Skip to main content Accessibility help

Political Depolarization in German Public Opinion, 1980–2010*

  • Simon Munzert (a1) and Paul C. Bauer (a2)


Little is known about political polarization in German public opinion. This article offers an issue-based perspective and explores trends of opinion polarization in Germany. Public opinion polarization is conceptualized and measured as alignment of attitudes. Data from the German General Social Survey (1980 to 2010) comprise attitudes towards manifold issues, which are classified into several dimensions. This study estimates multilevel models that reveal general and issue- as well as dimension-specific levels and trends in attitude alignment for both the whole German population and sub-groups. It finds that public opinion polarization has decreased over the last three decades in Germany. In particular, highly educated and more politically interested people have become less polarized over time. However, polarization seems to have increased in attitudes regarding gender issues. These findings provide interesting contrasts to existing research on the American public.



Hide All

Simon Munzert is a PhD Student, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Konstanz, PO Box D85, D-78457 Konstanz, Germany ( Paul C. Bauer is a PhD Student, Institute of Political Science, University of Bern ( A previous version of this paper was presented at the EPSA Conference 2012 and in the political science colloquium at the University of Bern. We thank Delia Baldassarri for providing materials of her and Andrew Gelman's analysis to us. Furthermore, we are grateful to Klaus Armingeon, Matthias Fatke, Markus Freitag, Birte Gundelach, Daniel Stegmüller, Richard Traunmüller and Eva Zeglovits for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. Moreover, we thank Doris Eckert-Bauer, Kathryn Uhrig and Kelley Friel for their assistance in preparing the final manuscript. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their extraordinarily detailed comments and suggestions. Finally, we give the raters our most sincere thanks for their contribution. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit



Hide All
Abramowitz, Alan I. 2006. ‘Disconnected, or Joined at the Hip?’ In Red and Blue Nation? Vol. 1: Characteristics and Causes of America's Polarized Politics, edited by Pietro S. Nivola and David W. Brady, 7285. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
Abramowitz, AlanSaunders, Kyle. 2005. ‘Why Can't We All Just Get Along? The Reality of a Polarized America’. The Forum 3(2):122.
Adams, James, De Vries, Catherine E.Leiter, Debra. 2011. ‘Subconstituency Reactions to Elite Depolarization in the Netherlands: An Analysis of the Dutch Public's Policy Beliefs and Partisan Loyalties, 1986–98’. British Journal of Political Science 42(1):81105.
Adams, James, Green, JaneMilazzo, Caitlin. 2012a. ‘Has the British Public Depolarized Along With Political Elites? An American Perspective on British Public Opinion’. Comparative Political Studies 45(4):507530.
Adams, James, Green, JaneMilazzo, Caitlin. 2012b. ‘Who Moves? Elite and Mass-level Depolarization in Britain, 1987–2001’. Electoral Studies 31:643655.
von Alemann, Ulrich. 2010. Das Parteiensystem der Bundesrepublik Deutschland [The Party System of the Federal Republic of Germany]. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Andress, Hans-JürgenHeien, Thorsten. 2001. ‘Four Worlds of Welfare State Attitudes? A Comparison of Germany, Norway, and the United States’. European Sociological Review 17(4):337356.
Bafumi, JosephShapiro, Robert Y.. 2009. ‘A New Partisan Voter’. The Journal of Politics 71(1):124.
Baldassarri, DeliaGelman, Andrew. 2008. ‘Partisans without Constraint: Political Polarization and Trends in American Public Opinion’. American Journal of Sociology 114(2):408446.
Bean, ClivePapadakis, Elim. 1998. ‘A Comparison of Mass Attitudes towards the Welfare State in Different Institutional Regimes, 1985–1990’. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 10(3):211236.
Billiet, Jaak B.Davidov, Eldad. 2008. ‘Testing the Stability of an Acquiescence Style Factor Behind Two Interrelated Substantive Variables in a Panel Design’. Sociological Methods and Research 36(4):542562.
Billiet, Jaak, McKee, B.McClendon, J.. 2000. ‘Modeling Acquiescence in Measurement Models for Two Balanced Sets of Items’. Structural Equation Modeling 7(4):608628.
Blekesaune, MortenQuadagno, Jill. 2003. ‘Public Attitudes toward Welfare State Policies: A Comparative Analysis of 24 Nations’. European Sociological Review 19(5):415427.
Brady, David W., Ferejohn, JohnHarbridge, Laurel. 2008. ‘Polarization and Public Policy: A General Assessment’. In Red and Blue Nation? Vol. 2: Consequences and Correction of America's Polarized Politics, edited by Pietro S. Nivola and David W. Brady, 185216. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
Bundesministerium für Justiz [Federal Ministry of Justice]. 1957. Gleichberechtigungsgesetz in der im Bundesgesetzblatt Teil III, Gliederungsnummer 400-3, veröffentlichten bereinigten Fassung, das durch Artikel 127 des Gesetzes vom 19. April 2006 (BGBl. I S. 866) geändert worden ist. [Law of equality in the form of April 19th, 2006.].
Carter, J. Scott, Carter, ShannonDodge, Jamie. 2009. ‘Trends in Abortion Attitudes by Race and Gender: A Reassessment Over a Four-Decade Period’. Journal of Sociological Research 1(1):117.
Cohen, Joachim, Marcoux, Isabelle, Bilsen, Johan, Deboosere, Patrick, van der Wal, GerritDeliens, Luc. 2006. ‘Trends in Acceptance of Euthanasia among the General Public in 12 European Countries (1981–1999)’. European Journal of Public Health 16(6):663669.
Converse, Philip E. 1964. ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics’. In Ideology and Discontent, edited by David E. Apter, 206261. New York: The Free Press.
Davis, Shannon N.Greenstein, Theodore N.. 2009. ‘Gender Ideology: Components, Predictors, and Consequences’. Annual Review of Sociology 35:87105.
DiMaggio, Paul, Evans, JohnBryson, Bethany. 1996. ‘Have American's Social Attitudes Become More Polarized?’ American Journal of Sociology 102(3):690755.
Down, IanWilson, Carole J.. 2010. ‘Opinion Polarization and Inter-Party Competion on Europe’. European Union Politics 11(1):6187.
Downey, Dennis J.Huffman, Matt L.. 2001. ‘Attitudinal Polarization and Trimodal Distributions: Measurement Problems and Theoretical Implications’. Social Science Quarterly 82(3):494505.
Evans, John H. 2003. ‘Have Americans’ Attitudes Become More Polarized? – An Update’. Social Science Quarterly 84(1):7190.
Fiorina, Morris P.Abrams, Samuel J.. 2008. ‘Political Polarization in the American Public’. The Annual Review of Political Science 11:563588.
Fiorina, Morris P., Abrams, Samuel J.Pope, Jeremy C.. 2005. Culture War? The Myth of Polarized America. New York: Pearson Longman.
Fischer, Claude S.Mattson, Greggor. 2009. ‘Is America Fragmenting?’ Annual Review of Sociology 35:435455.
Fleisher, RichardBond, John R.. 2004. ‘The Shrinking Middle in the US Congress’. British Journal of Political Science 34(3):429451.
Galston, William A.Nivola, Pietro S.. 2006. ‘Delineating the Problem’. In Red and Blue Nation? Vol. 1: Characteristics and Causes of America's Polarized Politics, edited by Pietro S. Nivola and David W. Brady, 147. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.
Gerring, John. 2012. ‘Mere Description’. British Journal of Political Science 4(4):721746.
Granberg, DonaldGranberg, Beth Wellman. 1980. ‘Abortion Attitudes, 1965–1980: Trends and Determinants’. Family Planning Perspectives 12(5):250261.
Green, Donald P.Citrin, Jack. 1994. ‘Measurement Error and the Structure of Attitudes: Are Positive and Negative Judgments Opposites?’ American Journal of Political Science 38(1):256281.
Hetherington, Marc J. 2009. ‘Putting Polarization in Perspective’. British Journal of Political Science 39:413448.
Jelen, Ted G. 1990. ‘Religious Belief and Attitude Constraint’. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 29(1):118125.
Larsen, Christian Albrekt. 2008. ‘The Institutional Logic of Welfare Attitudes: How Welfare Regimes Influence Public Support’. Comparative Political Studies 41(2):145168.
Layman, Geoffrey C.Carsey, Thomas M.. 2002. ‘ “Party Polarization” and “Conflict Extension” in the American Electorate’. American Journal of Political Science 46(4):786802.
Layman, Geoffrey C., Carsey, Thomas M.Horowitz, Juliana Menasce. 2006. ‘Party Polarization in American Politics: Characteristics, Causes, and Consequences’. Annual Review of Political Science 9:83110.
Levendusky, Matthew S.Pope, Jeremy C.. 2011. ‘Red States vs. Blue States. Going Beyond the Mean’. Public Opinion Quarterly 75(2):227248.
Loftus, Jeni. 2001. ‘America's Liberalization in Attitudes toward Homosexuality, 1973 to 1998’. American Sociological Review 66(5):762782.
Mayda, Anna Maria. 2006. ‘Who Is against Immigration? A Cross-Country Investigation of Individual Attitudes toward Immigrants’. The Review of Economics and Statistics 88(3):510530.
McCall, LeslieManza, Jeff. 2011. ‘Class Differences in Social and Political Attitudes in the United States’. In The Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and the Media, edited by Robert Shapiro Lawrence Jacobs, 552570. Oxford University Press.
McClendon, McKee J. 1991. ‘Acquiescence and Recency Response-Order Effects in Interview Surveys’. Sociological Methods and Research 20(1):60103.
Meuleman, Bart, Davidov, EldadBilliet, Jaak. 2009. ‘Changing Attitudes toward Immigration in Europe, 2002–2007: A Dynamic Group Conflict Theory Approach’. Social Science Research 38:352365.
Peffley, Mark A.Hurwitz, Jon. 1985. ‘A Hierarchical Model of Attitude Constraint’. American Journal of Political Science 29(4):871890.
Poole, Keith T.Rosenthal, Howard. 1984. ‘The Polarization of American Politics’. Journal of Politics 46:10611079.
Scott, Jacqueline. 1998. ‘Changing Attitudes to Sexual Morality: A Crossnational Comparison’. Sociology 32(4):815845.
Shapiro, Robert Y.Mahajan, Harpreet. 1986. ‘Gender Differences in Policy Preferences: A Summary of Trends From the 1960s to the 1980s’. The Public Opinion Quarterly 50(1):4261.
Spier, Tim. 2011. ‘Welche Politischen Einstellungen Haben die Mitglieder der Parteien? [What Political Atttitudes do Members of Parties Have?]’. In Parteimitglieder in Deutschland, edited by Tim Spier, Markus Klein, Ulrich von Alemann, Hanna Hoffmann, Annika Laux, Alexandra Nonnenmacher, and Katharina Rohrbach, 121137. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Stone, Walter J., Rapoport, Ronald B.Abramowitz, Alan I.. 1990. The Reagan Revolution and Party Polarization in the 1980s. In The Parties Respond, edited by L. Sandy Maisel. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Wegener, BerndLiebig, Stefan. 1995. ‘Dominant Ideologies and the Variation of Distributive Justice Norms: A Comparison of East and West Germany, and the United States’. In Social Justice and Political Change: Public Opinion in Capitalist and Post-Communist States, edited by David. S. Mason, James Kluegel, and Bernd Wegener, 239259. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Wilkes, RimaCorrigall-Brown, Catherine. 2011. ‘Explaining Time Trends in Public Opinion: Attitudes towards Immigration and Immigrants’. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 52(1–2):7999.
Yang, Alan S. 1997. ‘Trends: Attitudes Toward Homosexuality’. Public Opinion Quarterly 61(3):477507.
Zaller, John R. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Munzert and Bauer Dataset

Supplementary materials

Munzert and Bauer supplementary material
Supplementary data

 Unknown (4.2 MB)
4.2 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed