BYLINE: By Tufts Now News Staff

Newswise — Brian Schaffner, a political science professor and Newhouse Professor of Civic Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, has been named to the 2024 class of Andrew Carnegie Fellows by Carnegie Corporation of New York. As one of 28 scholars selected from more than 360 nominees, he will receive $200,000 for research that seeks to understand how and why our society has become so polarized and how we can strengthen the forces of cohesion to fortify our democracy.  

Schaffner is a principal investigator of the Cooperative Election Study, the largest academic survey focused on U.S. elections. Tapping that data, he plans to use the Carnegie award to write a book, along with his co-PI Stephen Ansolabehere of Harvard University, that explores the extent to which political polarization is defined by social divisions.

“Having directed one of the largest surveys on American politics for the past two decades, our aim is to leverage the half-million interviews with American adults to paint a more nuanced picture of American politics, interrogate some conventional wisdom, and ultimately propose a path forward to bridge the partisan divide,” Schaffner wrote in his proposal.

Social identities such as race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual identity have come to increasingly define our partisan polarization, he wrote. “But which social identities really matter for politics?” he asked. “How do the most important identities intersect with each other to create wholly unique groups of people? And how do these pieces fit together to create a more nuanced and complete picture of American politics?”

The goal is to learn about the groups that anchor the sides of the political spectrum as well as the issues and life experiences that help bring those groups closer together. 

“We are incredibly proud of Professor Schaffner’s work, amplified by this prestigious Carnegie Fellowship, as it truly meets the moment we are facing in our democracy,” said Dayna Cunningham, Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of Tisch College. “We must continue to deploy big data to understand pervasive civic challenges, like partisanship and division, as well as to identify the opportunities to build and sustain a robust, multiracial democracy.”

The Carnegie Fellows program was established in 2015 to provide philanthropic support to extraordinary scholars and writers for high-caliber research in the humanities and social sciences. 

In 2023, the program announced that it would focus on political polarization in the United States. “The issue is characterized by threats to free speech, the decline of civil discourse, disagreement over basic facts, and a lack of mutual understanding and collaboration,” according to the Carnegie Corporation web site. “In combination, these factors fracture our society, cause Americans to abandon the middle ground, and ultimately undermine our democracy.”