Assistant Professor Joshua Kalla has a new article in the journal American Political Science Review entitled “Voter Outreach Campaigns Can Reduce Affective Polarization among Implementing Political Activists: Evidence from Inside Three Campaigns.”
Campaigns regularly dispatch activists to contact voters. Much research considers these conversations’ effects on voters, but we know little about their influence on the implementing activists—an important population given the outsized influence politically active Americans wield. We argue personal persuasion campaigns can reduce affective polarization among the implementing activists by creating opportunities for perspective-getting. We report unique data from three real-world campaigns wherein activists attempted to persuade voters who had opposing viewpoints: two campaigns about a politicized issue (immigration) and a third about the 2020 presidential election. All campaigns trained activists to persuade voters through in-depth, two-way conversations. In preregistered studies, we find that these efforts reduced affective polarization among implementing activists, with reductions large enough to reverse over a decade’s increase in affective polarization. Qualitative responses are consistent with these conversations producing perspective-getting, which reduced animosity by humanizing and individuating out-partisans. We discuss implications for theories of prejudice reduction.