UW “Contentious Politics” Group Lands $411K Grant to Study Communication and Democratic Crises in Wisconsin

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication scholars were rewarded in April for their cutting-edge research examining how the growing polarization and fragmentation in the Wisconsin media ecology, as reflected in talk radio, local news, political advertising and social media, contributed to the ideological and partisan polarization of Wisconsin citizens.

UW SJMC professors Lew Friedland, Dhavan Shah, Mike Wagner, and Chris Wells are collaborating with Kathy Cramer in political science, Karl Rohe in statistics and Bill Sethares in electrical and computer engineering on the $411,000 project. The team was funded by the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative competition for their research project “Communication Ecologies, Political Contention and Democratic Crisis.”

The Civic Culture and Contentious Politics group has been working on issues relating to contentious politics and communication in democratic life for a number of years. In 2017, the group published their most recent major article from the project in their discipline’s top journal.

Integrating survey data with focus group data of citizen conversation, “When We Stop Talking Politics: The Maintenance and Closing of Conversation in Contentious Times” was featured in the Journal of Communication and news coverage across the state.

The article followed up on the theoretical grounding published in the 2014 The Good Society article, “Cultural Worldviews and Contentious Politics: Evaluative Asymmetry in High-Information Environments.”

In 2018, the group hosted a major conference, “Communication, Populism and the Crisis of Democracy,” featuring presentations from the UW group and scholars from across the U.S. and Europe. They will present the next iterations of the project at the Global Media Studies Network ICA preconference on Global Populism at Central European University, Budapest and the 2018 International Communication Association conference in Prague in May.

The UW2020 grant and assorted funding from the PIs also employs a small army of UW SJMC graduate student project assistants and collaborators, including Aman Abishek, Jordan Foley, Ceri Hughes, Josephine Lukito, Meredith Metzler, Jiyoun Suk, Zhongkai Sun and Jeff Tischauser. The UW2020 initiative stimulates high-impact, groundbreaking research – the UW Civic Culture and Contentious Politics group project was chosen to receive funding from over 100 campus-wide proposals.