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The Divide & Conquer Election of 2012


Edited By 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 Seventeen: Affective Polarization from Campaign Communication: Alienating Messages in the 2012 Presidential Election




The 2012 election was historic not only because the outcome would influence the future of the nation but also because of the potentially alienating “divide and conquer” strategies that are now so prevalent in modern political campaigns. With the campaigns of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama attempting to maximize the support and enthusiasm of their committed political base of support while also reaching out to increasingly fragmented and narrow segments of voters, it is worth asking whether the divisive communication of the 2012 election polarized the electorate and, if so, through what means?

Although a great deal of research has examined polarization as a political phenomenon (Abramowitz & Saunders, 2008; Fiorina, Abrams, & Pope, 2011; McCarty, Poole, & Rosenthal, 2006) and as a consequence of political communication (Binder, Dalrymple, Brossard, & Scheufele, 2009; Lin, 2009; Stroud, 2010; Warner, 2010), only recently have researchers begun to test the effects of campaign communication on political polarization (Cho & Ha, 2012; Iyengar, Sood, & Lelkes, 2012; Warner & McKinney, 2013). In this chapter we contribute to the emerging literature on the polarizing influence of political campaigns by testing whether exposure to the 2012 campaign increased polarization and exploring what role political communication played in the polarization process.

And, our findings suggest that 2012 was in fact a polarizing election. In other words, people who were more attentive to campaign communication and...

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