Brandon is the Message

Kevin Lewis

November 12, 2021

How affective polarization undermines support for democratic norms
Jon Kingzette et al.
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming

Does affective polarization -- the tendency to view opposing partisans negatively and co-partisans positively -- undermine support for democratic norms? We argue that it does, through two mechanisms. First, in an age of elite polarization, norms have been politicized. This leads affectively polarized partisans to oppose particular constitutional protections when their party is in power but support them when their party is out of power, via a cue-taking mechanism. Second, affective polarization may generate biases that motivate voters to restrict the other party’s rights. Using nationally representative surveys, we find strong support for the cue-taking argument. In 2019, with a Republican administration in power, affectively polarized Republicans opposed constitutional protections while affectively polarized Democrats supported them. The reverse was true in 2012 during a Democratic administration. The findings have important, albeit troubling, implications for American democracy, as affective polarization undermines support for basic democratic principles. 

Moral Leadership in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
William Kidd & Joseph Vitriol
Political Psychology, forthcoming

Voters commonly revise their political beliefs to align with the political leaders with whom they strongly identify, suggesting voters lack a coherent ideological structure causally prior to their political loyalties. Alternatively, voters may organize their preferences around nonideological concepts or values, such as moral belief. Using a four-wave panel study during the 2016 election, we examine the relationship between voters' own moral foundations and their perceptions of the candidates' moral beliefs. We observed a bidirectional relationship among Republicans, who revised both their own moral beliefs and their perceptions of Donald Trump to reduce incongruities. In contrast, Democrats revised their perceptions of Hillary Clinton to align with their own moral beliefs. Importantly, consistency between voters' and political candidates' moral beliefs was more common among partisans and led to polarized evaluations of the two candidates on Election Day. 

Complicating the Role of White Racial Attitudes and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in the 2016 US Presidential Election
Peter Enns & Ashley Jardina
Public Opinion Quarterly, Summer 2021, Pages 539–570

Some scholars argue that Donald Trump’s electoral college victory in 2016 was predicated on his ability to attract racially hostile white voters. Others argue that the increased relationship between whites’ racial attitudes and presidential vote choice in 2016 was because racial attitudes and partisanship had become even more aligned following the presidency of Barack Obama. Building on research that shows voters tend to update their policy positions to align with their preferred candidates, we propose a third mechanism that helps account for the strong relationship between whites’ racial attitudes and vote choice in 2016. We hypothesize that over the course of the presidential campaign, many whites shifted their survey responses on questions related to race and immigration to align with their support for Trump or Clinton. To test this argument, we use a unique panel dataset from surveys conducted by YouGov of more than 5,000 respondents interviewed at multiple points during the 2016 presidential election campaign. We find that the strong link between white attitudes toward Black Americans and Trump support observed in prior studies is likely due as much to white Trump supporters updating their survey responses to report opinions more consistent with Trump’s, as it is to Trump drawing support from more racially antagonistic white voters. Similar results emerge with respect to whites’ immigration opinions. These findings complicate our understanding of the 2016 election by offering direct evidence that Trump’s campaign benefited from and catalyzed racial divisions. The results also hold implications for how we study election and campaign effects and the stability of race and immigration attitudes. 

Mobile Internet and Political Polarization
Nikita Melnikov
Princeton Working Paper, November 2021

How has mobile internet affected political polarization in the United States? Using Gallup Daily Poll data covering 1,765,114 individuals in 31,499 ZIP codes between 2008 and 2017, I show that, after gaining access to 3G internet, Democratic voters became more liberal in their political views and increased their support for Democratic congressional candidates and policy priorities, while Republican voters shifted in the opposite direction. This increase in polarization largely did not take place among social media users. Instead, following the arrival of 3G, active internet and social media users from both parties became more pro-Democratic, whereas less-active users became more pro-Republican. This divergence is partly driven by differences in news consumption between the two groups: after the arrival of 3G, active internet users decreased their consumption of Fox News, increased their consumption of CNN, and increased their political knowledge. Polarization also increased due to a political realignment of voters: wealthy, well-educated people became more liberal; poor, uneducated people -- more conservative. 

Of pandemics, politics, and personality: The role of conscientiousness and political ideology in the sharing of fake news
Asher Lawson & Hemant Kakkar
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming

Sharing misinformation can be catastrophic, especially during times of national importance. Typically studied in political contexts, the sharing of fake news has been positively linked with conservative political ideology. However, such sweeping generalizations run the risk of increasing already rampant political polarization. We offer a more nuanced account by proposing that the sharing of fake news is largely driven by low conscientiousness conservatives. At high levels of conscientiousness there is no difference between liberals and conservatives. We find support for our hypotheses in the contexts of COVID-19, political, and neutral news across eight studies (six preregistered; two conceptual replications) with 4,642 participants and 91,144 unique participant-news observations. A general desire for chaos explains the interactive effect of political ideology and conscientiousness on the sharing of fake news. Furthermore, our findings indicate the inadequacy of fact-checker interventions to deter the spread of fake news. This underscores the challenges associated with tackling fake news, especially during a crisis like COVID-19 where misinformation impairs the ability of governments to curtail the pandemic. 

Moral Polarization Predicts Support for Authoritarian and Progressive Strong Leaders via the Perceived Breakdown of Society
Charlie Crimston, Hema Preya Selvanathan & Jolanda Jetten
Political Psychology, forthcoming

Polarization in society may hold consequences beyond the undermining of social cohesion. Here we provide the first evidence highlighting the power of perceived moral polarization in society to drive support for strong leaders. Across two studies and four samples drawn from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States (N = 1,664), we found evidence linking perceived moral polarization with perceived anomie in society (defined as the perceived breakdown of social fabric and leadership) and with the rise in support for leaders with both a conservative/authoritarian and progressive/democratic style. Specifically, via the perceived breakdown in social fabric, heightened moral polarization predicted increased support for conservative/authoritarian style strong leaders, and via the perceived breakdown of leadership, increased support for progressive/democratic style strong leaders. Experimentally, using a fictionalized society paradigm, we then established causal links between moral polarization and the desire to elect conservative/authoritarian and progressive/democratic strong leaders. The current research is the first to identify the potential political consequences of heightened perceived moral polarization in two-party liberal democracies and contributes to the growing body of research highlighting the role of societal factors in driving support for strong leaders. 

Poison Parasite Counter: Turning Duplicitous Mass Communications Into Self-Negating Memory-Retrieval Cue
Robert Cialdini et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Disinformation in politics, advertising, and mass communications has proliferated in recent years. Few counterargumentation strategies have proven effective at undermining a deceptive message over time. This article introduces the Poison Parasite Counter (PPC), a cognitive-science-based strategy for durably countering deceptive communications. The PPC involves inserting a strong (poisonous) counter-message, just once, into a close replica of a deceptive rival’s original communication. In parasitic fashion, the original communication then “hosts” the counter-message, which is recalled on each reexposure to the original communication. The strategy harnesses associative memory to turn the original communication into a retrieval cue for a negating counter-message. Seven experiments (N = 3,679 adults) show that the PPC lastingly undermines a duplicitous rival’s original communication, influencing judgments of communicator honesty and favorability as well as real political donations. 

Residential Constraints and the Political Geography of the Populist Radical Right: Evidence from France 
Pauliina Patana
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming

What explains variation in populist radical right (PRR) support within Western democracies? Specifically, why is contemporary PRR support often and increasingly stronger in areas seemingly detached from the effects of globalization, transnationalism, or immigration, the key issues these parties emphasize? This study articulates a theory of residential constraints to deepen understanding of these spatial patterns. I hypothesize that when citizens are residentially constrained—that is, when their means of reacting to local conditions and “voting with their feet” are limited—they are more likely to support PRR parties. To test this claim, I use a multimethod research design and exploit both quantitative and qualitative evidence from France, an important case of long-standing and geographically divided PRR support. I demonstrate that the PRR performs well in areas where locals’ access to services and opportunities is compromised and where opportunities and incentives to relocate are blocked by residential constraints. Residential constraints thus generate a set of relative economic grievances and render them highly salient in localities that may otherwise appear unaffected by more objective hardships and structural decay. 

The Hostile Mediator Phenomenon: When Threatened, Rival Partisans Perceive Various Mediators as Biased Against Their Group
Omer Yair
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming

Rival partisans tend to perceive ostensibly balanced news coverage as biased against their respective sides; this is known as the “hostile media phenomenon” (HMP). Yet complaints of hostile bias are common in contexts besides the media (e.g., law enforcement and academia). Does a process similar to the HMP occur outside the context of news coverage? And do perceptions of political bias in different contexts share certain similarities? This paper proposes that the HMP is a specific case of a more general hostile mediator phenomenon, where rival partisans perceive various public institutions and organizations that are expected to be neutral as biased against their respective sides. The paper starts by presenting a theoretical framework according to which partisans’ bias perceptions are affected by the threat to the power and status of their ingroup posed by a mediator’s actions. Evidence from three studies (total N = 4,164) shows that members of rival ideological camps in Israel perceived the Israeli attorney general and the Israeli police to be biased against their respective camps. An additional study (N = 2,172) shows that both Democrats and Republicans perceived the social network Facebook to be biased against their side. Moreover, an embedded, pre-registered survey experiment buttresses the causal claim that ingroup-threatening information increases perceptions of hostile bias. The implications of these findings for our understanding of people’s bias perceptions, as well as for citizens’ trust in public institutions and democratic stability more generally, are discussed. 

Do American Voters Really Not Punish Overt Undemocratic Behavior at the Polls? Natural Experimental Evidence from the 2021 Insurrection of the U.S. Capitol
Sam van Noort
Princeton Working Paper, November 2021

Existing research suggests that overt undemocratic behavior by elected officials is insufficiently punished by American voters to electorally discourage democratic backsliding. Evidence for this proposition comes primarily from hypothetical survey experiments with relatively weak treatments. I test this hypothesis using a natural experiment with a powerful treatment: Donald Trump’s incitement of the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. The insurrection was unexpected to the general public, did not coincide with other events that could plausibly affect public opinion, and occurred while Gallup was conducting a nationally representative survey using random digit dialing. Comparing vote choice intention among respondents that were interviewed just before, and just after, the insurrection occurred suggests that the insurrection caused a 10.8% decline in support for the Republican Party, and an 8.4% increase in support for the Democratic Party. Politicians interested in winning elections have strong incentives to avoid insurrection-like events from occurring. 

No Polarization From Partisan News: Over-Time Evidence From Trace Data
Magdalena Wojcieszak et al.
International Journal of Press/Politics, forthcoming

Many blame partisan news media for polarization in America. This paper examines the effects of liberal, conservative, and centrist news on affective and attitude polarization. To this end, we rely on two studies that combine two-wave panel surveys (N1 = 303, N2 = 904) with twelve months worth of web browsing data submitted by the same participants comprising roughly thirty-eight million visits. We identify news exposure using an extensive list of news domains and develop a machine learning classifier to identify exposure to political news within these domains. The results offer a robust pattern of null findings. Exposure to partisan and centrist news websites — no matter if it is congenial or crosscutting — does not enhance polarization. These null effects also emerge among strong and weak partisans as well as Democrats and Republicans alike. We argue that these null results accurately portray the reality of limited effects of news in the “real world.” Politics and partisan news account for a small fraction of citizens’ online activities, less than 2 percent in our trace data, and are nearly unnoticeable in the overall information and communication ecology of most individuals. 

The influence of political partisanship on perceptions of sexual assault
Eyad Naseralla, Glenn Baker & Ruth Warner
Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, forthcoming

Across three studies, we examined the role of victim, perpetrator, and observer political orientation in judgments of sexual assault allegations. Study 1A varied the political orientation of the alleged perpetrator, whereas Study 1B varied the political orientation of the alleged victim. Study 2 varied the political orientation of both the alleged victim and perpetrator. In Studies 1A, 1B, and 2, Republican participants reported more rape-supportive attitudes than Democratic participants overall. In Study 2, Republican participants showed more rape-supportive attitudes, especially when the perpetrator was Republican or when the victim was Democratic. Additionally, both Democratic and Republican participants felt that the allegations may have been politically motivated when the alleged perpetrator's political orientation matched their own. Results provide evidence that political orientation plays a role in judgments of sexual assault, a factor which appears to be more prevalent among Republicans.


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