In Two Minds: The role of Ambivalence in Political Preferences and the ‘Democratic Dilemma’

In Two Minds: The role of Ambivalence in Political Preferences and the ‘Democratic Dilemma’

Escalating concerns about citizen distrust and loss of support for representative democracy have driven an expansion in empirical research on political attitudes and process preferences. Citizen support is deemed the necessary scaffolding for stable democracy. Yet drawing inferences about how attitudes effect democratic stability requires understanding the complex nature of political preferences, beyond singular bipolar models. This presentation focuses on attitudinal ambivalence: the presence, within an individual, of both favourable and unfavourable cognitive evaluations or affective reactions to a political issue or object. Ambivalence has distinct and empirically significant consequences for the way people process information and reason preferences, yet the focus on coherence in standard conceptions of political attitudes has meant conflicts between preferences are only viewed as existing between people, not within.

The innovation of this presentation is to re-theorise political attitudes that contain intra-subjective conflict as valid, reasoned and context sensitive responses. It considers how the new digitally enabled public sphere together with elite division over important policy issues has intensified evaluative conflict, through the abundance of competing and dissonant cognitive cues that citizens consume. Finally, the presentation explores whether and under what conditions attitudinal ambivalence can intervene positively in people’s reactions to political and political institutions by having moderating effects on destructive polarisation. 

Dr Adele Webb is a Research Fellow in Democracy and Citizen Engagement at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy & Global Governance, University of Canberra. Working at the intersection of political theory and empirical political science, Adele's current research develops normative and empirical contributions on the causes and consequences of political ambivalence. She has also published on Philippine politics and Populism. Her monograph, Chasing Freedom: The Philippines’ Long Journey to Democratic Ambivalence, was published in 2022 by Liverpool University Press and Ateneo de Manila University Press. Adele also leads the University of Canberra’s 'Connecting to Parliament' initiative, which seeks to connect more Australians to democratic processes through facilitating deliberative engagements with elected officials.


Date & time

Thu 02 May 2024, 11am–12.30pm


RSSS Room 3.72 or Online via Zoom


Adele Webb (University of Canberra)


Richard Frank


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