The Delegate Paradox: Why Polarized Politicians Can Represent Citizens Best
Douglas Ahler & David Broockman
Stanford Working Paper, May 2017
Many advocate political reforms intended to resolve apparent disjunctures between politicians' ideologically polarized policy positions and citizens' less-polarized policy preferences. We show these apparent disjunctures can arise even when politicians represent their constituencies well, and that resolving them would likely degrade representation. These counterintuitive results arise from a paradox whereby polarized politicians can best represent constituencies comprised of citizens with idiosyncratic preferences. We document this paradox among U.S. House Members, often criticized for excessive polarization. We show that if House Members represented their constituencies' preferences as closely as possible, they would still appear polarized. Moreover, current Members nearly always represent their constituencies better than counterfactual less-polarized Members. A series of experiments confirms that even "moderate" citizens often prefer ostensibly polarized representatives to many less-polarized alternatives.
Television and the Cultivation of Authoritarianism: A Return Visit From an Unexpected Friend
Michael Morgan & James Shanahan
Journal of Communication, forthcoming
The 2016 Presidential election brought a surprise: the rise of Donald Trump as a viable candidate for the Republican nomination. What started as a seeming publicity stunt morphed into something more. Trump raised fears of authoritarianism - and even fascism - that were thought to be mostly confined to other countries. This study uses a national sample to examine television viewing's relationship to authoritarian values. We find that heavy viewers of television are more likely to be authoritarian, and that authoritarians are more likely to support Trump. We find an indirect relationship between amount of viewing and Trump support through authoritarianism. These findings have implications for current political debates as well as for media effects theory.
From Extreme to Mainstream: How Social Norms Unravel
Leonardo Bursztyn, Georgy Egorov & Stefano Fiorin
NBER Working Paper, May 2017
Social norms are typically thought to be persistent and long-lasting, sometimes surviving through growth, recessions, and regime changes. In some cases, however, they can quickly change. This paper examines the unraveling of social norms in communication when new information becomes available, e.g., aggregated through elections. We build a model of strategic communication between citizens who can hold one of two mutually exclusive opinions. In our model, agents communicate their opinions to each other, and senders care about receivers' approval. As a result, senders are more likely to express the more popular opinion, while receivers make less inference about senders who stated the popular view. We test these predictions using two experiments. In the main experiment, we identify the causal effect of Donald Trump's rise in political popularity on individuals' willingness to publicly express xenophobic views. Participants in the experiment are offered a bonus reward if they authorize researchers to make a donation to an anti-immigration organization on their behalf. Participants who expect their decision to be observed by the surveyor are significantly less likely to accept the offer than those expecting an anonymous choice. Increases in participants' perceptions of Trump's popularity (either through experimental variation or through the "natural experiment" of his victory) eliminate the wedge between private and public behavior. A second experiment uses dictator games to show that participants judge a person less negatively for publicly expressing (but not for privately holding) a political view they disagree with if that person's social environment is one where the majority of people holds that view.
Ideological Extremists in the U.S. Congress: Out of Step but Still in Office
Adam Bonica & Gary Cox
Stanford Working Paper, May 2017
In the last generation, congressional moderates have become ideologically more extreme over the course of their careers. We explain this "ideological migration" of moderates as a side effect of close partisan competition for control of the US House since 1994. Competition for the House caused activists, donors and, indirectly, voters to focus on the battle for majority status. Increased attention to partisan competition reduced individual members' ability to escape blame for their parties' actions. Equivalently, it meant that members could deviate from their district preferences and pay a lower electoral penalty; they would be blamed in any event. Our empirical analysis shows that party-centeredness abruptly and dramatically increased after 1994, with the electoral penalty members paid for being out of step with their constituents correspondingly declining. This contributed to an important, albeit complicated, shift from local/personal to national/party representation.
Superheroes for Change: Physical Safety Promotes Socially (but Not Economically) Progressive Attitudes among Conservatives
Jaime Napier et al.
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming
Across two studies, we find evidence for our prediction that experimentally increasing feelings of physical safety increases conservatives' socially progressive attitudes. Specifically, Republican and conservative participants who imagined being endowed with a superpower that made them invulnerable to physical harm (vs. the ability to fly) were more socially (but not economically) liberal (Study 1) and less resistant to social change (Study 2). Results suggest that socially (but not economically) conservative attitudes are driven, at least in part, by needs for safety and security.
"It could turn ugly": Selective disclosure of attitudes in political discussion networks
Sarah Cowan & Delia Baldassarri
Social Networks, forthcoming
This article documents individuals selectively disclosing their political attitudes and discusses the consequences of these communication patterns for social influence and the democratic process. Using a large, diverse sample of U.S. resident adults, we ask under which conditions do people reveal their political preferences versus keeping them close to the vest. We find Americans are more likely to share their opinions with friends and family rather than co-workers and they are more likely to share their opinions on more salient topics. More importantly, they withhold their political attitudes specifically from those with whom they disagree in an attempt to avoid conflict. This produces the experience of highly homogeneous social contexts, in which only liberal or conservative views are voiced, while dissent remains silent, and oftentimes goes unacknowledged. This experience is not the result of homogeneous social contexts but the appearance of them. Paradoxically, the mechanism of selective disclosure, whose goal is to prevent conflict at the micro-level, might lead to the perception of greater division in the larger society.
Is America More Divided by Race or Class? Race, Income, and Attitudes among Whites, African Americans, and Latinos
Jesse Rhodes, Brian Schaffner & Sean McElwee
The Forum: A Journal of Applied Research in Contemporary Politics, April 2017, Pages 71-92
Scholars have long been interested in examining how race and class each shape citizens' political attitudes. To date, however, there have been few efforts to untangle how race and class intersect to shape Americans' political identities and attitudes about public policies. We argue that it is important to investigate attitudes inter-sectionally. Pooling the 2012 and 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies to obtain large numbers of observations of non-whites and individuals with high incomes, we observe patterns of partisan identity, beliefs about racial prejudice, and attitudes about public policies. Our results suggest that race and class intersect in different ways for different groups in society. Increasing income erodes differences in attitudes between Latinos and whites, but has no effect on the large gap in attitudes between African Americans and whites.
Checking How Fact-checkers Check
Stanford Working Paper, May 2017
Fact-checking has gained prominence as a reformist movement to revitalize truth-seeking ideals in journalism. While fact-checkers are often assumed to code facts accurately, no studies have formally assessed fact-checkers' performance. I evaluate the performance of two major online fact-checkers, Politfact at Tampa Bay Times and Fact Checker at Washington Post, comparing their interrater reliability using a method that is regularly utilized across the social sciences. I show that fact-checkers rarely fact-check the same statement, and when they do, there is little agreement in their ratings. Approximately, 1 in 10 statements is fact-checked by both fact-checking outlets, and among claims that both outlets check, their factual ratings have a Cohen's κ of 0.52, an agreement rate much lower than what is acceptable for social scientific coding. The results suggest that difficulties in fact-checking elites' statements may limit the ability of journalistic fact-checking to hold politicians accountable.
Prior Exposure Increases Perceived Accuracy of Fake News
Gordon Pennycook, Tyrone Cannon & David Rand
Yale Working Paper, April 2017
The 2016 US Presidential Election brought considerable attention to the phenomenon of "fake news": entirely fabricated and often highly partisan content that is presented as factual news. Disinformation of this sort poses a major threat to democracy. What explains the success of fake news on social media (and elsewhere)? Here we demonstrate one cognitive mechanism that underlies the believability of fake news: familiarity. Prior work on the illusory truth effect has shown that familiarity increases perceived accuracy of entirely plausible and innocuous (but not necessarily true) statements. We ask whether this effect extends to highly implausible and partisan statements. Using actual fake news headlines presented as they are seen on Facebook, we show that the answer is yes: even a single exposure increases perceptions of accuracy, both within the same session and after a week. Moreover, increased perceptions of accuracy for familiar fake news headlines occurs even when the stories are labeled as contested by fact checkers, or are inconsistent with the reader's political ideology. The effect is also evident when there is no conscious awareness of having previously seen the headline. Collectively, our results indicate familiarity is used heuristically to infer accuracy. Thus, the spread of fake news is supported by persistent low-level cognitive processes that make even highly implausible and partisan claims more believable with repetition. Our results suggest that political echo chambers not only isolate one from opposing views, but also help to create incubation chambers for blatantly false (but highly salient and politicized) fake news stories.
Breaking Down Bipartisanship: When and Why Citizens React to Cooperation across Party Lines
Public Opinion Quarterly, Summer 2017, Pages 473-494
There are currently two competing accounts of how citizens react to bipartisanship. Some scholars claim that citizens desire greater bipartisanship in Congress and punish legislators who are too partisan, while others argue that citizens evaluate bipartisanship in an inconsistent fashion, even to the point of punishing same-party politicians for engaging in bipartisan cooperation. However, neither account actually clarifies when and why citizens value bipartisanship, because existing work has been unable to disentangle the mere fact of bipartisan cooperation from two associated phenomena (legislative accomplishment and civility) and has not identified citizens' reasons for valuing bipartisanship. To address this, I run a national survey experiment through YouGov's online panel varying four aspects of the legislative process: the bipartisanship of a bill's coalition, whether the bill passes or fails, the civility of the debate, and the party affiliation of the bill's sponsor. I find that bipartisanship increases confidence in Congress only when it is paired with legislative accomplishment, but citizens reward bipartisanship by individual legislators regardless of bill passage or failure. Moreover, citizens perceive opposite-party legislators who act in a bipartisan manner to be more public spirited, suggesting that bipartisan cooperation can break down negative stereotypes of the opposite party. My results indicate that legislators who engage in bipartisan cooperation may gain at least a few votes from opposite-party citizens without damaging their standing among same-party citizens, suggesting that the public as a whole should not be blamed for the lack of bipartisanship in Congress.
The Ideological Roots of Institutional Change
Murat Iyigun & Jared Rubin
University of Colorado Working Paper, April 2017
Why do some societies fail to adopt more efficient institutions in response to changing economic conditions? And why do such conditions sometimes generate ideological backlashes and at other times lead to transformative sociopolitical movements? We propose an explanation that highlights the interplay - or lack thereof - between new technologies, ideologies, and institutions. When new technologies emerge, uncertainty results from a lack of understanding how the technology will fit with prevailing ideologies and institutions. This uncertainty discourages investment in institutions and the cultural capital necessary to take advantage of new technologies. Accordingly, increased uncertainty during times of rapid technological change may generate an ideological backlash that puts a higher premium on traditional values. We apply the theory to numerous historical episodes, including Ottoman reform initiatives, the Japanese Tokugawa reforms and Meiji Restoration, and the Tongzhi Restoration in Qing China.
Metacognition in argument generation: The misperceived relationship between emotional investment and argument quality
Dan Johnson et al.
Cognition and Emotion, forthcoming
Overestimation of one's ability to argue their position on socio-political issues may partially underlie the current climate of political extremism in the U.S. Yet very little is known about what factors influence overestimation in argumentation of socio-political issues. Across three experiments, emotional investment substantially increased participants' overestimation. Potential confounding factors like topic complexity and familiarity were ruled out as alternative explanations (Experiments 1-3). Belief-based cues were established as a mechanism underlying the relationship between emotional investment and overestimation in a measurement-of-mediation (Experiment 2) and manipulation-of-mediator (Experiment 3) design. Representing a new bias blind spot, participants believed emotional investment helps them argue better than it helps others (Experiments 2 and 3); where in reality emotional investment harmed or had no effect on argument quality. These studies highlight misguided beliefs about emotional investment as a factor underlying metacognitive miscalibration in the context of socio-political issues.
The Heart Trumps the Head: Desirability Bias in Political Belief Revision
Ben Tappin, Leslie van der Leer & Ryan McKay
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming
Understanding how individuals revise their political beliefs has important implications for society. In a preregistered study (N = 900), we experimentally separated the predictions of 2 leading theories of human belief revision - desirability bias and confirmation bias - in the context of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Participants indicated who they desired to win, and who they believed would win, the election. Following confrontation with evidence that was either consistent or inconsistent with their desires or beliefs, they again indicated who they believed would win. We observed a robust desirability bias - individuals updated their beliefs more if the evidence was consistent (vs. inconsistent) with their desired outcome. This bias was independent of whether the evidence was consistent or inconsistent with their prior beliefs. In contrast, we found limited evidence of an independent confirmation bias in belief updating. These results have implications for the relevant psychological theories and for political belief revision in practice.
Conservative Syndrome: Individual and Cross-Cultural Differences
Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, forthcoming
This article summarizes findings based on the administration of a large number of psychological scales to participants from over 30 countries. The results suggest the existence of a Conservative Syndrome at both individual and country levels of analysis. There are three main groupings of constructs underlying this syndrome: Religiosity, Nastiness/Social Dominance, and Social Awareness/Morality. The evidence also suggests that countries can be divided into Conservative, In-Between and Liberal psychological continents. Individual differences are more pronounced than cross-cultural differences. Religiosity and Nastiness show the largest between-countries differences. Cross-cultural differences on measures of personality, morality, and values are comparatively small.