Freedom Fighters

Kevin Lewis

June 24, 2022

The Political Landscape of the U.S. Twitterverse
Subhayan Mukerjee, Kokil Jaidka & Yphtach Lelkes
Political Communication, forthcoming 

Prior research suggests that Twitter users in the United States are more politically engaged and more partisan than the American citizenry, who are generally characterized by low levels of political knowledge and disinterest in political affairs. This study seeks to understand this disconnect by conducting an observational analysis of the most popular accounts on American Twitter. We identify opinion leaders by drawing random samples of ordinary American Twitter users and observing whom they follow. We estimate the ideological leaning and political relevance of these opinion leaders and crowdsource estimates of perceived ideology. We find little evidence that American Twitter is as politicized as it is made out to be, with politics and hard news outlets constituting a small subset of these opinion leaders. Ordinary Americans are significantly more likely to follow nonpolitical opinion leaders on Twitter than political opinion leaders. We find no evidence of polarization among these opinion leaders either. While a few political professional categories are more polarized than others, the overall polarization dissipates when we factor in the rate at which the opinion leaders tweet: a large number of vocal nonpartisan opinion leaders drowns out the partisan voices on the platform. Our results suggest that the degree to which Twitter is political has likely been overstated in the past. Our findings have implications about how we use Twitter and social media, in general, to represent public opinion in the United States.

Echo Chambers, Rabbit Holes, and Algorithmic Bias: How YouTube Recommends Content to Real Users
Megan Brown et al.
NYU Working Paper, May 2022

To what extent does the YouTube recommendation algorithm push users into echo chambers, ideologically biased content, or rabbit holes? Despite growing popular concern, recent work suggests that the recommendation algorithm is not pushing users into these echo chambers. However, existing research relies heavily on the use of anonymous data collection that does not account for the personalized nature of the recommendation algorithm. We asked a sample of real users to install a browser extension that downloaded the list of videos they were recommended. We instructed these users to start on an assigned video and then click through 20 sets of recommendations, capturing what they were being shown in real time as they used the platform logged into their real accounts. Using a novel method to estimate the ideology of a YouTube video, we demonstrate that the YouTube recommendation algorithm does, in fact, push real users into mild ideological echo chambers where, by the end of the data collection task, liberals and conservatives received different distributions of recommendations from each other, though this difference is small. While we find evidence that this difference increases the longer the user followed the recommendation algorithm, we do not find evidence that many go down `rabbit holes' that lead them to ideologically extreme content. Finally, we find that YouTube pushes all users, regardless of ideology, towards moderately conservative and an increasingly narrow range of ideological content the longer they follow YouTube's recommendations.

Facebook algorithm changes may have amplified local Republican parties
Kevin Reuning, Anne Whitesell & Lee Hannah
Research & Politics, June 2022

In this research note we document changes to the rate of comments, shares, and reactions on local Republican Facebook pages. Near the end of 2018, local Republican parties started to see a much higher degree of interactions on their posts compared to local Democratic parties. We show how this increase in engagement was unique to Facebook and happened across a range of over a thousand local parties. In addition, we use a changepoint model to identify when the change happened and find it lines up with reported information about the change in Facebook’s algorithm in 2018. We conclude that it seems possible that changes in how Facebook rated content led to a doubling of the total shares of local Republican party posts compared to local Democratic party posts in the first half of 2019 even though Democratic parties posted more often during this period. Regardless of Facebook’s motivations, their decision to change the algorithm might have given local Republican parties greater reach to connect with citizens and shape political realities for Americans. The fact that private companies can so easily control the political information flow for millions of Americans raises clear questions for the state of democracy.


Presidential firepower: The effect of the presidential party on gun ownership, 1980–2018
Shawn Ratcliff
Social Science Quarterly, May 2022, Pages 737-751

This study utilizes repeated cross-sectional data from the General Social Survey (1980–2018). Specifically, it uses logistic regression to examine the intersection of the political affiliation of the U.S. president in a given survey year and respondents’ individual political identities.

Although there is no independent effect of the president's political affiliation on gun ownership, the results indicate there is an increase in reported gun ownership among Republicans when a Democrat was in office. A similar increase is observed for Democrats when a Republican is in office.

Negative partisanship is not more prevalent than positive partisanship
Amber Hye-Yon Lee et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming

The dominant narrative among scholars and political pundits characterizes American partisanship as overwhelmingly negative, portraying citizens as more repelled by the opposing party than attached to their own party. To assess the valence of partisan identity, we use various measures collected from several new and existing nationally representative surveys and behavioural outcomes obtained from two experiments. Our findings consistently depart from the negative partisanship narrative. For the majority of Americans, partisanship is either equally positive and negative or more positive than negative. Only partisan leaners stand out as negative partisans. We pair these observational findings with experimental data that differentiate between positive group behaviour and negative group behaviour in the partisan context. We find that the behavioural manifestations of party identity similarly include both positive and negative biases in balance, reinforcing our conclusion that descriptions of partisanship as primarily negative are exaggerated.

The Way we Were: How Histories of Co-Governance Alleviate Partisan Hostility
Will Horne, James Adams & Noam Gidron
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming

Comparative politics scholars argue that consensual democratic institutions encourage power-sharing that promotes “kinder, gentler” politics. We uncover one reason why this is the case: elite inter-party cooperation in consensual systems is associated with reduced inter-party hostility in the mass public. This is because governing parties’ supporters feel much more warmly toward their coalition partner(s) than we can explain based on policy agreement alone. Moreover, these warm affective evaluations linger long after the coalition itself has dissolved. We substantiate our arguments via analyses of CSES survey data from 19 Western democracies between 1996 and 2017, showing that current and past co-governance is associated with substantially warmer inter-party affective evaluations. This implies that electoral systems which encourage coalition governance may defuse partisan hostility.

Have State Policy Agendas Become More Nationalized?
Daniel Butler & Joseph Sutherland
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Previous work has shown that US voters are focused on national news and national issues and that US elections have become more nationalized. We explore whether state policy agendas have become more nationalized over time. We measure the state agenda by analyzing governors’ State of the State addresses from 1960 to 2016. Our analysis shows that state agendas have become more similar to each other over time and that state agendas are more similar to the national agenda (as laid out in the State of the Union address). The nationalization of US politics is not only affecting voters and elections; it is also seen in the nationalization of the policy agenda.

The Conditional Relationship of Psychological Needs to Ideology: A Large-Scale Replication
Trent Ollerenshaw & Christopher Johnston
Public Opinion Quarterly, Summer 2022, Pages 369-380

We offer novel tests of hypotheses regarding the conditional relationship of psychological needs to political ideology. Using five personality measures and a large national sample, our findings affirm that political engagement plays an important moderating role in the relationship between needs for certainty and security and political identification, values, and policy preferences. We find that needs for certainty and security are strongly associated with right-wing political identification and cultural values and policy preferences, particularly among politically engaged citizens. In the economic domain, however, we find that needs for certainty and security are typically associated with left-wing values and policy preferences among politically unengaged citizens. It is only among politically engaged citizens that such needs are associated with right-wing economic values and policy preferences. Our findings confirm the importance of heterogeneity across both ideological domain and political engagement for how psychological needs translate into political ideology in the American mass public.

How local partisan context conditions prosocial behaviors: Mask wearing during COVID-19
Ryan Baxter-King et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 24 May 2022

Does local partisan context influence the adoption of prosocial behavior? Using a nationwide survey of 60,000 adults and geographic data on over 180 million registered voters, we investigate whether neighborhood partisan composition affects a publicly observable and politicized behavior: wearing a mask. We find that Republicans are less likely to wear masks in public as the share of Republicans in their zip codes increases. Democratic mask wearing, however, is unaffected by local partisan context. Consequently, the partisan gap in mask wearing is largest in Republican neighborhoods, and less apparent in Democratic areas. These effects are distinct from other contextual effects such as variations in neighborhood race, income, or education. In contrast, partisan context has significantly reduced influence on unobservable public health recommendations like COVID-19 vaccination and no influence on nonpoliticized behaviors like flu vaccination, suggesting that differences in mask wearing reflect the publicly observable and politicized nature of the behavior instead of underlying differences in dispositions toward medical care. 

Donald Trump and the rationalization of transgressive behavior: The role of group prototypicality and identity advancement
Ben Davies, Carola Leicht & Dominic Abrams
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, forthcoming

Transgressive leadership, especially in politics, can have significant consequences for groups and communities. However, research suggests that transgressive leaders are often granted deviance credit, and regarded sympathetically by followers due to perceptions of the leader's group prototypicality and identity advancement. We extend previous work by examining whether these perceptions additionally play a role in rationalizing the transgressions of a leader and whether deviance credit persists after a leader exits their leadership position. The present three-wave longitudinal study (N = 200) addresses these questions using the applied context of the 2020 US Presidential election. Across three survey waves administered during and after Donald Trump's election loss, Republicans perceived three transgressive behaviors (sharing false information, nepotism, and abuse of power) as less unethical when committed by Donald Trump than when the same behaviors are viewed in isolation. Perceptions of Trump's identity advancement, but not his group prototypicality, predicted the extent to which Republicans downplayed the unethicalness of his transgressions. Decreases in identity advancement across time were also related to increases in perceptions of Trump's unethicalness. Implications for the social identity theory of leadership, subjective group dynamics, and the broader consequences of deviance credit to transgressive leaders are discussed.

Early Adolescents Demonstrate Peer-Network Homophily in Political Attitudes and Values
Benjamin Oosterhoff, Ashleigh Poppler & Cara Palmer
Psychological Science, forthcoming

Research on political homophily has almost exclusively focused on adults, and little is known about whether political homophily is present early in life when political attitudes are forming and friendship networks are rapidly changing. We examined political homophily using a social network approach with rural middle school students (N = 213; mean age = 12.5 years; 57% female) from a remote U.S. community. Preregistered analyses indicated that early adolescents were more likely to spend time with people who shared similar political attitudes and values. These effects were most consistent for right-wing authoritarianism, patriotism, and anti-immigration attitudes. Our results show that political homophily is evident at an early age when young people are forming their political beliefs and making decisions about their friendships, suggesting that peer political-attitude socialization may emerge early in life.

Bayesian Persuasion with Lie Detection
Florian Ederer & Weicheng Min
NBER Working Paper, May 2022

How does lie detection constrain the potential for one person to persuade another to change her action? We consider a model of Bayesian persuasion in which the Receiver can detect lies with positive probability. We show that the Sender lies more when the lie detection probability increases. As long as this probability is sufficiently small, the Sender’s and the Receiver’s equilibrium payoffs are unaffected by the presence of lie detection because the Sender simply compensates by lying more. However, when the lie detection probability is sufficiently high, the Sender’s equilibrium payoff decreases and the Receiver’s equilibrium payoff increases with the lie detection probability.


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