‘Bad listener’ male politicians create polarization & conflict – study

Reuters/Gary Cameron
America’s male mainstream politicians are drama queens too impatient to listen to their opponents and engage with the other side. That's according to new research from political scientists at the University of North Carolina and the University of Kansas.

Competitive elections make those engaged in politics even more reluctant to talk shop and engage with their opponents, the researchers say. And male partisans are more likely than their female counterparts to reject opinions that come from the other party, without even engaging that information.

"One implication is that female legislators might talk about politics and deliberately engage the other party more than their male colleagues," said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas assistant professor of political science. "That might have some effects on the kind of legislative environment we have. Maybe if we have more women in office, you'd have more communication, less fighting, and perhaps more legislating and less gridlock."

The researchers came to the conclusion that men are more likely than women to avoid cross-party political discussion, to judge political arguments based solely on what party is advancing them and to form strong political opinions about the opposite party's proposals without actually listening to the other side's reasoning. Meanwhile, the act of listening to political opponents is at the core of a deliberative democracy, the study's authors say.

"Just because they hear that an argument comes from the other party they think about that information less. Yet they are more likely to reject that information strongly. In essence, male partisans are forming strong opinions that create polarization and conflict on less information than women," Miller said.

The results of the study are based on survey data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study conducted nationwide, as well as 2014 experimental results involving University of Kansas undergraduate students. The latest research is said to be the first to apply the psychological idea of intergroup anxiety into political science.

"Male Democrats and Republicans more than female partisans expect interacting with the other party to be an unpleasant, conflictual, anxious, anger-filled experience," Miller said. "So as a result, they talk about politics with people in the other party less so than women."

The researcher said these findings fit with psychological research known as the "male warrior argument" that focuses on men being hardwired to fight. "It's not that women don't have any of those feelings. It's just that they have fewer of them," Miller said.

Meanwhile, by and large, voters tend to nominate and elect more partisan politicians.

"If we're condemning politicians for the way they act in office, they might just be giving us what we as citizens are looking for – that partisan warrior and gridlock," Miller said.

The study led by Miller and co-author Pamela Johnston Conover, a political science professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is published in the Journal "Politics, Groups, and Identities."