The Myth of Power-Sharing and Polarisation: Evidence from Northern Ireland

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Whether power-sharing increases polarisation or not in post-conflict societies remains deeply contested. Yet, we currently lack an adequate conceptualisation of polarisation to assess the link (if any) between the two. This article offers a new conceptualisation of polarisation and uses this to gather evidence from Northern Ireland to argue that the assumption that power-sharing entrenches polarisation is not the reality that many think it is. By examining legislator voting records, speeches by party leaders, manifestos and public opinion data, we disaggregate polarisation into different issues, track it over time, and examine both elite and mass levels. We find that overall polarisation declined, albeit some limited polarisation remained in cultural and identity issues, but these were of low salience. We argue that this is the result of parties using identity instrumentally for electoral distinction in a system of convergence – a process that is independent of the effects of power-sharing.


Original languageEnglish
JournalPolitical Studies
Early online date12 Sep 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Sep 2020


  • power-sharing, polarisation, Northern Ireland