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What is polarization?

Polarization occurs when people divide into subgroups that are very different from one another. For example, income polarization occurs when some are very rich while others are very poor, and there is little middle ground. I am particularly interested in political polarization, which has become common throughout the world and especially in the United States, where it occurs along ideological (e.g. conservative/liberal) and partisan (e.g. Republican/Democrat) lines.

Research on polarization

I use signed backbone networks (networks where some links are positive, and others are negative) to distinguish between two kinds of political polarization in the US Senate and House of Representatives. Weak polarization occurs when Republicans and Democrats don't work together because they are just interested in different issues, creating an "Us and Them" situation. In contrast, strong polarization occurs when the Republicans and Democrats actively oppose each other, creating an "Us versus Them" situation. I've found that both forms of polarization have increased since the late 1970s, but that in some cases polarization can actually help legislators pass bills.

Papers and data about polarization

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Neal, Z. P. (2020). A sign of the times? Weak and strong polarization in the U.S. Congress, 1973 – 2016. Social Networks, 60, 103-112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socnet.2018.07.007  [pre-print]  [data]

Aref, S. and Neal, Z. P. (2020). Detecting coalitions by optimally partitioning signed networks of political collaboration. Scientific Reports, 10, 1506. https://doi.org/ 10.1038/s41598-020-58471-z

Neal, Z. P., Domagalski, R., and Yan, X. (2022). Homophily in collaborations among US House Representatives, 1981–2018. Social Networks, 68, 97-106. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socnet.2021.04.007

Aref. S. and Neal, Z. P. (2021). Optimally partitioning signed networks based on generalized balance. arXiv:2015.01913 [cs.SI]https://arxiv.org/abs/2105.01913

Samin Aref.jpg

Collaborators on polarization

Dr. Samin Aref, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

Xiaoqin Yan, Sociology Department, North Carolina State University