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In Today’s Political Conflicts, a Heart-to-Heart Talk Goes Only So Far

The premise is simple, and it seems like common sense: If Republicans and Democrats could come together for good faith dialogue, the conversations would reduce tensions and ease the corrosive polarization that threatens U.S. democracy. But a new study co-authored by UC Berkeley political scientist David Broockman found that brief, cross-partisan conversations about sensitive political topics have scant power to narrow divisions. Conversation about neutral topics can create some goodwill, the authors found, but even there, the effect doesn’t last.

Want to persuade an opponent? Try listening, Berkeley scholar says

The nation is locked in a state of polarization unprecedented in the past half-century, with deep, volatile divisions around issues of politics, race, religion and the environment. These issues can split families, break friendships and create enormous stress in communities — and yet, having a constructive discussion about the disagreements often seems impossible.

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Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
February 15, 2024
Jessica Piper

The study’s authors, which include David Broockman, an associate professor of political science, also note that the greatest benefits would likely accrue to the best-funded campaigns. The study was featured on Berkeley News this week.

April 5, 2022
Philip Bump
On Sunday, David E. Broockman of the University of California at Berkeley and Joshua L. Kalla of Yale University published a paper documenting a years-long experiment focused on measuring the effects of cable-news coverage and Fox News in particular. The experiment "found evidence of manifold effects on viewers' attitudes about current events, policy preferences, and evaluations of key political figures and parties," Broockman and Kalla write. "For example, we found large effects on attitudes and policy preferences about COVID-19. We also found changes in evaluations of Donald Trump and Republican candidates and elected officials." Participants in the experiment even grew to recognize the way in which Fox News presents reality: "group participants became more likely to agree that if Donald Trump made a mistake, Fox News would not cover it — i.e., that Fox News engages in partisan coverage filtering."
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March 3, 2020
Michelle Goldberg
If the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, they will be exchanging some of the most reliable voters for some of the least, a new survey of more than 40,000 people suggests. The study, conducted by associate political science professor David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, a colleague from Yale, found that when they weighted their numbers, as polls usually do, to reflect the demographics of the population, rather than those of likely voters, it looks like Sanders would be the best bet to beat Trump. But, they say, there's a big difference between the people who actually vote and the people who can, and that's a discrepancy their survey addressed. Youth turnout would have to reach unprecedented rates for him to win, the survey suggests. They write in their report: "Given how many voters say they would switch to Trump in head-to-heads against Sanders compared to the more moderate candidates, the surge in youth turnout Sanders would require to gain back this ground is large: around 11 percentage points." Their report is available here.
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