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Partisanship on the Playground: Ideological Sorting & Polarization among Children

Sun, September 1, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hilton, Rock Creek


In the United States, attitudes and beliefs are increasingly sorted and polarized along partisan lines (Mason 2018; Abramowitz 2018). These phenomena are evident in attitudes about public policy issues, voting behavior and approval of political leaders, as well as in social groupings. While other researchers have traced the aggregate changes over time, what we do not know is when individuals begin to sort themselves ideologically. Our study includes interviews and surveys of over 1,000 children, ages 6-12, in four states in 2017. We asked these kids about their own partisanship, their parents’ partisanship, and their beliefs about the parties. We find that ideological polarization along partisan lines begins at very young ages. The youngest children – grades 1 and 2 – often know little about political parties; but by third or fourth grade, many young people report definitive ideas about the parties, including negative partisanship. We discuss the implications of a generation of children growing up in this hyper-partisan atmosphere and what it may mean for the (dystopian) future.