Magda Smith

Magda Smith

Project title: Linguistic Polarization and Its Effects on Partisan Politics

Project description: Why are the left and right so divided? Is it possible the problem comes in part not the issues themselves, but from the words used by political partisans? Americans are deeply divided, with 65% believing that the level of political polarization will get worse by 2050 and up to 46% saying they foresee a likelihood of civil war. I ask, what if the left and right are not as divided as they seem? What if a large part of the divide comes not from intrinsic ideological differences, but from linguistically polarized term—"socialism," “nationalism,” “patriotism,""assimilation,” “equality," "equity," etc.—to which the left and right ascribe different meanings?

Through this project, I hope to contribute to the literature on political polarization, to investigate the relationship between language, ideology, and politics, and eventually to create a cross-partisan dictionary translating between the political left and right. I hope that this project helps make it easier for people to talk to one another, to forge better relationships with friends and family members with whom they have political differences, and to understand one another's perspectives even (and especially!) when they disagree over the issues themselves.

Most important accomplishment: Building a database of every country in the world's climate policies as a researcher with the Global Student Policy Alliance, which was covered in the New Yorker (the database is available here).

Reflections on the College Scholar Program: Being part of the College Scholar Program has been amazing! It's been wonderful to get to know the other students in the program and learn about their research interests, especially because they come from such a wide range of disciplines. I also really appreciate the freedom the College Scholar Program gives me to focus my education around my interests, to study questions that have driven me for years and to take graduate courses that challenge me and push my ideas to the next level.