The nonlinear feedback dynamics of asymmetric political polarization

Naomi Ehrich Leonard, Keena Lipsitz, Anastasia Bizyaeva, Alessio Franci, Yphtach Lelkes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Using a general model of opinion dynamics, we conduct a systematic investigation of key mechanisms driving elite polarization in the United States. We demonstrate that the self-reinforcing nature of elite-level processes can explain this polarization, with voter preferences accounting for its asymmetric nature. Our analysis suggests that subtle differences in the frequency and amplitude with which public opinion shifts left and right over time may have a differential effect on the self-reinforcing processes of elites, causing Republicans to polarize more quickly than Democrats. We find that as self-reinforcement approaches a critical threshold, polarization speeds up. Republicans appear to have crossed that threshold while Democrats are currently approaching it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2102149118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - Dec 14 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Bifurcations
  • Nonlinear dynamics
  • Political elites
  • Political polarization
  • Public opinion


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