Justifying the Ends

Kevin Lewis

January 17, 2020

Identity as Dependent Variable: How Americans Shift Their Identities to Align with Their Politics
Patrick Egan
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


Political science generally treats identities such as ethnicity, religion, and sexuality as “unmoved movers” in the chain of causality. I hypothesize that the growing salience of partisanship and ideology as social identities in the United States, combined with the increasing demographic distinctiveness of the nation's two political coalitions, is leading some Americans to engage in a self‐categorization and depersonalization process in which they shift their identities toward the demographic prototypes of their political groups. Analyses of a representative panel data set that tracks identities and political affiliations over a 4‐year span confirm that small but significant shares of Americans engage in identity switching regarding ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and class that is predicted by partisanship and ideology in their pasts, bringing their identities into alignment with their politics. These findings enrich and complicate our understanding of the relationship between identity and politics and suggest caution in treating identities as unchanging phenomena.

The activist’s dilemma: Extreme protest actions reduce popular support for social movements
Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer & Chloe Kovacheff
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming


How do protest actions impact public support for social movements? Here we test the claim that extreme protest actions-protest behaviors perceived to be harmful to others, highly disruptive, or both-typically reduce support for social movements. Across 6 experiments, including 3 that were preregistered, participants indicated less support for social movements that used more extreme protest actions. This result obtained across a variety of movements (e.g., animal rights, anti-Trump, anti-abortion) and extreme protest actions (e.g., blocking highways, vandalizing property). Further, in 5 of 6 studies, negative reactions to extreme protest actions also led participants to support the movement’s central cause less, and these effects were largely independent of individuals’ prior ideology or views on the issue. In all studies we found effects were driven by diminished social identification with the movement. In Studies 4-6, serial mediation analyses detailed a more in-depth model: observers viewed extreme protest actions to be immoral, reducing observers’ emotional connection to the movement and, in turn, reducing identification with and support for the movement. Taken together with prior research showing that extreme protest actions can be effective for applying pressure to institutions and raising awareness of movements, these findings suggest an activist’s dilemma, in which the same protest actions that may offer certain benefits are also likely to undermine popular support for social movements.

Incidental fear reduces empathy for an out-group’s pain
Matt Richins et al.
Emotion, forthcoming


Humans generally fear those different to them (i.e., an out-group) in the same way they fear natural predators. But fear pushes us to derogate others, whether they constitute a threat or not. Research has examined how fear associated with specific intergroup relations interferes with how individuals relate to in-group and out-group members. However, we know relatively little about how intergroup relations might be affected by incidental emotions. We tested how incidental fear affects empathy toward in-group and out-group members. We found that exposing participants to fearful imagery was sufficient to reduce empathy, but only in response to out-group suffering. We discuss how these findings provide insight into how fear is often leveraged to encourage social tribalism.

The Policy Basis of Measured Partisan Animosity in the United States
Lilla Orr & Gregory Huber
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


Understanding and addressing the consequences of partisan animosity requires knowledge of its foundations. To what extent is animosity between partisan groups motivated by dislike for partisan outgroups per se, policy disagreement, or other social group conflicts? In many circumstances, including extant experimental research, these patterns are observationally equivalent. In a series of vignette evaluation experiments, we estimate effects of shared partisanship when additional information is or is not present, and we benchmark these effects against shared policy preference effects. Partisanship effects are about 71% as large as shared policy preference effects when each is presented in isolation. When an independently randomized party and policy position are presented together, partisanship effects decrease substantially, by about 52%, whereas policy effects remain large, decreasing by about 10%. These results suggest that common measures of partisan animosity may capture programmatic conflict more so than social identity-based partisan hostility.

Stifling Workplace Activism: The Consequences of Anthem Protests for NFL Players
David Niven
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Methods: A sample of NFL players with comparable performance is used to compare how protesters and nonprotesters were treated in their next contract.

Results: Data reveal distinct differences in treatment between NFL players who protested and those who did not. In short, protesters were more likely to take a pay cut, see their salaries grow at a lower rate, and were more likely to be sent to another team.

Punishing campus protesters based on ideology
Jason Giersch
Research & Politics, December 2019


Recent protests on university campuses have inspired conservative claims that liberals allow partisanship to color their judgement of disorderly activists. Prior research suggests, however, that both ideologies are prone to political bias. Furthermore, because conservatives are typically more concerned with orderliness and authority, there are theoretical reasons to expect conservatives to respond more forcefully to protests than liberals, especially when those protesters are political opponents. Using an experimental design with two samples, one with Mechanical Turk participants and the other with current college students, the study finds support for the hypotheses that (1) conservatives are more punitive towards protesters than liberals, (2) both ideologies are more likely to punish when protesters are their political opponents, and (3) conservatives’ responses to protesters are more sensitive to their ideology than liberals’. These results support recent studies of the psychology of political ideology and punitiveness.

Populism’s Threat to Democracy: Comparative Lessons for the United States
Kurt Weyland
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


How grave is the threat that populist leaders pose to democracy? To elucidate the prospects of the United States under president Donald Trump, I conduct a wide-ranging comparative analysis of populism’s regime impact in Europe and Latin America. The investigation finds that the risks have been overestimated. Populist leaders manage to suffocate democracy only when two crucial conditions coincide. First, institutional weakness, which comes in various types, creates vulnerabilities to populist power grabs. Second, even in weaker institutional settings populist leaders can only succeed with their illiberal machinations if acute yet resolvable crises or extraordinary bonanzas give them overwhelming support which enables them to override and dismantle institutional constraints to power concentration. Because none of these conditions prevail in the United States, an undemocratic involution is very unlikely. First, the federal system of checks and balances, rooted in an unusually rigid constitution, remains firm and stable. Second, President Trump encountered neither acute crises nor a huge windfall; consequently, his mass support has remained limited. Facing strong resistance from an energized opposition party and a vibrant civil society, the U.S. populist cannot destroy democracy. Instead, Trump’s transgressions of norms of civility have sparked an intense counter-mobilization that may inadvertently revitalize U.S. democracy.

Justifying Social Inequalities: The Role of Social Darwinism
Laurie Rudman & Lina Saud
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Three studies supported a model whereby associations between ideologies that share roots in biological determinism and outcomes that reinforce inequality (based on gender, race, or class) were mediated by system justification beliefs (SJB). Outcomes included support for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton as president (Study 1), justifying police brutality (Study 2), and support for a White House budget that slashed the social safety net to endow the wealthy with tax cuts (Study 3). These findings provoke a vital question: How do people deem unequal systems worthy of defense? Each study compared social Darwinism, social dominance orientation (SDO), and biological essentialism. We expected social Darwinism to account for the most variance in SJB because it provides both the rationale for social hierarchies (natural selection) and defends them as required for human welfare. This prediction was supported in each study. Implications for the psychology of legitimacy are discussed.

When Deliberation Produces Persuasion rather than Polarization: Measuring and modeling Small Group Dynamics in a Field Experiment
Kevin Esterling, Archon Fung & Taeku Lee
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


This article proposes a new statistical method to measure persuasion within small groups, and applies this approach to a large-scale randomized deliberative experiment. The authors define the construct of ‘persuasion’ as a change in the systematic component of an individual's preference, separate from measurement error, that results from exposure to interpersonal interaction. Their method separately measures persuasion in a latent (left-right) preference space and in a topic-specific preference space. The model's functional form accommodates tests of substantive hypotheses found in the small-group literature. The article illustrates the measurement method by examining changes in study participants' views on US fiscal policy resulting from the composition of the small discussion groups to which they were randomly assigned. The results are inconsistent with the ‘law of small-group polarization’, the typical result found in small-group research; instead, the authors observe patterns of latent and policy-specific persuasion consistent with the aspirations of deliberation.

to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.