Ability-related political polarization in the COVID-19 pandemic

General Information

Ability-related political polarization in the COVID-19 pandemic
Brittany Shoots-Reinhard, Raleigh Goodwin, Pär Bjälkebring, David M. Markowitz, Michael C. Silverstein and Ellen Peters
Publication Type
Journal paper
In two large-scale longitudinal datasets (combined N = 5761), we investigated ability-related political polarization in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. We observed more polarization with greater ability in emotional responses, risk perceptions, and product-purchase intentions across five waves of data collection with a diverse, convenience sample from February 2020 through July 2020 (Study 1, N = 1267). Specifically, more liberal participants had more negative emotional responses and greater risk perceptions of COVID-19 than conservative participants. Compared to conservatives, liberal participants also interpreted quantitative information as indicating higher COVID-19 risk and sought COVID-related news more from liberal than conservative news media. Of key importance, we also compared verbal and numeric cognitive abilities for their independent capacity to predict greater polarization. Although measures of numeric ability, such as objective numeracy, are often used to index ability-related polarization, ideological differences were more pronounced among those higher in verbal ability specifically. Similar results emerged in secondary analysis of risk perceptions in a nationally representative longitudinal dataset (Study 2, N = 4494; emotions and purchase intentions were not included in this dataset). We further confirmed verbal-ability-related polarization findings on non-COVID policy attitudes (i.e., weapons bans and Medicare-for-all) measured cross-sectionally. The present Study 2 documented ability-related polarization emerging over time for the first time (rather than simply measuring polarization in existing beliefs). Both studies demonstrated verbal ability measures as the most robust predictors of ability-related polarization. Together, these results suggest that polarization may be a function of the amount and/or application of verbal knowledge rather than selective application of quantitative reasoning skills.