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The Divide & Conquer Election of 2012


Dianne G. Bystrom, Mary C. Banwart and Mitchell S. McKinney

alieNATION presents research conducted by a national election team and leading scholars in political communication that explores a range of important topics and variables affecting voter attitudes and behavior in the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
In exploring the messages, issues, and voters of the 2012 election, these studies employ multiple methods including experimental design, content analysis, rhetorical criticism, and survey research. Whereas other election research tends to investigate either the content or effects of campaign communication, the more comprehensive and systematic nature of this collection enables alieNATION to cohere thematically around considerations of voter alienation, political engagement, political efficacy, and ultimately, citizens’ voting decisions.
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Chapter Two: To Form a More Polarized Electorate? The Effect of Presidential Debates on Polarization, Partisanship, and Political Aggression


← 30 | 31 → CHAPTER TWO


Following Barack Obama’s re-election in November of 2012, hundreds of thousands of angry citizens signed online petitions hosted on the White House webpage advocating for the secession from the union of all 50 states (Kwong, 2012). Although electoral defeat has often sparked notions of secession in the past (Reynolds, 2012), the most recent petitions might be viewed as an indicator of the current state of American democracy. Indeed, a sizable segment of the electorate would rather completely separate from those with whom they disagree politically than work together in reaching consensus on the many difficult issues facing our nation. This lack of ability or effort for citizens and their leaders to compromise has been a growing trend in recent history. For example, consider the 112th U.S. Congress (serving from 2010 through 2012), which set a new record as the least productive Congress to enact legislation since such records have been kept (Brennan & Abdullah, 2012).

The inability of leaders and citizens to compromise becomes even more troubling when we consider that our nation’s increasing partisanship tends not to be based on actual policy differences, but rather based on identification with and, conversely, dislike towards social groups (Conover & Feldman, 1981; Conover, 1984, 1988; Zschirnt, 2011). Although close identification within and among social groups is not inherently a bad thing, it can become problematic for a democracy when such extreme identification preempts productive policy debates....

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