Discord over abortion, LGBTQ+ issues keep polarization levels high

The latest Polarization Index from USC reveals that since the election of President Joe Biden, overall levels of polarization in the United States remain dangerously high, spurred by growing controversy around reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ issues.

As measured by the volume of talk on social media, abortion has risen seventh to third since the third quarter of last year. The change is mainly due to the left’s reaction to the growing number of states passing laws to restrict abortion. This is particularly noteworthy given the leak of a draft opinion from the United States Supreme Court indicating that the court is leaning towards overturning Roe v. Wade.

Meanwhile, disagreement over Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill has pushed LGBTQ+ rights to the fifth most polarizing issue.

In a recent survey by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, 73% of public relations professionals predicted that their companies will increase their corporate activism in the coming year. Previously, the subject of abortion was outside the comfort zone of all but a few companies, such as Lyft and Uber. Both have publicly opposed Texas’ recent anti-abortion law.

However, as more states pass restrictive laws, more companies are speaking out. This week, Amazon announced it would reimburse up to $4,000 in expenses for employees who need to travel for an elective abortion or a range of non-life-threatening medical treatments. Yelp and Citigroup announced similar refund policies. Based on the pending Supreme Court decision, this trend is expected to continue.

Similarly, the passage of the politically charged “Don’t Say Gay” law has created a communication challenge for employers with a strong presence in Florida, such as The Walt Disney Co., which now risks losing its valuable tax status in reason for their opposition.

Polarization Index: Employee Pressure Can Force Companies to Intervene

Most companies officially support LGBTQ+ rights, but that may not be enough given the growing number of states adopting new measures. Pressure from employees can force other employers to weigh in on specific legislation.

Polarization has become a constant in our society.

Fred CookUSC Center for Public Relations

“Our latest results reinforce the hypothesis that polarization has become a constant in our society,” said Fred Cook, director of the USC Center for Public Relations, which created the polarization index in collaboration with Golin, powered by the data from Zignal Labs. “One would assume that the end of the pandemic and the start of a war would bring the country closer together, but the data demonstrates that polarization is fueled by partisan political forces that benefit from continued conflict, posing a challenge for businesses. American”.

Even though the war in Ukraine dominated cable news coverage and social media conversations, immigration remains the most contentious issue in America tracked in the Polarization Index in 2022. Although the war itself isn’t particularly polarizing, there has been significant criticism from the right about the management of the Biden administration.

Why is America so divided? Overlapping issues

Recent conversation about immigration has focused primarily on the border with Mexico, but during the period, Ukrainian refugees seeking asylum at the border were increasingly concerned, illustrating how the problems are overlap.

Despite a significant drop in the number of cases and the reduction in associated restrictions, the dialogue around the COVID-19 vaccine remains highly polarized, ranking eighth on the Polarization Index, and driven by left and right-wing engagement. the right. Many stories shared on social media deal with the effectiveness of vaccines and the power of the Biden administration to mandate it. The ongoing contentious debate surrounding the January 6 Capitol uprising, a violent manifestation of polarization, landed this topic on the list of controversial issues just below the vaccine. The insurgency will likely remain high on the index until the congressional investigation ends and associated media coverage wanes.

“Expectations for companies to engage on contentious issues that are important to employees and customers continue to rise,” said Scott Farrell, president of the global corporate communications practice at Golin. “In a polarized world, business leaders need to pay close attention to data to ensure their positions and insights are authentic, relevant and actionable.”


About USC Polarization Rating: Developed by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and Golin, and powered by data from Zignal Labs, the Polarization Index is the premier analytical tool for measuring the level of division between left and right. Turning to specific issues, the index analyzed more than 90 million interactions with relevant news stories shared on social media from a wide range of media, whose biases and reliability are determined by the table media biases of Ad Fontes. The overall polarization score is an average of the degree of division that exists between the 10 most controversial questions. The Polarization Index can be downloaded from thepolarizationindex.com. Future updates will be released periodically.

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