Feeding the trolls

Kevin Lewis

June 22, 2018

Affective Polarization or Partisan Disdain?: Untangling a Dislike for the Opposing Party from a Dislike of Partisanship
Samara Klar, Yanna Krupnikov & John Barry Ryan
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming


Recent scholarship suggests that American partisans dislike other party members so much that partisanship has become the main social divide in modern politics. We argue that at least one measure of this “affective polarization” conflates a dislike for members of the other party with a dislike for partisanship in general. The measure asks people how they feel about their child marrying someone from another party. What seems like negative affect toward the other party is, in fact, negative affect toward partisans from either side of the aisle and political discussion in general. Relying on two national experiments, we demonstrate that although some Americans are politically polarized, more simply want to avoid talking about politics. In fact, many people do not want their child to marry someone from their own party if that hypothetical in-law were to discuss politics frequently. Supplementary analyses using ANES feeling thermometers show that inparty feeling thermometer ratings have decreased in recent years among weak and leaning partisans. As a result, the feeling thermometer results confirm the conclusion from the experiments. Polarization is a phenomenon concentrated in the one-third of Americans who consider themselves strong partisans. More individuals are averse to partisan politics. The analyses demonstrate how affective polarization exists alongside weakening partisan identities.

When Common Identities Decrease Trust: An Experimental Study of Partisan Women
Samara Klar
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


How does sharing a common gender identity affect the relationship between Democratic and Republican women? Social psychological work suggests that common ingroup identities unite competing factions. After closely examining the conditions upon which the common ingroup identity model depends, I argue that opposing partisans who share the superordinate identity of being a woman will not reduce their intergroup biases. Instead, I predict that raising the salience of their gender will increase cross‐party biases. I support my hypotheses with a nationally representative survey of 3,000 adult women and two survey experiments, each with over 1,000 adult women. These findings have direct implications for how women evaluate one another in contentious political settings and, more broadly, for our understanding of when we can and cannot rely upon common identities to bridge the partisan divide.

Moralization in social networks and the emergence of violence during protests
Marlon Mooijman et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, June 2018, Pages 389-396


In recent years, protesters in the United States have clashed violently with police and counter-protesters on numerous occasions. Despite widespread media attention, little scientific research has been devoted to understanding this rise in the number of violent protests. We propose that this phenomenon can be understood as a function of an individual’s moralization of a cause and the degree to which they believe others in their social network moralize that cause. Using data from the 2015 Baltimore protests, we show that not only did the degree of moral rhetoric used on social media increase on days with violent protests but also that the hourly frequency of morally relevant tweets predicted the future counts of arrest during protests, suggesting an association between moralization and protest violence. To better understand the structure of this association, we ran a series of controlled behavioural experiments demonstrating that people are more likely to endorse a violent protest for a given issue when they moralize the issue; however, this effect is moderated by the degree to which people believe others share their values. We discuss how online social networks may contribute to inflations of protest violence.

The Real Reason Liberals Drink Lattes
Diana Mutz & Jahnavi Rao
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming

"Assuming there is empirical support for a positive relationship between latte drinking and liberal ideology, the challenge is understanding why. Toward that end, we examine four possible explanations...[W]e consider differences in the availability of lattes by controlling for the number of Starbucks in each respondent’s ZIP code area. Availability definitely matters; people residing in areas with more coffee shops are more likely to drink lattes. However, after including the availability predictor, the size of the coefficient corresponding to liberalness does not change...[W]e instead include income in the model as a predictor. Higher household incomes do, indeed, predict greater latte consumption. But again, the coefficient corresponding to liberalness does not change...[W]omen are more likely to prefer lattes than men. Nonetheless, gender has no effect on the predictive value of liberalness...[N]ationalism does indeed negatively predict latte drinking. Moreover, unlike the previous analyses, once nationalism is taken into account, the coefficient for liberalness diminishes from 0.08 (p<0.05) to 0.01, and it is no longer statistically significant."

A Dialogue between a Populist and an Economist
Tito Boeri et al.
American Economic Review, May 2018, Pages 191-195


In this imaginary dialogue, a populist and an economist discuss the role of economic shocks to explain populism. A simple correlation between economic shocks and populism is weak. However, economic shocks can explain well the phenomenon of populism in countries with low pre-existent level of trust. This is confirmed both at the macro cross-country level and also by micro evidence obtained from surveys. Finally, this finding is consistent with the "ideational approach" in political science, which emphasizes how the populist narrative opposes the "corrupt elite" to the "virtuous people."

I know why you voted for Trump: (Over)inferring motives based on choice
Kate Barasz, Tami Kim & Ioannis Evangelidis
Cognition, forthcoming


People often speculate about why others make the choices they do. This paper investigates how such inferences are formed as a function of what is chosen. Specifically, when observers encounter someone else’s choice (e.g., of political candidate), they use the chosen option’s attribute values (e.g., a candidate’s specific stance on a policy issue) to infer the importance of that attribute (e.g., the policy issue) to the decision-maker. Consequently, when a chosen option has an attribute whose value is extreme (e.g., an extreme policy stance), observers infer - sometimes incorrectly - that this attribute disproportionately motivated the decision-maker’s choice. Seven studies demonstrate how observers use an attribute’s value to infer its weight - the value-weight heuristic - and identify the role of perceived diagnosticity: more extreme attribute values give observers the subjective sense that they know more about a decision-maker’s preferences, and in turn, increase the attribute’s perceived importance. The paper explores how this heuristic can produce erroneous inferences and influence broader beliefs about decision-makers.

Critical Events and Attitude Change: Support for Gun Control After Mass Shootings
Jon Rogowski & Patrick Tucker
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


When and to what extent do crises and significant events induce changes in political attitudes? Theories of public opinion and policymaking predict that major events restructure public opinion and pry open new political opportunities. We examine the effect of major events on support for public policies in the context of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in December 2012 using a nationally representative panel survey of US adults. Across both cross-sectional and within-subject analyses, we find no evidence that Americans granted greater support for gun control after the Sandy Hook shooting. Our null findings persist across a range of political and demographic groups. We also find no evidence of attitude polarization as a result of Sandy Hook. Our results suggest that elite polarization in a particular issue area leads citizens to employ motivated reasoning when interpreting critical events, thereby reducing the capacity for attitude change. Our findings have important implications for identifying the conditions under which major events affect support for public policies and create political opportunities for policy change.

Conservatives Report Greater Meaning in Life Than Liberals
David Newman et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming 


Conservatives report greater life satisfaction than liberals, but this relationship is relatively weak. To date, the evidence is limited to a narrow set of well-being measures that ask participants for a single assessment of their life in general. We address this shortcoming by examining the relationship between political orientation and well-being using measures of life satisfaction, affect, and meaning and purpose in life. Participants completed well-being measures after reflecting on their whole life (Studies 1a, 1b, and 2), at the end of their day (Study 3), and in the present moment (Study 4). Across five studies, conservatives reported greater meaning and purpose in life than liberals at each reporting period. This finding remained significant after adjusting for religiosity and was usually stronger than the relationships involving other well-being measures. Finally, meaning in life was more closely related to social conservatism than economic conservatism.

Blue is Black and Red is White? Affective Polarization and the Racialized Schemas of U.S. Party Coalitions
Nicholas Valentino & Kirill Zhirkov
University of Michigan Working Paper, April 2018


Growing antipathy between supporters of the two major U.S. parties, a phenomenon labeled affective polarization, has been well documented. One of the most compelling explanations for this trend concerns partisan sorting on the basis of a host of salient group identities in the electorate, including religion, class, ideology, race and perhaps others. We propose a narrower catalyst is at work: affective polarization is driven mostly by the increasing overlap between racial and partisan schemas in the mind of the average citizen. We test the implications of this claim using three studies. First, time series evidence from the American National Election Studies reveals the influence of racial attitudes on partisan affect has grown more rapidly than that of non-racial attitudes. Second, an original implicit-association test demonstrates respondents with racialized party schemas display much more affective polarization. Third, matches between a respondent’s race and their perception of party produce more affective polarization, unlike perceived matches between parties and religious or class identity.

From Backwaters to Major Policymakers: Policy Polarization in the States, 1970-2014
Jacob Grumbach
Perspectives on Politics, June 2018, Pages 416-435


Political scientists often characterize state and local governments as marginal and highly constrained in policymaking. However, I suggest that in recent decades state governments have moved from the margins to the center of partisan battles over the direction of U.S. public policy. Across 16 issue areas, I investigate interstate policy variation, policy differences across states, and policy polarization, the changing relationship between party control of state government and policy outcomes. Since the 1970s, interstate variation has increased such that an individual’s tax burden, right to obtain an abortion, and other relationships to government are increasingly determined by her state of residence. Policy polarization increases dramatically after 2000 in 14 of the 16 areas. I show that party control increasingly predicts socioeconomic outcomes in the polarized area of health care, but not in the nonpolarized area of criminal justice.

Sports Fandom and Political Attitudes
Emily Thorson & Michael Serazio
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming 


A majority of Americans identify as sports fans, and sports broadcasts attract substantially larger audiences than news on both broadcast and cable television. But despite the outsize role of sports in American life, we know little about how - or whether - sports fandom is related to political attitudes. This paper draws on a representative survey to examine (1) the association between sports fandom and political opinions; and (2) opposition to the “politicization” of sports. Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to follow sports closely. However, sports fandom is positively associated with individualistic attributions for economic success and support for the US military. In addition, conservatives are more likely to resist the intrusion of partisan politics into sports.

Personality and Political Preferences Over Time: Evidence From a Multi‐Wave Longitudinal Study
Pierce Ekstrom & Christopher Federico
Journal of Personality, forthcoming

Method: We rely on a 6‐wave nationwide longitudinal survey from the 2008 U.S. election that included 20,000 respondents. Mean age: 49 (SD=15). 53% of respondents were women, 47% men. 82% were White, 8% Black, 6% Hispanic/Latino, 1% Asian, 1% Native American, and 2% other. Survey weights were applied to approximate a representative sample of the U.S. population. Ns for reported analyses range from 5,160 to 12,535.

Results: First, conscientiousness and openness to experience were significantly associated with changes in outcomes over time, such that individuals higher in conscientiousness and lower in openness tended to become more conservative, identify as more Republican, and evaluate John McCain more favorably relative to Barack Obama. Second, the effects of personality on candidate evaluations were mediated by partisanship and ideology. Finally, we find that the relations between traits and late‐campaign candidate evaluations are stronger than those between traits and early‐campaign candidate evaluations.

Policy Feedback as Political Weapon: Conservative Advocacy and the Demobilization of the Public Sector Labor Movement
Alexander Hertel-Fernandez
Perspectives on Politics, June 2018, Pages 364-379 


Scholars have shown that once in place policies can foster greater political participation. Indeed, politicians often deliberately design policies to shore up political support among their allies. But can political actors engineer the reverse effect, crafting policies that demobilize their rivals? Drawing on the example of conservative cross-state advocacy against public sector unions, I describe the strategy of policy feedback as political weapon, or when actors design policies to politically weaken their opponents. I then document that the passage of conservative network-backed legislation led to large and enduring declines in public sector union density and revenue. I further show that by curbing the power of public unions, the passage of conservative network-backed bills dampened the political participation of public sector employees. My findings emphasize the importance of considering how actors use policy to demobilize political opponents and explain why public unions are now on the defensive in state politics.

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