Date of Thesis

Spring 2020


American politics have become increasingly polarized, but not just in how sharply we disagree on issues. There has also been a rise in affective polarization, or how positively we view members of our own party and how negatively we view those of the opposite party. This behavior manifests on college campuses, where some students struggle to discuss politics with those who disagree with them while others refuse to engage in such conversations at all. While affective polarization is not a new phenomenon, it appears especially pronounced on college campuses following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. My thesis seeks to understand why students might feel this animosity and how prevalent political issues can be on college campuses. To investigate, I reviewed scholarship and survey data on affective polarization and its impact on college campuses. Then, I conducted qualitative interviews with Bucknell University students to produce interpretive data that help explain student behavior. While Bucknell itself is not representative of the broader college student population, I find that Bucknell students express a wide range of political engagement. Some express significant levels of affective polarization, while politics does not hold great importance for others. Bucknell embodies some characteristics shared by other schools, such as a perceived “liberal bias” among students, but appears to have more students who are politically apathetic and lean right. Ultimately, it’s important to address affective polarization on campus to better foster student discussion in the spirit of a liberal arts education.


Polarization, Affective Polarization, Campus Politics, American Politics

Access Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Christopher Ellis