
  • Often here talk of Polariztion inAmerica the truth is it is a problem in Europe too.
    Countries where there are significant concerns about polarization in Europe – and you could add more…
  • At tines what we are about to suggest may make a few of you a bit uncomfortable. This is hard, complex and messy.
    Not dealing with the extremes today, we’re talking about polarization in the (relative) mainstream..
  • What are some examples of that polarization ( people grouping away from the center with little common ground (or desire to bridge) between these tribes
    Green Party in Germany 20% of the vote (click and logo appear)
    Brexit party 31% of the vote in the UK (click and logo appear)
    Salvini anti immigrant league in Italy 34% (click and appear)
    Mairne Le Pen 23% of the vote in France (click and appear)
    Do NOT suggest equivalence between all these. But highlight a bunching away from the center
  • Impact you because other affectively polarize

    Also the odds are you will too. Think about if you define yourself as against something or someone, is that allied to a political party, are they main stream?

    Th psychological forces are strong, even if you think it doesn;t matter it is likely to be effecting you in fact ... click two
  • Do these intro slides show it shows everything other than conservative to start with, then comes on to that (build the bridge, then challenge the perception)
    Pic with kids shows first, with all words bar conservative, then show that and picture together.
  • Introduce ourselves

    I was quite an odd person in my 20s. My identity was quite bound up in my party activism
  • Affective polarization is manifesting in other parts of our lives
    In turkey 8 in ten people would not want their daughter to marry someone who votes for the party they most dislike
    In the UK, 85% of the country think we are divided, the majority think it is getting worse
    In France the gilet jaunes have taken to the streets, (20% see themselves as extreme left or right)
    Poland protests (for and against) the law and justice party, the same with Orban in Hungary.. .
  • Easier to blame others, but as we took steps back we stopped asking what we could do to make it better, but also *gulp* was there anything we had done as campaigners to make it worse.
  • The law of unintended consequences, things are not always as you perceive. This is likly to be one of them.

    Classic example of this is the backfire effect. When you show people information they disagree with it can backfire. They don’t like being told they are wrong, and people hold on to views more strongly. (nyman and reifler


    Nyman and Rifler showed conservatives/pro Iraq war people information to show the justification for their decision no longer existed. (i.e no WMD found) but rather than people acknowledging they were wrong.. They held on to their views. The backfire effect (epically when hold on more strongly)
  • But this is complicated (like Avril Lavigne taught us and an area of ongoing research. Some recently has shown us that while we can update facts, they do not effect the core belief that we have. More testing needed (and you can do it!) – at the minute is super US based with a two party system.
  • KEY LESSON – OUR INTUITION AND BEST INTENTIONS CAN LEAD US ASTRAY

    ‘Scared Straight’ is a program designed to deter young people from future criminal offences. Participants visit inmates, observe first-hand prison life and talk to adult inmates. These programs are popular in many areas of the world.
    The basic premise of these programs are that young people who see what prison is like will be deterred from committing crime — in other words, “scared straight.”

    When researchers did an RCT on scared straight interventions, they found them to be ineffective and even potentially harmful for young people at risk of committing crimes
  • As a concept, polarisation is traditionally focused on the division of attitudes ‘along a single dimension – generally along ideological lines’..

    In the data, we might see issue polarisation in 3 ways:
    1. Bi-modal, where opinions cluster around two distinct positions. These positions might not be the most extreme or strongly held, it’s just that the middle ground between them has been hollowed out.
    2. Or, it could be dispersion – this is where you get increasing distance between the furthermost poles of opinion. This could mean that the full spectrum of opinion expands or moves toward more extreme positions, even though a majority may still hold moderate views.
    3. Conflict extension: where opinions grow divided on a range of issue positions associated with a given identity, rather than having just one dominant issue on which each side disagrees, such as abortion or immigration.

    There’s also another type of polarisation – affective polarisation. This is much more emotional, we feel it. It’s rooted in our social identity and it’s where we increasingly dislike and distrust people who identify with our out-group.

  • In contrast, affective polarisation is often independent from issues and is instead where we dislike and distrust people who identify with the opposing political party or ideology to us.

    Affective polarization is measured by the social distance and antagonism between in-groups and outgroups – these charts give two examples from the UK and US
    ONE. The chart on the left shows the growing contempt Republicans and Democrats have for each othered measured on a simple favourability scale. Differentiation’, where one side views the other side’s traits as negative and its own traits as positive, or one side reduces interaction with the other side.
    In 1994, a majority of Republicans had unfavorable impressions of the Democratic Party, but just 17% had very unfavorable opinions. Similarly, while most Democrats viewed the GOP unfavorably, just 16% had very unfavorable views. Since then, highly negative views have more than doubled: 43% of Republicans and 38% of Democrats now view the opposite party in strongly negative terms.
    Key message – of course, disliking the other party is nothing new in politics. But today, these sentiments are broader and deeper than in the recent past.

    Chart on the RIGHT from the UK’s LSE and Oxford…
    We can see Leavers and Remainers both describe people from their own group as ‘honest’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘open-minded’. The other side, however, is more likely to be deemed ‘hypocritical’, ‘selfish’ and ‘closed- minded’.



  • To re-cap, ‘affective polarisation’ has its roots in social identity, by which I mean a social group with which a person does or does not psychologically identify as a member.
    Humans are a fundamentally social species; identifying with a group – whether it’s social class, family, football team, leave or remain - is essential to our sense of self and also as a source of pride and self-esteem
    A vast literature in social psychology demonstrates that any such in-group/out-group distinction, even one based on the most trivial of shared characteristics, triggers both positive feelings for the in group, and negative evaluations of the out group.

    Critically, a host of behavioral consequences flow from the groups we identify with. I’m now going to describe a wonderful experiment conducted by Professor Mark Levine at Exeter which illustrates the importance of group identity for how we behave

    Mark Levine and his colleagues wanted to test this question, so they enlisted fans of Manchester United to participate in a helping psychology experiment on soccer[1] fandom. In the first part of the study, each person simply completed a set of questionnaires about his team allegiance and feelings of identification with the team.
    Importantly, though, these questionnaires reinforced the participants’ allegiance to Manchester United. It’s as if they get them to proclaim “I am defined by my commitment to this particular soccer club!”
    The experimenters tell each participant that the second half of the study involves watching a short film on soccer, which will be screened in an adjacent building. They give them directions and send them on their way.
    As they make their walk, however, an actor working with the experimenters jogged along nearby, and as misfortune would have it, he slipped and fell, grabbing his ankle and shouting in pain.
    Do the Manchester United fans do anything to help this poor guy?
    t depends. The experimenters added one extra layer to the situation because sometimes the person in need was wearing a Manchester United shirt, sometimes he was wearing the shirt of a rival soccer club, Liverpool, and sometimes he was wearing a plain, unbranded shirt.
    Remember that everyone just completed some surveys talking about what big Manchester United fans they were, so when they see a fellow Manchester United fan in need, 92% do something to help him. Only around 30% do anything to help when it’s a Liverpool fan or when it’s someone in an unbranded shirt.


  • Lebendusky and hidden tribes.

    This is US based, but it suggests educated people find it harder to update beliefs. Some ways makes more esense, may have studied it.. BUT still tough
  • Has campaigning had the same effect, we drive people to engage, use emotional language and then label people as one of us.
    (designer to get each stage of this to appear and then after the get them to sign up introduce the one of us image))
  • Credit – canvas https://canvasopedia.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/CANVAS-Core-Curriculum_EN.pdf
    If there are bigger jumps or absences on this section. With fewer people in the middle and no reward for changing your mind.. Then how do you win?
  • I want to take a step back and look at how a number of features of our contemporary environment have exacerbated our tendency to divide the world into a liked in-group and a disliked out-group. Note much of this research is from the USA and is emerging all the time.

    First, sorting. This is where party identification and ideology are becoming much more aligned. In the US, the percentage of “sorted” partisans has steadily increased in the last 50 years. For example, when most Democrats are also liberals, they are less likely to encounter conflicting political ideas and identities and are more likely see non-identifiers as socially distant. Sorting likely leads people to perceive both opposing partisans and co-partisans as more extreme than they really are, with misperceptions being more acute for opposing partisans
    As partisan and ideological identities became increasingly aligned, other salient social identities, including race and religion, are also converging with partisanship. White evangelicals, for instance, are overwhelmingly Republican today, and African-Americans overwhelmingly identify as Democrats. This decline of cross-cutting identities is at the root of affective polarization according to Mason
    There’s a number of factors under the media umbrella.
    First, we now have many more media outlets to choose from, but many of those are now more partisan so we can choose ones that align to our prior world views. The argument goes that partisan news activates partisan identities and subsequent feelings towards the political parties. Further, the lack of balanced content in these outlets may persuade viewers to adopt extreme ideological positions, which, in turn, increases affective polarization {NOT CAUSAL EVIDENCE THOUGH]
    As people spend more time online and on social network sites, they are more likely to be inadvertently exposed to polarizing content by others in their network (Bakshy, Messing, and Adamic, 2015).
    The mainstream media has increasingly focused on polarization. According to one content analysis, there are roughly 20 percent more stories about polarization in America today than there were at the turn of the 21st century. Experimental evidence suggests that coverage of polarization increases affective polarization but decreases ideological polarization (Levendusky and Malhotra, 2016a).
    Political campaigns also exacerbate partisan tensions (Sood and Iyengar 2016). Research shows across recent election cycles, people were between 50 percent and 150 percent more affectively polarized by election day than they were a year earlier. Additionally, Sood and Iyengar (2016) show that political advertisements, and especially negative advertising, have particularly strong effects on affective polarization

    Finally, increasingly homogeneous online and offline interpersonal networks may be contributing to affective polarization. As partisans become more isolated from each other in their real and virtual lives, they are more likely to encounter only like-minded voices, further exacerbating polarization. For example, families have become more politically homogeneous. Spousal agreement on party affiliation now exceeds 80 percent, with parent-offspring agreement at 75 percent, both figures representing large increases in family agreement since the 1960s (Iyengar, Konitzer, and Tedin, 2017).










  • One major concern is that partisan animus might spill over and affect behaviors and attitudes outside the political realm.
    Investment decisions, Wintoki and Xi (2017) find that mutual fund managers are more likely to invest in companies managed by co-partisans

    Medical advice In medicine, Hersh and Goldenberg (2016) find that Republican and Democratic physicians give different treatment advice to patients for politicized health issues such as abortion, but not on apolitical health topics. On the patient side, Lerman, Sadin, and Trachtman (2017) leverage longitudinal data and find that Republicans were less likely than Democrats to enroll in health insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act, and Krupenkin (2016) shows that parents are more likely to vaccinate their children when their party’s president is in the White House.

    Job decisions. Using an audit design, Gift and Gift (2015) mailed out resumes signaling job applicants’ partisan affiliation in a heavily Democratic area and a heavily Republican area. They find that in the Democratic county, Democratic resumes were 2.4 percentage points more likely to receive a callback than Republican resumes; the corresponding partisan preference for Republican resumes in the Republican county was 5.6 percentage points.



  • We promised you a pause now want to get one
  • To make good choices, human beings turn to one another for information. When selecting a retirement plan or deciding whether to grab an umbrella on the way out, people are motivated to get information from the most accurate source. Obviously, people would prefer to receive a weather report from the weather forecaster whose predictions are 80% correct than from the one who is wrong every other day.
    At the same time, people also prefer to receive information from others who are similar to themselves. Democrats are more likely to turn to CNN for their news and Republicans to Fox News for their daily updates (The Pew Research Center, 2009). This is partly because people assume that like-minded people are more likely to be correct – a phenomenon that can lead to echo chambers
    But if people had clear and repeated opportunities to learn who is right and who is wrong, would similarity interfere with the ability to learn about accuracy?
    In the first part of our experiment, participants had an opportunity to learn whether others (i) had similar political opinions to theirs and (ii) how well they did in a task that required learning about shapes. After rating others on these two characteristics, they completed the second part of the experiment, where they decided to whom to turn to for advice when solving the shape task. They were rewarded for accuracy on the task and thus had an economic incentive to turn to the participant who was most skilled at the task
    The first is that people choose to hear from others who are politically like-minded on topics that have nothing to do with politics (like geometric shapes) than from those who excel at the task but have different political views. The second is that all else is being equal, people are more influenced by politically like-minded others on nonpolitical issues such as shape categorization. The third is that people are biased to believe that others who share their political opinions are better at tasks that have nothing to do with politics, even when they have all the information they need to make an accurate assessment about who is the expert in the room.


  • Saying sorry often doesn’t work – Richard hannia identified that when public figures said sorry it either had no effect on how opponents viewed them or made them feel more negatively towards them.

    When was the last time you saw someone change a vote because they said sorry. (are some rare, truly symbolic examples eg Carl Bildt in Germany, but infrequent)
  • The more partisan you are the more likely you are to perceive others incorrectly. Average mis perception of ‘exhausted majority 16%, those on the wings 30%’ (more in common)

    Levendusky also shows that liberals are often more close minded than conservatives. (if you have thought really hard about something, or are educated is a it a sign you are right)
  • This does not mean you should stop campaigning. What you do is vital and important. But it does mean we should think of the downsides and try to offset them/build bridges.
  • https://giphy.com/gifs/game-mrw-episode-vA4EnqvJxDv2g so what you can do – first test. We know you are good at that. With little research there is the chance for people to truly break some ground
  • But we can build bridges.

    Don’t just throw people in a room (backfire) done’e carefully and showing something they have in common first can be effective

    Let me take you back to the football experiment to show the power of a common bond.

    In a second study, Levine and his colleagues recreated the conditions of the other study, but with one important twist. This time, instead of giving people questionnaires that emphasized their specific team allegiance, they gave them questionnaires emphasizing their overall love of the game. Other than that, everything was the same.
    Like in the other study, people were pretty helpful when the person in need was a Manchester United fan (80% did something to help), but they were also pretty helpful when the person in need was a Liverpool fan (70% did something to help)..

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