Israel Waismel-Manor, Haifa University,
Red-Blue, Country-Pop: Exploring How Music Polarizes America
Since the publication of Culture War (Fiorina, 2004) there has been a war in American political science. While "minimalists" argue that political elites may be polarized but most Americans are centrists, "maximalists" claim ideological polarization has increased dramatically among both the mass public and elites (Abramowitz, 2010). Recently, Lelkes (2016) reviewed four distinct manifestations of polarization in this debate and found that Americans at the mass level have not diverged, nor have they become more consistent ideologically, but partisans have; perceptions of polarization have increased, driven mostly by partisans, who increasingly dislike one another. Regardless of measurement, none of these studies has explored how culture itself may be driving these forces. Leaving genetic predispositions aside (Hibbing, 2014), socialization plays a major role in shaping our beliefs and attitudes, and since we spend at least 15% of our waking lives listening to music (Rentfrow, 2012), even more so in our youth, music serves both as a values' socialization agent and at the same time as their affirmation. So why is it that Republicans are more in tune with Country music, while Democrats prefer Pop/Rock (Echo Nest (2012; Facebook, 2014)? Are these genres the artifact of political attitudes, or are the values in these songs that drive individuals to different parties? A computer assisted content analysis of all songs that made it to the top 10 Billboard Country and Pop weekly charts from 1948-2016 (N=14,178), extracts the cultural values in these two genres across time and shows how these genres shape and reflect partisan attitudes.