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Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics

Incivility in Political Discourse

Contemporary political discourse is widely decried as coarse, uncivil, and symptomatic of a general decline in the quality of the political process.  ISCAP research examines both face-to-face and mass mediated political discourse.

Related Studies

Dan Hopkins, Eunji Kim. 2018. The Exaggerated Life of Death Panels? The Limited but Real Influence of Elite Rhetoric in the 2009–2010 Health Care Debate.  Political Behavior. 40: 681-709

Experiments demonstrate that elites can influence public opinion through framing. Yet outside laboratories or surveys, real-world constraints are likely to limit elites’ ability to reshape public opinion. Additionally, it is difficult to distinguish framing from related processes empirically. This paper uses the 2009–2010 health care debate, coupled with automated content analyses of elite- and mass-level language, to study real-world framing effects. Multiple empirical tests uncover limited but real evidence of elite influence. The language Americans use to explain their opinions proves generally stable, although there is also evidence that the public adopts the language of both parties’ elites symmetrically. Elite rhetoric does not appear to have strong effects on Americans’ overall evaluations of health care reform, but it can influence the reasons they provide for their evaluations. Methodologically, the automated analysis of elite rhetoric and open-ended questions shows promise in distinguishing framing from other communication effects and illuminating elite-mass interactions.

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Diana C. Mutz. 2018. Response to Morgan: On the Role of Status Threat and Material Interests in the 2016 Election.  Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World. 4: 1-11

I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to Morgan’s article, which is a critique of my recent publication (Mutz 2018). I will restrict my response to matters concerning the data and analysis, excluding issues such as whether the journal PNAS is appropriately named (Morgan this issue:3) as well as Morgan’s views about how this work was covered in various media outlets (Morgan this issue:3–6). These issues are less important than whether material self-interest or status threat motivated Trump supporters.

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Dan Hopkins. Assessing the Breadth of Framing Effects. 2017

Issue frames are a central concept in studying public opinion, and are thought to operate by foregrounding related considerations in citizens' minds. But scholarship has yet to consider the breadth of framing effects by testing whether frames influence attitudes beyond the specific issue they highlight. For example, does a discussion of terrorism affect opinions on proximate issues like crime or even more remote issues like poverty? By measuring the breadth of framing effects, we can assess the extent to which citizens' political considerations are cognitively organized by issues. We undertake a population-based survey experiment with roughly 3,300 respondents which includes frames related to terrorism, crime, health care, and government spending. The results demonstrate that framing effects are narrow, with limited but discernible spillover on proximate, structurally similar issues. Discrete issues not only organize elite politics but also exist in voters' minds, a finding with implications for studying ideology as well as framing.

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Andrew Daniller. 2016. Divisive Campaigning Damages Democracy World View

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Diana C. MutzIn Your Face Politics: The Consequences of Incivility. 2015. Princeton. Princeton University Press.


Edward Mansfield, Diana C. Mutz. 2013. US vs. Them: Mass Attitudes toward Offshore Outsourcing. World Politics. 65: 571--608

This study shows that perceptions of national superiority are both manipulable and effective in promoting opposition to outsourcing.  

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Diana C. Mutz. 2013. Reflections on Hearing the Other Side, in Theory and in Practice. Critical Review: A Journal of Politics and Society. 25: 260--276

THE AUTHOR OF "HEARING THE OTHER SIDE" REFLECTS: In response to my book’s finding that there is a tradeoff between two apparently desirable traits—a propensity to participate in politics, on the one hand, and to expose oneself to disagreeable political ideas, on the other—symposium participants suggest a number of reasons why this tradeoff should not trouble participatory democratic theorists. One argument is that electoral advocacy (the type of participation I measure) is not an important form of participation anyway, so we are better off without it. However, those people who do not vote also tend not to participate in politics in other ways, so electoral advocacy is the lowest possible bar for defining participation. Partisans are also more likely to be well informed and to offer coherent reasons for their political preferences. A second argument suggests that deliberative theorists have somewhat contradictory views of social influence, encouraging it in the context of deliberative encounters but perceiving it as pernicious when members of political parties influence their members. A third response is to posit a division of labor between closed-minded partisan advocates and open-minded people who are exposed to cross-cutting debate. However, it is difficult to see how the benefits of cross-cutting exposure will be conveyed to the advocates who participate in meaningful ways. 

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Diana C. Mutz. 2007. Effects of "In-Your-Face" Television Discourse on Perceptions of a Legitimate Opposition.  American Political Science Review. 101: 621-635

How do Americans acquire the impression that their political foes have some understandable basis for their views, and thus represent a legitimate opposition?  How do they come to believe that reasonable people may disagree on any given political controversy? Given that few people talk regularly to those of opposing perspectives, some theorize that mass media, and television in particular, serve as an important source of exposure to the rationales for oppositional views. A series of experimental studies suggests that television does, indeed, have the capacity to encourage greater awareness of oppositional perspectives. However, common characteristics of televised political discourse?incivility and close-up camera perspectives cause audiences to view oppositional perspectives as less legitimate than they would have otherwise. Broader implications of these findings for assessments of the impact of television on the political process, and for the perspective that televised political discourse provides on oppositional political views are discussed. 

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Diana C. MutzHearing the Other Side: Deliberative Versus Participatory Democracy. 2006. New York. Cambridge University Press.

'Religion and politics', as the old saying goes, 'should never be discussed in mixed company.'And yet fostering discussions that cross lines of political difference has long been a central concern of political theorists. More recently, it has also become a cause célèbre for pundits and civic-minded citizens wanting to improve the health of American democracy. But only recently have scholars begun empirical investigations of where and with what consequences people interact with those whose political views differ from their own. Hearing the Other Side examines this theme in the context of the contemporary United States. It is unique in its effort to link political theory with empirical research. Drawing on her empirical work, Mutz suggests that it is doubtful that an extremely activist political culture can also be a heavily deliberative one.

Awarded the 2007 Goldsmith Prize by Harvard University; also awarded the Robert Lane Prize for the Best Book in Political Psychology by the American Political Science Association, 2007.