Fighting for the Future

Kevin Lewis

February 23, 2024

Partisan solutions for partisan problems: Electoral threat and Republicans' openness to the COVID-19 vaccine
John Kane & Ian Anson
Politics, Groups, and Identities, forthcoming 


Attitudinal differences among partisan identifiers are commonplace in the American political landscape. As a prominent example, group identities such as Republican party identification increasingly inform attitudes against vaccination. What kinds of frames can counter this powerful influence of partisanship on citizens' attitudes? Recent research suggests that, in some cases, leveraging -- rather than circumventing -- partisan motivations may serve to reduce attitudinal differences, including differences in attitudes toward vaccination. We apply this logic to the partisan gap in openness to the COVID-19 vaccine specifically. Using this important issue as a test case, we theorize that partisans' psychological aversion to electoral loss presents a unique opportunity for the deployment of framing messages designed to increase vaccine openness. We therefore analyze the effects of a "Shot to Win" (STW) message, which frames vaccination as a means of ensuring that a party's members remain healthy enough to vote and defeat the opposing party in upcoming elections. Results of a pre-registered survey experiment provide evidence that STW messaging increases Republican identifiers' openness to COVID-19 vaccination across a variety of attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. More broadly, these results exemplify how partisan identity might be effectively leveraged in service of the public interest.

Lifestyle Polarization: Do Liberals and Conservatives Behave Differently in Daily Life?
Sanaz Talaifar et al.
University of Texas Working Paper, February 2024 


Socializing, moving, working, and leisure form the foundation of human experience. We examined whether these foundational, ostensibly apolitical activities are nevertheless organized along political fault lines, revealing "lifestyle polarization." In a sample of up to 1,373 young adults followed for up to 11,397 days, we quantified the association between political identity and 61 social, movement, work, and leisure behaviors collected from smartphone sensors and logs (i.e., GPS, microphone, calling, texting, unlocks, activity recognition) and ecological momentary assessments (i.e., querying activity level, activities, interaction partners, locations) at multiple temporal levels (i.e., daily, mornings, afternoon, evenings, nights, weekends, weekdays). We found that liberals and conservatives behave differently in everyday life. Behavioral differences between liberals and conservatives were small but robust, observed at most times of the day and week, and were most pronounced in the leisure domain. At the same time, these small behavioral differences were not accurately discerned by observers, who overestimated the extent to which liberals and conservatives within their community behave differently. Together, our results suggest that political identity has penetrated some of the most basic aspects of everyday life, but not to the degree that people think. We argue that lifestyle polarization has the potential to undermine individual wellbeing and societal cohesion.

Negative Downstream Effects of Alarmist Disinformation Discourse: Evidence from the United States
Andreas Jungherr & Adrian Rauchfleisch
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


The threat of disinformation features strongly in public discourse, but scientific findings remain conflicted about disinformation effects and reach. Accordingly, indiscriminate warnings about disinformation risk overestimating its effects and associated dangers. Balanced accounts that document the presence of digital disinformation while accounting for empirically established limits offer a promising alternative. In a preregistered experiment, U.S. respondents were exposed to two treatments designed to resemble typical journalistic contributions discussing disinformation. The treatment emphasizing the dangers of disinformation indiscriminately (T1) raised the perceived dangers of disinformation among recipients. The balanced treatment (T2) lowered the perceived threat level. T1, but not T2, had negative downstream effects, increasing respondent support for heavily restrictive regulation of speech in digital communication environments. Overall, we see a positive correlation among all respondents between the perceived threat of disinformation to societies and dissatisfaction with the current state of democracy.

Causally estimating the effect of YouTube's recommender system using counterfactual bots
Homa Hosseinmardi et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 20 February 2024 


In recent years, critics of online platforms have raised concerns about the ability of recommendation algorithms to amplify problematic content, with potentially radicalizing consequences. However, attempts to evaluate the effect of recommenders have suffered from a lack of appropriate counterfactuals -- what a user would have viewed in the absence of algorithmic recommendations -- and hence cannot disentangle the effects of the algorithm from a user's intentions. Here we propose a method that we call "counterfactual bots" to causally estimate the role of algorithmic recommendations on the consumption of highly partisan content on YouTube. By comparing bots that replicate real users' consumption patterns with "counterfactual" bots that follow rule-based trajectories, we show that, on average, relying exclusively on the YouTube recommender results in less partisan consumption, where the effect is most pronounced for heavy partisan consumers. Following a similar method, we also show that if partisan consumers switch to moderate content, YouTube's sidebar recommender "forgets" their partisan preference within roughly 30 videos regardless of their prior history, while homepage recommendations shift more gradually toward moderate content. Overall, our findings indicate that, at least since the algorithm changes that YouTube implemented in 2019, individual consumption patterns mostly reflect individual preferences, where algorithmic recommendations play, if anything, a moderating role.

Giving to the Extreme? Experimental Evidence on Donor Response to Candidate and District Characteristics
Mellissa Meisels, Joshua Clinton & Gregory Huber
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming 


How does candidate ideology affect donors' contribution decisions in U.S. House elections? Studies of donor motivations have struggled with confounding of candidate, donor, and district characteristics in observational data and the difficulty of assessing trade-offs in surveys. We investigate how these factors affect contribution decisions using experimental vignettes administered to 7,000 verified midterm donors. While ideological congruence influences donors' likelihood of contributing to a candidate, district competitiveness and opponent extremity are equally important. Moreover, the response to ideology is asymmetric and heterogeneous: donors penalize more moderate candidates five times more heavily than more extreme candidates, with the most extreme donors exhibiting the greatest preference for candidates even more extreme than themselves. Republicans also exhibit a greater relative preference for extremism than Democrats, although partisan differences are smaller than differences by donor extremism. Our findings suggest that strategic considerations matter, and donors incentivize candidate extremism even more than previously thought.

Voter Learning, Unidimensional Ideology, and Polarization
Martin Vaeth
Princeton Working Paper, February 2024 


We model a spatial, two-party election where voters can flexibly acquire costly information about their ideal points before voting. In equilibrium, learning about ideal points creates unidimensional and polarized ideology even if the true distribution of ideal points is multidimensional and unimodal. A lower cost of information can lead to more ideological and platform polarization, reducing voter welfare. Under aggregate uncertainty about voter preferences, elections fail to aggregate preferences in more than one dimension and party platforms necessarily lie in a two-dimensional subspace. We also consider an extension to an industrial organization setup, where a lower cost of information translates not only to more product differentiation but also to higher prices, reducing consumer surplus even more.

Can Deliberation Have Lasting Effects?
James Fishkin et al.
American Political Science Review, forthcoming 


Does deliberation produce any lasting effects? "America in One Room" was a national field experiment in which more than 500 randomly selected registered voters were brought from all over the country to deliberate on five major issues facing the country. A pre-post control group was also surveyed on the same questions after the weekend and about a year later. There were significant differences in voting intention and in actual voting behavior a year later among the deliberators compared to the control group. This article accounts for these differences by showing how deliberation stimulated a latent variable of political engagement. If deliberation has lasting effects on political engagement, then it provides a rationale for attempts to scale the deliberative process to much larger numbers. The article considers methods for doing so in the context of the broader debate about mini-publics, isolated spheres of deliberation situated within a largely non-deliberative society.

Selecting Out of "Politics": The Self-Fulfilling Role of Conflict Expectation
Eric Groenendyk et al.
American Political Science Review, forthcoming 


In recent decades, the term "politics" has become almost synonymous with conflict. Results from eight studies show that individuals averse to conflict tend to select out of surveys and discussions explicitly labeled as "political." This suggests that the inferences researchers draw from "political" surveys, as well as the impressions average Americans draw from explicitly "political" discussions, will be systematically biased toward conflict. We find little evidence that these effects can be attenuated by emphasizing deliberative norms. However, conflict averse individuals are more willing to discuss ostensibly political topics such as the economy, climate change, and racial inequality, despite reluctance to discuss "politics" explicitly. Moreover, they express greater interest in politics when it is defined in terms of laws and policies and debate is deemphasized. Overall, these findings suggest the expectation of conflict may have a self-fulfilling effect, as contexts deemed explicitly "political" will be composed primarily of conflict seekers.

Asymmetries in Potential for Partisan Gerrymandering
Nicholas Goedert et al.
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming 


This article investigates the effectiveness of potential partisan gerrymandering of the US House of Representatives across a range of states. We use a heuristic algorithm to generate district maps that optimize for multiple objectives, including compactness, partisan benefit, and competitiveness. While partisan gerrymandering is highly effective for both sides, we find that the majority of states are moderately biased toward Republicans when optimized for either compactness or partisan benefit, meaning that Republican gerrymanders have the potential to be more effective. However, we also find that more densely populated and more heavily Hispanic states show less Republican bias or even Democratic bias. Additionally, we find that in almost all cases we can generate reasonably compact maps with very little sacrifice to partisan objectives through a mixed-objective function. This suggests that there is a strong potential for stealth partisan gerrymanders that are both compact and beneficial to one party. Nationwide, partisan gerrymandering is capable of swinging over 100 seats in the US House, even when compact districts are simultaneously sought.

Conservative Talk Radio and Political Persuasion in the US, 1950-1970
Oliver Engist, Paul Matzko & Erik Merkus
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming 


Conservative Talk Radio continues to shape US politics in the 21st century, but it has a deeper history. Using newly digitized archival records, we provide new evidence on the electoral effects of Conservative Talk Radio in the historically consequential period from 1950 to 1970. Conservative radio hosts like Clarence Manion, Billy James Hargis, and Carl McIntire rapidly expanded their network during the early 1960s before the Kennedy administration took regulatory steps to dismantle their business model. We find that in counties where these shows aired on local stations, the Republican vote share increased following their introduction. Anticipatory effects are small and insignificant, which supports a causal interpretation of this effect.


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