Polarisation in British politics

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Ellen Watts

Thank you both for your presentations, enjoyed watching them 🙂 Fraser I learned a lot from your talk. Out of curiosity I’d love to hear a bit more about the ‘identity characteristics’ question where people were asked to associate themselves most strongly with three from a choice of 20. The closeness of leave/remain being picked by people and yes/no being picked is very interesting. I know this wasn’t the focus of your research but on the whole what’s your impression about the proportion of people who picked some kind of overtly political characteristic to represent themselves? Or perhaps group identities… Read more »

Fraser McMillan

Hi Ellen, thanks for watching! I asked Jac about the origin of the “pick three identities” question as he usually has a better idea of these things and it probably traces back to British Social Attitudes questionnaires in the 1990s. Paula Surridge has used the measure a lot and since she’s on the Welsh Election Study team now and there are close links between the projects we ended up adapting it for the SES. I can give you some answers about the types of identities people tend to prioritise after recoding the original 20 categories into eight buckets. They were… Read more »

Ellen Watts

Thank you, that’s all very interesting. I’m sure when I eventually see them again my cousins in Glasgow will not be surprised to hear this at all! It will be so valuable to see how/whether these identities shift in the coming years, and I hope you do get to do more digging around the home town/region associations 🙂

Lawrence McKay

Hi Fraser – loved the paper, the SES has clearly been doing some smart stuff on polarisation – lots of simple but clever ideas like the ‘identity priority’ questions. Also, loving that Simpsons reference 😉 I absolutely think that as you nod to in your conclusion, social contact is the next frontier and for me geography has to come into that. If you interact much more in real life with your side and not the other it’s likely that you don’t understand them as well and maybe even distrust/fear them (Enos 2017) – you see nothing to discomfirm other stigmatising… Read more »

Fraser McMillan

Hi Lawrence, thanks for tuning in! It’s funny you mention that as that’s where we intend to take the paper proper. Unfortunately it looks like it’ll be quite difficult to get granular enough estimates of exposure to outgroup members. Constituency level might be the best we can do but that’s problematic because there’s a high degree of variation in size: some in Glasgow are so geographically small and arbitrarily drawn that their boundaries are essentially meaningless to residents, while many rural ones are so massive that the measures would be useless. In any case we’re working on it and hopefully… Read more »

Ellen Watts

Scott – I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the findings of your research further down the line, and to hear more about how these different methods worked together. For now I’d love to hear more about the media diary study in progress. You’re giving participants a lot of different options for how they report what they’re doing – I’d be interested to hear a bit about what your participants have generally been doing so far? Has there been a big divergence in the way participants choose to complete their diaries, or perhaps in the style of their data… Read more »

Scott Downham

Hey Ellen, always appreciate the support! For practical guidance, my participant instructions are here, particularly the flow diagram stating how participants should record which exposure, on p.5. For reliability, I want a full and accurate list of their exposure, rather than maybe patchy personal accounts. Interviews can get personal accounts later. I have done four “diary days” so far, one each month. The 20 participants are almost always submitting screen recordings on their phones, overwhelmingly of Instagram. A few opted to summarise their polcom in writing, a bit like a traditional diary, seemingly for quickness or privacy reasons. Were possible… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Scott Downham
Ellen Watts

Great, really interesting that screen recording on phone has been the most intuitive way for most of your participants to record their media consumption.

Really glad to hear that the diary days are going well and I’ll be sure to take a look at the resources you’ve put together for participants.

Ellen Watts

Wow just popping back to say that that flow chart is fantastic!

Chris Butler

Fraser, fantastic presentation. Would be interested to know if the SES team were planning any qual follow up to understand a little more why partisan identities still resonate more?

Fraser McMillan

Hi Chris, thanks for watching! Hope you’re doing well, hard to believe it’s already two years since we were soaking up the Budapest sunshine (and lager) at CAP. We haven’t got any strictly qualitative stuff planned but we will be fielding three shorter surveys each year. They won’t be going to the same respondents but that’s where we’ll have a bit of scope to do exploratory stuff and I’m sure at some stage we’ll try to drill down a bit on that question. In the meantime, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to model our way to some answers using… Read more »

Chris Butler

Really interesting – thanks! Yes I miss those conferences in Europe 😉

Scott Downham

Hi Liam, thanks for the support and the great conference! I have found only minimal use of emergent platforms. Out of 20 participants, I think only one sees some, fairly moderate, political discussion on Discord. A couple of participants use TikTok. One participant, a black girl I think, every diary day, just drops about 30 TikToks from what I guess is the black, “woke” part of TikTok. She agrees with those influencers very well. Any other perspectives are just them mimicking and mocking conservative opinions, hence this seems like the worst case scenario of being in a full “triple filter”,… Read more »

Paula Surridge

I’m glad to see the comment rather than a question is alive and well in virtual form too!

Last edited 3 months ago by Paula Surridge
Fraser McMillan

Cheers Liam! Appreciate that, especially since I feel like I tend to explain visualisations very badly and stumble over myself too much in doing so.

Paula Surridge

My apologies for joining the discussion a little late – the University spam filter had moved all the information I needed for joining into the junk folder where of course I didn’t think to look. Thank you to Scott and Fraser for excellent presentations and fascinating content – it is good to see there are some people working on Polarisation in British Politics who *do* know how to make an effective powerpoint in less than 180 slides. A few comments on each paper and then a thought about what links them. Scott, the topic is fascinating, and I must admit… Read more »

Fraser McMillan

Thanks for watching Paula! On the observation you make about assuming Scotland was more polarised, I had a similar idea before collecting the data. But thinking about it now there’s probably just less scope for it because there are too many cross-cutting issues. Countries like the United States are clearly bipolar – all sorts of sociopolitical cleavages map neatly onto the party system. In England, the party system is gradually assimilating these cleavages, which were more clearly represented by Leave and Remain. But in Scotland, it’s more of a patchwork, and that probably places a ceiling on affective polarisation. That’s… Read more »

Scott Downham

Hi Paula, thanks for the support! You are right on the epistemic bubble being the agency equivalent of the (structural) filter bubble. Algorithms of tech companies are a structural factor in putting people in bubbles, but agents can just dismiss any disagreeable information that might still get through. As you say, it is reasonable for Issue publics to focus on issues they are interested in. But, there would still seem to be some disadvantage if citizens were not getting “collective exposure” to the top news stories of the day that are democratically important.  Party identity is indeed less formed, and… Read more »

Last edited 3 months ago by Scott Downham
Paula Surridge

Good luck with the remainder of the research Scott. I’ll look out for findings when you are ready to share more of them

Leah Rea

Hi Fraser – thanks so much for such a great presentation! I thoroughly enjoyed learning about your research. I think the option to select three identities was interesting; would you consider widening this or narrowing it if you were to repeat the research? Also – I find there are such similarities between labels / identities and the means they manifest in society and divisions arising from same between Scotland and Northern Ireland. The interconnection between Remain and unity / border poll identities in Northern Ireland would link in with the interconnection between Remain and Indy identities in Scotland, for example.… Read more »

Fraser McMillan

Hi Leah, thanks very much for watching, glad you enjoyed it! I’d be inclined to go maximalist – I actually had a list of about twenty more possible identities (e.g. football fan, cyclist, vegan, gamer, “being opposed to so-called woke politics”) but we had to keep it relatively restrained for reasons of comparability with WES and legibility to respondents. But I’d love to do more on that in future. That’s a great point on comparability with NI. In some ways I wonder if the two are moving in opposite directions – IDs in Scotland polarising and in NI fragmenting –… Read more »

Fraser McMillan

Comment for Scott. This is a fascinating project. Something that really shines through in the presentation is how deeply you’ve thought about the literature and the processes you’re investigating. The “triple filter” model strikes me as a useful conceptual innovation and I think that once your data collection is complete you’ll deliver some important findings. I wasn’t quite as persuaded by your hypotheses and the causal picture they paint. In particular, I’m a bit sceptical that partisanship is what drives embubblement in the first place as I think your theoretical model implies. As an ageing Millennial, I tend to find… Read more »

Scott Downham

Hey Fraser, Thanks for the support! Party identity is indeed less formed, and less relevant, for today’s young people. I actually mean ‘strength of partisanship’ just as how strongly they hold their politics, without any reference to parties. One of my arguments is that only a minority of citizens – those who hold their politics most strongly; the strongest partisans – are interested and invested enough in politics to curate their newsfeeds, etc, enough to be bubbles. More and more studies are supporting this view, in contrast to the idea of everyone being in bubbles, as in the “filter bubble… Read more »

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