Disambiguation of Social Polarization Concepts and Measures

Journal of Mathematical Sociology 40:80-111 (2016)
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ABSTRACT This article distinguishes nine senses of polarization and provides formal measures for each one to refine the methodology used to describe polarization in distributions of attitudes. Each distinct concept is explained through a definition, formal measures, examples, and references. We then apply these measures to GSS data regarding political views, opinions on abortion, and religiosity—topics described as revealing social polarization. Previous breakdowns of polarization include domain-specific assumptions and focus on a subset of the distribution’s features. This has conflated multiple, independent features of attitude distributions. The current work aims to extract the distinct senses of polarization and demonstrate that by becoming clearer on these distinctions we can better focus our efforts on substantive issues in social phenomena.

Author Profiles

Patrick Grim
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Daniel J. Singer
University of Pennsylvania
William J. Berger
University of Pennsylvania


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