Political segregation is a significant social problem in the US, increasing polarization, sowing division and discord, and impeding effective governance. Most prior work views the central driver of political segregation to be political homophily, the tendency to associate with others with similar political views. Here, however, we propose that people’s decisions about who to affiliate with are also driven by political acrophily, which is the tendency to prefer social ties that express more extreme (rather than more moderate) political views than one’s own. We evaluate our homophily and acrophily predictions using a novel tie-selection paradigm in which participants share their own responses to incidents of police brutality, observe others’ responses, and then choose which others to continue affiliating with in future rounds. In Studies 1-3 (N = 849), we found that participants’ decisions reflected a mix of homophily and acrophily, and this was true for both liberal and conservative participants. In Study 3, we identified a mechanism driving political acrophily: participants viewed those who expressed more extreme responses than their own to be more prototypical of one’s own political view. In Study 4, we developed an agent-based model to assess the structural implications of acrophily, finding that a mix of acrophily and homophily produces greater levels of macro-level political segregation than homophily alone. These studies identify a previously overlooked tendency in political tie formation, uncover a mechanism driving that tendency, and model how this tendency may help drive higher levels of segregation in political networks.
Files for Studies 1-3 are located here.
Files for Study 4 (agent-based model) is located here: https://osf.io/ad7vh/
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