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From on High: The Effect of Elite Polarization on Mass Attitudes and Behaviors, 1972–2012

  • Joshua N. Zingher and Michael E. Flynn

Though there is widespread scholarly consensus that American political elites have become increasingly ideologically polarized, there remains debate about how the mass electorate has responded to the increase in polarization at the elite level. This article shows that as party elites have become more polarized, individuals have become better able to identify the party that best matches their own ideological positions, thereby contributing to polarization at the mass level. Using forty years of ANES and DW-NOMINATE data to test this argument, it was found that the relationship between a voter’s position in policy space and their political behavior is indeed conditional upon polarization at the elite level. This finding demonstrates how changes in elite polarization translate to behavioral changes on the mass level.

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Old Dominion University, Department of Political Science and Geography (email:; Department of Political Science, Kansas State University (email: The authors would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback. In addition, the authors thank Michael D. McDonald and Ben Farrer for their helpful feedback during the early stages of the project. Data replication sets are available at Online appendices are available at 10.1017/S0007123415000514.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
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