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New survey: “What polarizes citizens? An explorative analysis of 817 attitudinal items from a non-random online panel in Germany”

Teney C., Pietrantuono G., Wolfram T. (2024)

News from May 06, 2024

in: PLoS ONE 19(5): e0302446 | open access


Various studies point to the lack of evidence of distributive opinion polarization in Europe. As most studies analyse the same item batteries from international social surveys, this lack of polarization might be due to an item’s issue (e.g., the nature or substance of an item) or item formulation characteristics used to measure polarization. Based on a unique sample of 817 political attitudinal items asked in 2022 by respondents of a non-random online panel in Germany, we empirically assess the item characteristics most likely to lead to distributive opinion polarization–measured with the Van der Eijk agreement index. Our results show that only 20% of the items in our sample have some–at most moderate–level of opinion polarization. Moreover, an item’s salience in the news media before the survey data collection, whether an item measures attitudes toward individual financial and non-financial costs, and the implicit level of knowledge required to answer an item (level of technicality) are significantly associated with higher opinion polarization. By contrast, items measuring a cultural issue (such as issues on gender, LGTBQI+, and ethnic minorities) and items with a high level of abstraction are significantly associated with a lower level of polarization. Our study highlights the importance of reflecting on the potential influence of an item’s issue and item formulation characteristics on the empirical assessment of distributive opinion polarization. Read more.

FU Press release about the article (in German).

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