Unity in diversity? Polarization, issue diversity and satisfaction with democracy

Julian M. Hoerner (London School of Economics) & Sara B. Hobolt (London School of Economics)

Several recent studies have suggested that an increasing polarization of political views within a society is detrimental to voters’ satisfaction with democracy. Polarization may sour the political discourse and impede meaningful discussions among voters. However, voters may not only hold fundamentally diverging views on a number of political issues, but also disagree on which issues are important to them. In their article “Unity in diversity? Polarization, issue diversity and satisfaction with democracy” published in the Journal of European Public Policy, Julian Hoerner and Sara Hobolt argue that the negative effects of polarization on voters’ satisfaction with democracy are moderated by the number of political issues they consider as important. Drawing on Eurobarometer survey data and estimates of the polarization of party systems in 31 European countries between 2003 and 2018, Julian and Sara show that negative associations between polarization and satisfaction with democracy are diminished when the political discourse is not dominated by a single or small number of issues. Julian and Sara argue that these “findings suggest that we can be less concerned with an increase in ideological polarization if it manifests itself across a number of cross-cutting issues.”