A bridge too far

Kevin Lewis

December 15, 2017

Frontier Culture: The Roots and Persistence of "Rugged Individualism" in the United States
Samuel Bazzi, Martin Fiszbein & Mesay Gebresilasse
NBER Working Paper, November 2017


In a classic 1893 essay, Frederick Jackson Turner argued that the American frontier promoted individualism. We revisit the Frontier Thesis and examine its relevance at the subnational level. Using Census data and GIS techniques, we track the frontier throughout the 1790-1890 period and construct a novel, county-level measure of historical frontier experience. We document skewed sex ratios and other distinctive demographics of frontier locations, as well as their greater individualism (proxied by infrequent children names). Many decades after the closing of the frontier, counties with longer historical frontier experience exhibit more prevalent individualism and opposition to redistribution and regulation. We take several steps towards a causal interpretation, including an instrumental variables approach that exploits variation in the speed of westward expansion induced by national immigration inflows. Using linked historical Census data, we identify mechanisms giving rise to a persistent frontier culture. Selective migration contributed to greater individualism, and frontier conditions may have further shaped behavior and values. We provide evidence suggesting that rugged individualism may be rooted in its adaptive advantage on the frontier and the opportunities for upward mobility through effort.

You're Hired! Mortality Salience Increases Americans' Support for Donald Trump
Florette Cohen, Sheldon Solomon & Daniel Kaplin
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, forthcoming


Support for presidential candidate Donald Trump increased in the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, France, and San Bernardino, California, similar to Americans' greater enthusiasm for President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. According to terror management theory (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, & Solomon; Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski), people are prone to embrace charismatic politicians in times of historical upheaval to mitigate existential terror. Consistent with this view, previous research has demonstrated that reminders of death (relative to an aversive control condition) increased support for a charismatic leader in a hypothetical gubernatorial election, and support for President Bush and his policies in Iraq prior to the 2004 presidential election. The present Study 1 hypothesized and found that a death reminder increased support for Donald Trump. Study 2 found that while Hillary Clinton was viewed more favorably than Donald Trump in an aversive control condition, Mr. Trump was viewed more favorably in response to a death reminder while impressions of Mrs. Clinton were unaffected. Study 3 demonstrated that asking people to think about immigrants moving into their neighborhood increased the accessibility of implicit death thoughts. These findings suggest that electoral outcomes and public policy can be affected when existential concerns are aroused.

Gun Culture in Action
Carson Mencken & Paul Froese
Social Problems, forthcoming


Exploring the symbolic meaning of guns in the United States may be one the best ways to approach theoretical questions concerning the effect of "culture in action" because it focuses on a single object - the gun - which brims with symbolic power far beyond its physical utility. Using data from the Baylor Religion Surveys (Wave 4), we investigate the extent to which guns empower gun owners morally and emotionally. We also investigate the diversity of gun owners. We find a wide range of gun empowerment among gun owners, and that this relationship is related to gender, race, religiosity, political views, gun use, and economic distress. Our findings also indicate that Americans' attachment to guns is not explained entirely by regional, religious, or political cultures. Instead, we demonstrate that white men in economic distress find comfort in guns as a means to reestablish a sense of individual power and moral certitude. Gun empowerment, in turn, affects opinions about gun action and policy.

Loss and loyalty: Change in political and gender identity among Clinton supporters after the 2016 U.S. presidential election
Eric Gomez et al.
Self and Identity, forthcoming


How do voters' identities change after a candidate's defeat? A longitudinal, within-subjects study used Hillary Clinton's loss in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to explore social identity theory's (SIT) tenet that threats to self-relevant groups motivate further connection to and affirmation of the group. Two independent samples (university students and adults on Mechanical Turk) were assessed before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. After Hillary Clinton's defeat, those who reported voting for Clinton affirmed their political and gender identities in several ways, such as increasing their identification with Clinton. These ecologically valid results are consistent with SIT, and suggest supporters affirm their identities following a threat such as the defeat of their candidate during a high-stakes election. We discuss the implications of these findings within the context of the increasingly polarized U.S. electorate.

Supporters and opponents of Donald Trump respond differently to racial cues: An experimental analysis
Matthew Luttig, Christopher Federico & Howard Lavine
Research & Politics, November 2017


A number of recent studies suggest that individuals who exhibit high levels of racial animosity strongly support Donald Trump, while racial liberals strongly oppose him. This paper provides a new experimental analysis of the extent to which supporters and opponents of Trump respond differently to race-related stimuli. Specifically, we examine whether attitudes toward Trump moderate the political impact of racial cues in the environment. We find that white Trump supporters randomly exposed to a black (versus a white) man in the context of soliciting their support for a housing-assistance policy were more opposed to the policy, angrier about the policy, and more likely to blame beneficiaries for their situation. The opposite pattern prevailed among whites with unfavorable opinions of Trump. Our results help provide new insight into how Trump supporters and opponents differ in their responses to the salience of race in American politics.

Nostalgia for America's Past Can Buffer Collective Guilt
Matthew Baldwin, Mark White & Daniel Sullivan
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming


This research examined when, and for whom, American collective nostalgia can relieve feelings of collective guilt. In the Pilot Study, path analyses revealed that national glorification is associated with collective nostalgia, and collective nostalgia is associated with lower collective guilt. Our experimental studies test the role of these variables in determining responses to the elevated salience of past ingroup harm doing. Collective nostalgia was associated with lower collective guilt especially after reminders of America's harm doing in Study 1. In Study 2 we predicted and showed that reminders of American harm doing would evoke spontaneous collective nostalgia for participants high in national glorification. The remaining studies tested the hypothesis that collective nostalgia serves to buffer collective guilt. Collective guilt was lower after reminders of past harm doing for participants who engaged in in collective nostalgia (Study 3), and this was especially pronounced for participants high in national glorification (Study 4).

Politics Gets Personal: Effects of Political Partisanship and Advertising on Family Ties
Keith Chen & Ryne Rohla
University of California Working Paper, November 2017


Research on growing American political polarization and antipathy primarily studies effects on public institutions and political processes, ignoring private effects such as damaged family ties. Using smartphone-tracking data and precinct-level voting, we show that politically divided families shortened Thanksgiving dinners by 20-30 minutes following the divisive 2016 election. This decline survives comparisons with 2015 and extensive demographic and spatial controls, and more than doubles in media markets with heavy political advertising. These effects appear asymmetric: while Democratic voters traveled less in 2016, political differences shortened Thanksgiving dinners more among Republican voters, especially where political advertising was heaviest. Partisan polarization may degrade close family ties with large aggregate implications; we estimate 27 million person-hours of cross-partisan Thanksgiving discourse were lost in 2016 to ad-fueled partisan effects.

Comprehensively-measured authoritarianism does predict vote choice: The importance of authoritarianism's facets, ideological sorting, and the particular candidate
Steven Ludeke, Camilla Klitgaard & Joseph Vitriol
Personality and Individual Differences, March 2018, Pages 209-216


Commonly used measures of authoritarian predispositions have received mixed support as a predictor of political preferences in American elections. Using new survey data (N = 1,444), we demonstrated how imprecise conceptualization and measurement of authoritarianism can obscure its relationship to candidate preferences. First, authoritarians have largely sorted into the Republican Party and self-identified as conservative, thereby attenuating the predictive power of authoritarianism when such features are used as controls or selection criteria. Second, the authoritarianism measure typically used in election studies covers a limited range of the construct, specifically focusing on the facet of authoritarianism we observed to be least associated with support for Republicans candidates in the 2016 American electoral context. We find predictive gains both from more comprehensive measurement of authoritarianism and from analyzing facet-level authoritarianism.

A Genetic Basis of Economic Egalitarianism
Nemanja Batrićević & Levente Littvay
Social Justice Research, December 2017, Pages 408-437


Studies of political attitudes and ideologies have sought to explain their origin. They have been assumed to be a result of political values ingrained during the process of socialization until early adulthood, as well as personal political experience, party affiliation, social strata, etc. As a consequence of these environment-dominated explanations, most biology-based accounts of political preference have never been considered. However, in the light of evidence accumulated in recent years, the view that political attitudes are detached from any physical properties became unsustainable. In this paper, we investigate the origins of social justice attitudes, with special focus on economic egalitarianism and its potential genetic basis. We use Minnesota Twin Study data from 2008, collected from samples of monozygotic and dizygotic twin pairs (n = 573) in order to estimate the additive genetic, shared environmental, and unique environmental components of social justice attitudes. Our results show that the large portion of the variance in a four-item economic egalitarianism scale can be attributed to genetic factor. At the same time, shared environment, as a socializing factor, has no significant effect. The effect of environment seems to be fully reserved for unique personal experience. Our findings further problematize a long-standing view that social justice attitudes are dominantly determined by socialization.

The Role of Genes and Environments in Linking the Need to Evaluate with Political Ideology and Political Extremity
Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz & Robert Krueger
Social Justice Research, December 2017, Pages 381-407


Understanding the origins of political ideology and political extremity at the individual level is becoming increasingly pressing in the face of polarization in the political domain. Building upon the motivated social cognition model of political ideology, we propose a motivated cognition approach to the study of political extremity with the need to evaluate as a key epistemic motive that contributes to political extremity. Moreover, we hypothesize that the link between the need to evaluate and political extremity may rest largely on shared genetic effects. This hypothesis builds upon existing biology and politics research, which has convincingly demonstrated that genes influence the direction of ideology, but has been largely silent on the role of genes in political extremity. To test our hypothesis, we consider several types of ideological, affective, and partisan extremity alongside conventional measures of political ideology and the need to evaluate in a behavioral genetic framework. Using a twin study methodology, we show for the first that the need to evaluate is heritable, that its phenotypic relationships with ideological extremity and strength are rooted in shared genetic influences, and, unexpectedly, that the relationship between the need to evaluate and some forms of political extremity is largely environmental. In examining the genetic and environmental components of the covariation of the need to evaluate with political ideology and right wing authoritarianism, we find limited support for shared genetic influences. Taken together, these results illustrate the value of adopting a biologically informed motivated cognition approach to the study of political ideology and political extremity.

The Polarizing Effects of Online Partisan Criticism: Evidence from Two Experiments
Elizabeth Suhay, Emily Bello-Pardo & Brianna Maurer
International Journal of Press/Politics, forthcoming


Affective and social political polarization - a dislike of political opponents and a desire to avoid their company - are increasingly salient and pervasive features of politics in many Western democracies, particularly the United States. One contributor to these related phenomena may be increasing exposure to online political disagreements in which ordinary citizens criticize, and sometimes explicitly demean, opponents. This article presents two experimental studies that assessed whether U.S. partisans' attitudes became more prejudiced in favor of the in-party after exposure to online partisan criticism. In the first study, we draw on an online convenience sample to establish that partisan criticism that derogates political opponents increases affective polarization. In the second, we replicate these findings with a quasi-representative sample and extend the pattern of findings to social polarization. We conclude that online partisan criticism likely has contributed to rising affective and social polarization in recent years between Democrats and Republicans in the United States, and perhaps between partisan and ideological group members in other developed democracies as well. We close by discussing the troubling implications of these findings in light of continuing attempts by autocratic regimes and other actors to influence democratic elections via false identities on social media.

The politics of social status: Economic and cultural roots of the populist right
Noam Gidron & Peter Hall
British Journal of Sociology, November 2017, Pages S57-S84


This paper explores the factors that have recently increased support for candidates and causes of the populist right across the developed democracies, especially among a core group of working-class men. In the context of debates about whether the key causal factors are economic or cultural, we contend that an effective analysis must rest on understanding how economic and cultural developments interact to generate support for populism. We suggest that one way to do so is to see status anxiety as a proximate factor inducing support for populism, and economic and cultural developments as factors that combine to precipitate such anxiety. Using cross-national survey data from 20 developed democracies, we assess the viability of this approach. We show that lower levels of subjective social status are associated with support for right populist parties, identify a set of economic and cultural developments likely to have depressed the social status of men without a college education, and show that the relative social status of those men has declined since 1987 in many of the developed democracies. We conclude that status effects provide one pathway through which economic and cultural developments may combine to increase support for the populist right.

Gender, Partisanship, and Issue Gaps
Mary-Kate Lizotte
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, forthcoming


A defining feature of American politics, including party identification, is the question of the proper role of government. Partisanship is a prevailing way that individuals organize their attitudes. Democrats should take the Democratic Party's positions, and Republicans should take the Republican Party's positions. Instead, people have conflicting considerations that shape their opinions. Given that gender is integral in structuring individuals' positions in society, it is reasonable to expect that gender differences might produce intraparty differences. This article establishes a gender gap in scope of government that transcends partisanship. Using the cumulative American National Election Study Data 1994-2008, I find strong evidence that for a number of issue areas, women are more supportive of an activist government than men of the same party. Preferences regarding the scope of government provide a coherent explanation for these observed gaps.

Truth Bias and Partisan Bias in Political Deception Detection
David Clementson
Journal of Language and Social Psychology, forthcoming


This study tests the effects of political partisanship on voters' perception and detection of deception. Based on social identity theory, in-group members should consider their politician's message truthful while the opposing out-group would consider the message deceptive. Truth-default theory predicts that a salient in-group would be susceptible to deception from their in-group politician. In an experiment, partisan voters in the United States (N = 618) watched a news interview in which a politician was labeled Democratic or Republican. The politician either answered all the questions or deceptively evaded a question. Results indicated that the truth bias largely prevailed. Voters were more likely to be accurate in their detection when the politician answered and did not dodge. Truth-default theory appears robust in a political setting, as truth bias holds (as opposed to deception bias). Accuracy in detection also depends on group affiliation. In-groups are accurate when their politician answers, and inaccurate when he dodges. Out-groups are more accurate than in-groups when a politician dodges, but still exhibit truth bias.

Conservatism and the Neural Circuitry of Threat: Economic Conservatism Predicts Greater Amygdala-BNST Connectivity During Periods of Threat vs. Safety
Walker Pedersen, Tugan Muftuler & Christine Larson
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming


Political conservatism is associated with an increased negativity bias, including increased attention and reactivity toward negative and threatening stimuli. Although the amygdala has been implicated in the human response to threatening stimuli, no studies to date have investigated whether conservatism is associated with altered amygdala function toward threat. Furthermore, although an influential theory (Davis et al., 2010) posits that connectivity between the amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) is important in initiating the response to sustained or uncertain threat, whether individual differences in conservatism modulate this connectivity is unknown. To test whether conservatism is associated with increased reactivity in neural threat circuitry, we measured participants' self-reported social and economic conservatism and asked them to complete high-resolution fMRI scans while under threat of an unpredictable shock and while safe. We found that economic conservatism predicted greater connectivity between the BNST and a cluster of voxels in the left amygdala during threat vs. safety. These results suggest that increased amygdala-BNST connectivity during threat may be a key neural correlate of the enhanced negativity bias found in conservatism.

Waving the Red Cloth: Media Coverage of a Contentious Issue Triggers Polarization
Magdalena Wojcieszak, Rachid Azrout & Claes De Vreese
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming


This study extends the boundary conditions of the work on media effects on polarization by (1) examining whether exposure to news coverage about a contentious political issue polarizes attitudes, especially among the already-polarized citizens; (2) analyzing "easy" and "hard" dimensions of EU attitudes; and (3) offering causal and generalizable evidence in a non-US context. Individual-level data from a representative four-wave panel survey are matched with coded content data on the amount of coverage about the EU in numerous news outlets. Results show that strongly opinionated citizens exposed to news about the EU polarize following exposure, and that the "easy" dimensions of EU attitudes polarize more than the "hard" attitude dimensions. Moreover, polarization emerges among strong EU supporters and opponents alike. These results extend the polarization literature to naturalistic settings and suggest that the polarizing effects of the media may be greater than previously acknowledged.

The Consequences of Elite Party Politics for American Macropartisanship
Corwin Smidt
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


Studies of macropartisanship exclusively focus on presidential performance's role in driving partisan updating. Performance may determine which party benefits from updating, but I propose that the occurrence of mass updating more so depends on whether there are changes to the substance of elite party divisions. The greater the change in what characterizes party differences in Washington the more likely a portion of Americans update their partisanship accordingly. In confirmation, mixture model estimates find a separate updating component within macropartisanship that does not automatically respond to party performance. Instead, updating significantly grows in prominence the more party divisions within Congress change by issue focus and ideological alignment. These findings extend and integrate macropartisanship and issue evolution studies by showing how they can fit together within a more general model of party coalition dynamics.


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