Competing activists—Political polarization

Lucas Böttcher, Pedro Montealegre, Eric Goles, Hans Gersbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Recent empirical findings suggest that societies have become more polarized in various countries. That is, the median voter of today represents a smaller fraction of society compared to two decades ago and yet, the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are not fully understood. Since interactions between influential actors (“activists”) and voters play a major role in opinion formation, e.g. through social media, we develop a macroscopic opinion model in which competing activists spread their political ideas in specific groups of society. These ideas spread further to other groups in declining strength. While unilateral spreading shifts the opinion distribution, competition of activists leads to additional phenomena: Small heterogeneities among competing activists cause them to target different groups in society, which amplifies polarization. For moderate heterogeneities, we obtain target cycles and further amplification of polarization. In such cycles, the stronger activist differentiates himself from the weaker one, while the latter aims to imitate the stronger activist.

Original languageEnglish
Article number123713
JournalPhysica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications
StatePublished - 1 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Activists
  • Game theory
  • Markov chains
  • Opinion formation
  • Political polarization


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