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Voter Outreach Campaigns Can Reduce Affective Polarization among Implementing Political Activists: Evidence from Inside Three Campaigns

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Campaigns regularly dispatch activists to contact voters. Much research considers these conversations' effects on voters, but we know little about their influence on the implementing activists - an important population given the outsized influence politically active Americans wield. We argue personal persuasion campaigns can reduce affective polarization among the implementing activists by creating opportunities for perspective-getting. We report unique data from three real-world campaigns wherein activists attempted to persuade voters who had opposing viewpoints: two campaigns about a politicized issue (immigration) and a third about the 2020 presidential election. All campaigns trained activists to persuade voters through in-depth, two-way conversations. In preregistered studies, we find that these efforts reduced affective polarization among implementing activists, with reductions large enough to reverse over a decade's increase in affective polarization. Qualitative responses are consistent with these conversations producing perspective-getting, which reduced animosity by humanizing and individuating out-partisans. We discuss implications for theories of prejudice reduction.

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