Exploring the effect of personalized voting on affective polarization: Prototypical leadership and campaign effects


Recent studies have shown that political information directly associated with a real-world leader tends to generate more (affective) polarization compared to similar information tied to a more impersonal source, such as a political party. The phenomenon is explained by the catalyzing role of leaders in the public’s inclination to maximize distinctiveness with outgroups. Leaders are used as stereotypical yardsticks based on their structural position and external visibility in (negative) campaigns. We link the preceding findings from the source cue literature to the preferential voting literature because a vote for a candidate or the party as a whole also is a source cue proxy. Concretely, we test whether voters casting a preference vote for an electoral leader are more affectively polarized than party voters by relying on the Belgian RepResent panel survey for the last parliamentary elections of 2019. This context provides an adequate electoral setting and adequate indicators to measure affective polarization and to distinguish (centralized) preference voters and party voters. Our findings show that (centralized) preference voters are indeed more affectively polarized and this can primarily be explained by a short(er)-term negative campaigning mechanism.