It Takes Two

Kevin Lewis

May 20, 2022

Social Trust in Polarized Times: How Perceptions of Political Polarization Affect Americans' Trust in Each Other
Amber Hye-Yon Lee
Political Behavior, forthcoming

Most Americans think that the country is politically divided and polarization will only get worse, not better. Such perceptions of polarization are widespread, but we do not know enough about their effects, especially those unrelated to political variables. This study examines the consequences of perceived polarization for levels of social trust in the United States. Trust in fellow citizens is the backbone of a well-functioning democracy, given its role in promoting social cohesion and facilitating collective action. Using nationally representative panel data, as well as an original survey experiment, I find that perceived polarization directly undermines Americans' trust in each other. A belief that members of society share common values fosters social trust, but perceptions of partisan divisions and polarization make people less trusting of their fellow citizens. Due to perceived polarization, people are less likely to believe that others can be trusted to do the right thing, which in turn decreases their willingness to cooperate for good causes. I discuss the implications of these findings for society's ability to work together toward common goals. 

Morals as Luxury Goods and Political Polarization
Benjamin Enke, Mattias Polborn & Alex Wu
NBER Working Paper, April 2022

This paper develops a theory of political behavior in which moral values are a luxury good: the relative weight that voters place on moral rather than material considerations increases in income. This idea both generates new testable implications and ties together a broad set of empirical regularities about political polarization in the U.S. The model predicts (i) the emergence of economically left-wing elites; (ii) that more rich than poor people vote against their material interests; (iii) that within-party heterogeneity is larger among Democrats than Republicans; and (iv) widely-discussed realignment patterns: rich moral liberals who swing Democrat, and poor moral conservatives who swing Republican. Assuming that parties set policies by aggregating their supporters' preferences, the model also predicts increasing social party polarization over time, such that poor moral conservatives swing Republican even though their relative incomes decreased. We relate these predictions to known stylized facts, and test our new predictions empirically. 

Incivility Is Rising Among American Politicians on Twitter
Jeremy Frimer et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

We provide the first systematic investigation of trends in the incivility of American politicians on Twitter, a dominant platform for political communication in the United States. Applying a validated artificial intelligence classifier to all 1.3 million tweets made by members of Congress since 2009, we observe a 23% increase in incivility over a decade on Twitter. Further analyses suggest that the rise was partly driven by reinforcement learning in which politicians engaged in greater incivility following positive feedback. Uncivil tweets tended to receive more approval and attention, publicly indexed by large quantities of "likes" and "retweets" on the platform. Mediational and longitudinal analyses show that the greater this feedback for uncivil tweets, the more uncivil tweets were thereafter. We conclude by discussing how the structure of social media platforms might facilitate this incivility-reinforcing dynamic between politicians and their followers. 

Principled or Partisan? The Effect of Cancel Culture Framings on Support for Free Speech
James Fahey, Damon Roberts & Stephen Utych
American Politics Research, forthcoming

Political scientists have long been interested in the effects that media framings have on support or tolerance for controversial speech. In recent years, the concept of cancel culture has complicated our understanding of free speech. In particular, the modern Republican Party under Donald Trump has made "fighting cancel culture" a cornerstone of its electoral strategy. We expect that when extremist groups invoke cancel culture as a reason for their alleged censorship, support for their free speech rights among Republicans should increase. We use a nationally representative survey experiment to assess whether individuals' opposition to cancel culture is principled or contingent on the ideological identity of the speaker. We show that framing free speech restrictions as the consequence of cancel culture does not increase support for free speech among Republicans. Further, when left-wing groups utilize the cancel culture framing, Republicans become even less supportive of those groups' free speech rights. 

Who Protests, What Do They Protest, and Why?
Erica Chenoweth et al.
NBER Working Paper, April 2022

We examine individuals' decisions to attend protests during the summer of 2020. Our analysis examines two simultaneous movements: Black Lives Matter along with protests calling for less stringent public health measures to combat the COVID-19 (e.g., for swifter reopening of businesses). Our analysis is made possible by a unique staggered panel data set that is representative of the U.S., which was initially constructed to study COVID-19 and contains a host of sociodemographic, health, and economic variables. A wave of data collected in the summer of 2020 includes explicit variables on protest attendance, political views, and support for different movements. We link this data set to several others to explore factors that could influence attendance decisions, such as local histories of police violence and time-varying infection rates. We find that protest participants are a diverse set of individuals who are representative of the U.S. population-even more so than are voters on some demographic dimensions. We also provide evidence suggesting that protesting appears to be rational, i.e., a deliberate and intentional choice to be civically engaged that is responsive to costs and issue salience; one that, for some individuals, functions as an alternative to voting. Finally, we provide novel evidence of overlap: attending a Black Lives Matter protest increases the likelihood of attending a protest calling for fewer public health restrictions. Together, our findings challenge claims by partisan pundits that protests are driven by extremists with fringe views or that the 2020 movements were diametrically opposed along partisan identity lines. The novelty of our findings suggests that protest is a form of civic engagement that can draw attention to societal preferences broadly held by a kind of silent majority, one whose views might otherwise remain obscured by dominant narratives insisting we are hopelessly polarized. 

People See Political Opponents as More Stupid Than Evil
Rachel Hartman, Neil Hester & Kurt Gray
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Affective polarization is a rising threat to political discourse and democracy. Public figures have expressed that "conservatives think liberals are stupid, and liberals think conservatives are evil." However, four studies (N = 1,660) - including a representative sample - reveal evidence that both sides view political opponents as more unintelligent than immoral. Perceiving the other side as "more stupid than evil" occurs both in general judgments (Studies 1, 3, and 4) and regarding specific issues (Study 2). Study 4 also examines "meta-perceptions" of how Democrats and Republicans disparage one another, revealing that people correctly perceive that both Democrats and Republicans see each other as more unintelligent than immoral, although they exaggerate the extent of this negativity. These studies clarify the way everyday partisans view each other, an important step in designing effective interventions to reduce political animosity. 

News credibility labels have limited average effects on news diet quality and fail to reduce misperceptions
Kevin Aslett et al.
Science Advances, May 2022

As the primary arena for viral misinformation shifts toward transnational threats, the search continues for scalable countermeasures compatible with principles of transparency and free expression. We conducted a randomized field experiment evaluating the impact of source credibility labels embedded in users' social feeds and search results pages. By combining representative surveys (n = 3337) and digital trace data (n = 968) from a subset of respondents, we provide a rare ecologically valid test of such an intervention on both attitudes and behavior. On average across the sample, we are unable to detect changes in real-world consumption of news from low-quality sources after 3 weeks. We can also rule out small effects on perceived accuracy of popular misinformation spread about the Black Lives Matter movement and coronavirus disease 2019. However, we present suggestive evidence of a substantively meaningful increase in news diet quality among the heaviest consumers of misinformation. We discuss the implications of our findings for scholars and practitioners. 

The Competing Influence of Policy Content and Political Cues: Cross-Border Evidence from the United States and Canada
Isabel Williams, Timothy Gravelle & Samara Klar
American Political Science Review, forthcoming

When individuals evaluate policies, they consider both the policy's content and its endorsers. In this study, we investigate the conditions under which these sometimes competing factors guide preferences. In an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, American President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau bilaterally agreed to close their shared border to refugee claimants and asylum seekers. These ideologically opposed leaders endorsing a common policy allows us to test the influence of a well-known foreign neighbor on domestic policy evaluations. With a large cross-national survey experiment, we first find that Canadians and Americans follow ideological positions in evaluating the policy, with right-leaning respondents offering the most support. With an experiment, we reveal how both populations shift their views when told about their neighboring leader's endorsement. Our findings highlight ideologically motivated reasoning across an international border, with broad implications for understanding how individuals weigh a policy's content against its political cues. 

How Do Partisans Navigate Intra-Group Conflict? A Theory of Leadership-Driven Motivated Reasoning
Alexandra Filindra & Laurel Harbridge Yong
Political Behavior, forthcoming

When faced with co-partisan politicians who disagree publicly, what side do partisan voters take? We draw on social identity theory to develop a theory of partisan leadership cues arguing that leaders have a key role in social groups and because of that centrality, and accounting for affect-based motivation, co-partisan voters resist ingroup dissent. We test this theory with a series of experiments focused on leaders who violate democratic norms and responses from within the party that reflect loyalty or dissent. Our findings show that co-partisan voters are loathe to punish misbehaving leaders, except when their action represents a major threat and the criticism comes from a high ranking party member. Ingroup critics of the leader risk their own reputation in the process. Importantly, these effects go beyond motivated reasoning: leadership effects occur even in fictitious partisan contexts when partisans have no prior affect for a leader or critic. Our findings point to the power of party leaders in groups and raise questions about the prospects for democratic criticism and accountability. 

Cognitive-Affective Styles of Biden and Trump Supporters: An Automated Text Analysis Study
Jo Ann Abe
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

Are conservatives more simple-minded and happier than liberals? To revisit this question, 1,518 demographically diverse participants (52% females) were recruited from an online participant-sourcing platform and asked to write a narrative about the upcoming 2020 U.S. Presidential Election as well as complete self and candidates' ratings of personality. The narratives were analyzed using three well-validated text analysis programs. As expected, extremely enthusiastic Trump supporters used less cognitively complex and more confident language than both their less enthusiastic counterparts and Biden supporters. Trump supporters also used more positive affective language than Biden supporters. More simplistic and categorical modes of thinking as well as positive emotional tone were also associated with positive perceptions of Trump's, but not Biden's personality. Dialectical complexity and positive emotional tone accounted for significant unique variance in predicting appraisals of Trump's trustworthiness/integrity even after controlling for demographic variables, self-ratings of conscientiousness and openness, and political affiliation. 

Youth are watching: Adolescents' sociopolitical development in the Trump era
Danielle Dunn, Laura Wray-Lake & Jason Anthony Plummer
Child Development, forthcoming

This study examined whether appraisals of 45th U.S. President Donald J. Trump by 1433 adolescents (Mage = 16.1, SDage = 1.16, Female = 56.9%, Latinx = 43.6%, White = 35.7%, Black = 12.6%, Asian = 5.8%) predicted change from 2017 to 2018 across four dimensions of sociopolitical development (SPD): marginalization, critical analysis, civic efficacy, and political action. Trump supporters declined in awareness of inequality and race consciousness but increased in voting intentions. Trump detractors increased in awareness of inequality, race consciousness, and experiences of discrimination. Trump supporters and detractors increased in civic efficacy compared to youth with no opinion. Additional findings were moderated by race and ethnicity. Findings suggest adolescents' SPD has been shaped in distinct ways by the Trump era. 

Deficit Attention Disorder: Partisanship, Issue Importance and Concern About Government Overspending
John Kane & Ian Anson
Political Behavior, forthcoming

Political action and electoral behavior often stem from a conviction that an issue is important. Yet despite a growing literature on partisan bias, it remains unclear whether partisan attachment also affects the perceived importance of various issues. We propose a theory of partisan-motivated issue attention (PMIA), wherein citizens satisfy partisan instincts by shifting the perceived importance of an issue. We apply our theory to an issue involving a fundamental tool of the federal government - the power to deficit-spend - and test the hypothesis that partisans' concern about government overspending significantly changes depending on which party presides over deficit-spending. Leveraging pre-registered experimental and observational studies, we find strong support for this hypothesis among both Republicans and Democrats. Lastly, using text analytical methods, we also find evidence of PMIA in televised partisan media. Our study thus demonstrates that putative concern about deficit-spending contains a sizable partisan component and, more broadly, uncovers an additional means by which partisan bias guides citizens' attitude formation on policy-relevant issues in the United States.


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