What's not to like? Political polarization on Facebook in the U.S. and Belgium

Abstract

Increasing levels of political animosity worldwide invite speculation about whether polarization extends to all aspects of our daily life. However, empirical study about the relationship between political ideologies and lifestyle choices is limited by a lack of comprehensive data. This research combines survey and Facebook Like data from more than 7,500 respondents to test whether polarization permeates society or if it is more limited to strictly political domains among politically active individuals. This article compares ideological disunity in political and non-political domains in Belgium (a multi-party political system), to the U.S. (a two-party system). The results indicate that, as expected, polarization is present in page categories that are related to politics and news, but it is noticeably lower in Belgium than in the U.S. On the other hand, no evidence is found of polarization in other domains, including sports, food, and music. On the individual level, people who are more politically active are less likely to endorse ideologically diverse pages across categories, and compared to the U.S., fewer individuals in Belgium are being exposed to large amounts of highly polarized content. The evidence, drawn from large-scale digital trace data, adds nuance to the narrative of widespread polarization across lifestyle sectors, and it suggests domains in which cross-cutting preferences are still observed.

Keywords

Political polarization, Lifestyle preferences, Social platforms, Facebook likes

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Stiene Praet (Universiteit Antwerpen)

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0

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