The divided people: polarization of political attitudes in Europe

Project leader

Denise Traber

Financed by


Time frame

 2018 - 2020


The research project studies the causes and dynamics of public opinion polarization in Europe. Existing research has provided explanations for the rise of populist parties but has largely ignored the counter-reactions to the right-wing populist mobilization. Moreover, contrary to the broad popular view of increasing social fractions, the few existing single-country studies on political polarization actually find that political attitudes have de-polarized rather than become more distant.

Research Question

The project combines insights from three strands of research – public opinion research, the polarization literature and cleavage theory – to study attitude polarization in Europe from a comparative perspective. In total, I aim to answer three sets of questions: First, have political attitudes in Europe really polarized and with regard to what issues? Second, how do recent economic and societal changes contribute to attitude polarization in Europe? Third, does opinion polarization have an (unequal) mobilizing or de-mobilizing effect?

Research Strategy

The first part investigates how the degree of attitude polarization has changed in Europe since the early 1990s. To this aim, I suggest a refined concept of polarization that puts a main focus on polarization between different socio-economic status groups, rather than on the general population level. Second, the project develops a theoretical framework to study how economic and societal changes contribute to attitude polarization. Recent changes such as rising inequality and mass immigration to Europe have an unequal impact on the social and economic status of different socio-economic groups, which may cause attitudinal change. The project investigates to what degree this unequal impact leads to polarization of political attitudes.