2024, super año electoral

2024, super election year: Risks for social and political polarization


10 | 04 | 2024


Some measures that we can try to implement to avoid falling into the group influence we live in

In the picture

So close and yet so far apart [Freepic].

The word polarization is in vogue. Not only because it was named in 2023 in Spain as word of the year, but also because 2024 is the super election year (some 70 countries around the world will have to vote), fueling the current concern about social movements and destabilizing effects of internal agents and third countries.

Although it has different meanings, it has recently been used to refer to situations of tension and confrontation, although this is not always the case.

From the point of view of social psychology, in 1961, a psychologist named Stoner discovered that people, when they were inside a group, made riskier decisions than they would if they were in a one-to-one setting[1]. This risk-taking tendency contradicted the widely held view that people in group tend to be more conservative and cautious after a group discussion . Later, Moscovici and Zavalloni (1969) contributed that it was not a tendency to risk but rather an intensification of the initial postures of individuals that already predominated in the group before the discussion. This contribution also indicated that the greatest polarization occurred when the group had to commit to a certain position; that once a position had been taken, the members of the group made it their own individually, and that this group behavior could be applied to trends of opinion or social attitudes, such as those we observe today in the social, political and cultural spheres.

The causes of group polarization may be due to two main reasons: on the one hand, belonging to a group may encourage the individual to want to appear socially desirable to others with opinions that are favorable or even superior to the predominant average . And on the other hand, the use of persuasive argumentation, characterized by the successful use of arguments for and against, which have to be perceived as consistent with the initial opinion and logic of group, and provide novel aspects, as they produce greater emotional impact and polarization in group[2]. In this way, individuals conform to the prototypical norms of group naturally, not only because they try to please the other members (dependence rules and regulations) but also because, sometimes, they depend on the information received through this group of reference letter (information dependence), related to media and press of the same ideological line, family and friends networks that share news or 'memes' (jokes of political origin) or the like-minded political leaders themselves.

While group polarization refers only to the intensification of a position already observed initially in the group before the discussion of its members, political polarization, on the other hand, is a social process in which two or more groups gradually generate a greater political and social distance between them and reach more extreme positions in the political arc, usually differentiated between conservative and progressive ideas or right and left. Polarization has its advantages and disadvantages: on the one hand, polarization encourages the population to take part in democratic elections and to adopt an active attitude towards political issues (Wagner, 2021)[3]. In contrast, other authors point out that group polarization can cause democratic deterioration (McCoy et al, 2018), leading to serious social and internal security problems generating an idea of "us versus them", as we see in different countries[4]. Mainly political polarization generates two consequences: partisan alignment and an affective polarization where one loves one's own social and political group (endogroup favoritism) and hates or feels the opposite as an enemy or very distant, using prejudices, stereotypes or, in the worst case, dehumanization (the individual of the alien group becomes one more of the strangers, without individual traits or identity, which justifies radical actions against him).

There are several psychological reasons that make us all susceptible to fall into this game[5]: to protect our ego by feeling part of a group and accepting its rules of behavior against other groups, to eliminate our uncertainty about the present and future social or staff betting on simple and radical solutions, or simply to manage our emotional tensions by orienting, mainly the emotions of concern, anger or mockery towards certain social or political groups outside.  

That is why it is difficult for us to remain oblivious to the polarization processes that reach us through leaders who wave partisan banners, with group values, of class social, racial or national values that exclude other groups or use phrases or adjectives that ridicule and stigmatize the divergent. It is not easy to maintain objectivity when our favorite newspaper or social network , where the majority ideological line is marked[6], tells us what information we should have and how we should internalize it. Nor do social environments where cultural and ideological similarity prevails sometimes make it convenient or possible to discussion ideological or moderate discrepancy and diversity of opinions.

There are, however, some measures that we can try to implement in order not to fall into this group influence that we experience:

√ The first measure is intellectual humility, accepting the tendencies of favoritism to "our own" that we all have and the attempt to justify ourselves at all costs.

√ The second is to deepen the arguments of each ideological side, with reliable information, diversified, from original sources and avoiding stereotypes and easy slogans that are aimed at the irrational part of our brain.

√ And the third, to reduce anger and competitive feelings to positions more based on individuals and on the normality of daily intergroup relations that are much more normal than what some try to convey to us.


* Luis Ángel Díaz Robredo is a professor at Schoolof Educationand Psychology at the University of Navarra.

[1] Stoner, J. A. F. (1961). A comparison of individual and group decisions involving risks. thesis unpublished master's degree. MIT, Cambridge Mass.

[2] Vinokur, A., & Burstein, E. (1974). Effects of partially shared persuasive arguments on group-induced shifts: A group-problem-solving approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 29(3), 305-315. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0036010

[3] Wagner, M. (2021). Affective polarization in multiparty systems. Electoral Studies, 69, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2020.102199. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2020.102199

[4] McCoy J, Rahman T, Somer M. (2018). Polarization and the Global Crisis of Democracy Common Patterns, Dynamics, and Pernicious Consequences for Democratic Polities. American Behavioral Scientist 62(1). 16-42.

[5] Jost, J. T., Baldassarri, D. S. & Druckman, J. N. (2022) Cognitive-motivational mechanisms of political polarization in social-communicative contexts. Nat. Rev. Psychol. 1, 560-576.

[6] Kubin, Emily & Sikorski, Christian (2021). The role of (social) average in political polarization: a systematic review. Annals of the International Communication Association. 45. 1-19. 10.1080/23808985.2021.1976070.