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Political Depolarization in German Public Opinion, 1980–2010*

  • Simon Munzert (a1) and Paul C. Bauer (a2)

Little is known about political polarization in German public opinion. This article offers an issue-based perspective and explores trends of opinion polarization in Germany. Public opinion polarization is conceptualized and measured as alignment of attitudes. Data from the German General Social Survey (1980 to 2010) comprise attitudes towards manifold issues, which are classified into several dimensions. This study estimates multilevel models that reveal general and issue- as well as dimension-specific levels and trends in attitude alignment for both the whole German population and sub-groups. It finds that public opinion polarization has decreased over the last three decades in Germany. In particular, highly educated and more politically interested people have become less polarized over time. However, polarization seems to have increased in attitudes regarding gender issues. These findings provide interesting contrasts to existing research on the American public.

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Simon Munzert is a PhD Student, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Konstanz, PO Box D85, D-78457 Konstanz, Germany ( Paul C. Bauer is a PhD Student, Institute of Political Science, University of Bern ( A previous version of this paper was presented at the EPSA Conference 2012 and in the political science colloquium at the University of Bern. We thank Delia Baldassarri for providing materials of her and Andrew Gelman's analysis to us. Furthermore, we are grateful to Klaus Armingeon, Matthias Fatke, Markus Freitag, Birte Gundelach, Daniel Stegmüller, Richard Traunmüller and Eva Zeglovits for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. Moreover, we thank Doris Eckert-Bauer, Kathryn Uhrig and Kelley Friel for their assistance in preparing the final manuscript. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their extraordinarily detailed comments and suggestions. Finally, we give the raters our most sincere thanks for their contribution. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

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