Locked in Politics

Kevin Lewis

November 17, 2023

Measuring the Stasis: Punctuated Equilibrium Theory and Partisan Polarization
Clare Brock & Daniel Mallinson
Policy Studies Journal, forthcoming 


The American policy process is characterized by a pattern known as "Punctuated Equilibrium," manifesting as periods of stasis interspersed with large periods of change. Punctuated equilibrium suggests that friction in the policy process and uneven information processing result in a policy process that over- and underreacts to problems. Increasingly, American political institutions are also characterized by high levels of partisanship, which are rising steadily and represent one of many sources of institutional friction. We argue that with increased polarization, the policy process has become longer, exaggerating patterns of stasis and punctuation -- the periods of stasis being more prolonged and punctuations less frequent. In sum, increased partisan polarization in Congress amplifies patterns of punctuated equilibrium. We test this theory using data from the Comparative Agendas Project on the federal budget and public laws, using kurtosis scores to measure the relative force of punctuations versus stasis. We find increasingly leptokurtic distributions of budget changes from 1948 to 2020, but a decreasingly leptokurtic distribution of public law passage across the same time. These findings indicate that polarization has resulted in exaggerated patterns of punctuated equilibrium in the legislative process, and a tendency toward fewer, higher-stakes public laws.

Echo Chambers or Doom Scrolling? Homophily, Intensity, and Exposure to Elite Social Media Messages
Jake Haselswerdt & Jeffrey Fine
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming 


While existing research shows why politicians' social media messages spread online, we know comparatively less about the types of individuals who see these messages. The current study tests whether Americans' exposure to posts from political elites is best explained by their partisan allegiance (homophily) or the intensity of their political engagement. To test this question, we employ data from a 2020 Cooperative Election Study module that asks respondents how often they encounter social media posts from various political figures. We find that both homophily and intensity characterize exposure to elite messages: partisans and ideologues not only tend to encounter posts from politicians on their own side of the aisle most often, but they also encounter posts from politicians on the opposite side more often than do independent or moderate respondents. The role of intensity relative to homophily is greatest for posts by former President Donald Trump, which Democrats were more likely to encounter than Republicans or independents.

Breaking the Spiral of Silence
Yihong Huang & Yuen Ho
Harvard Working Paper, November 2023 


The Spiral of Silence theory plays a crucial role in contemporary political discourse. According to this idea, people who hold views perceived as socially inappropriate tend to self-censor, generating a distribution of expressed views that is skewed towards appropriate opinions. If the attention paid to silence is limited, this can exacerbate self-censorship and create an equilibrium where only socially appropriate views are expressed and considered dominant. We experimentally test this hypothesis based on a simple model in which self-censorship and limited attention to silence interact to jointly establish equilibrium norms. In our experiment, UC Berkeley undergraduates discuss controversial political and socioeconomic issues. Students with socially inappropriate views self-censor to a significant degree. Given the limited attention students pay to silence, self-censorship amplifies over time. We experimentally increase the salience of silence, and show that this affects both beliefs about others' views and public expression decisions. Because inference and expression amplify each other, different levels of attention to silence can produce divergent perceived social norms in equilibrium.

Partisanship, Trump favorability, and changes in support for trade
Ceren Keser et al.
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming 


Why has the relationship between partisan identification and Americans' trade attitudes shifted in recent years? We suggest that recent shifts in trade attitudes among partisans are driven by Donald Trump, who staked out a position on trade that is at odds with the position on trade traditionally held by Republicans. Using panel data from the Voter Study Group (VSG) surveys from 2011, 2016, and 2017, we conduct cross-sectional analyses showing that the relationship between partisanship and trade attitudes has shifted dramatically from 2011 to 2016/2017; in 2011, Republicans were significantly more supportive of expanded trade, but by 2016/2017 the relationship had reversed, with Democrats significantly more supportive of trade. We link changes over time in trade attitudes with how Americans evaluate Trump: individuals with favorable attitudes toward Donald Trump are significantly more likely to shift their attitudes in an antitrade direction from 2011 to 2016. Because so many more Republicans have favorable attitudes toward Trump, the aggregate effect of Trump favorability is to shift Republicans as a group to be less favorable toward trade than Democrats. We suggest that Donald Trump has had a transformative effect on Americans' trade attitudes, with previous supporters (opponents) of expanded trade now expressing opposing (supporting) attitudes.

Jean-Paul Carvalho & Michael Sacks
Economic Journal, forthcoming 


This paper analyses the rise of radical movements and the design of counter-radicalisation policies. A group derives meaning from participation in identity-based activities and a forward-looking organisation provides a platform for these activities. The warning sign for radicalisation is cultural purification by the organisation, i.e. the screening out of moderates and exclusive recruitment of radicals. While this shrinks the club, it puts it on a growth path along which it becomes larger and more extreme over time. Conventional counter-radicalisation policies can backfire. The radicalisation mechanisms we identify can be disabled by mild anti-radical messaging and informational interventions that eliminate stereotypes.

Partisan Traps
Ethan Bueno de Mesquita & Wioletta Dziuda
NBER Working Paper, November 2023 


Electoral incentives may lead policymakers to eschew opportunities for common-interest reform, focusing instead on zero-sum, partisan policymaking. By forgoing opportunities for common-interest reforms, incumbents may convince their constituents that such reforms are rarely feasible, so that policymaking is primarily about zero-sum, partisan conflict. Voters with such beliefs vote based on ideological alignment, rather than factors such as quality or honesty. This is electorally beneficial for incumbents, who are typically ideologically aligned with their constituents. We capture this logic in an infinite horizon model and characterize the resulting dynamics of politics and policymaking. Equilibrium exhibits partisan traps -- voters are pessimistic about common-interest opportunities, politicians behave in a purely partisan manner that shuts down voter learning, and ideologically aligned incumbents are consistently reelected. Partisan traps often occur in equilibrium even when common-interest reforms are in fact frequently feasible. The model shows how elite and mass polarization are intertwined, with politicians engaging in strategically polarized and polarizing behavior which leads to pessimistic beliefs among voters, who come to perceive there to be little political common ground.

Partisan Return Gap: The Polarized Stock Market in the Time of a Pandemic
Jinfei Sheng, Zheng Sun & Wanyi Wang
Management Science, forthcoming 


Using two proxies for investors' political affiliation, we document sharp differences in stock returns between firms likely dominated by Democratic investors (blue stocks) and those dominated by Republican investors (red stocks) during the COVID pandemic. Red stocks have 20 basis points higher risk-adjusted returns than blue stocks on COVID news days (Partisan Return Gap). Lockdown policies, COVID cases, industry and firm fundamentals only explain at most 40% of the return gap. Polarized political beliefs about COVID, revealed through people's social distancing behavior, contribute to about 40% of the return gap beyond the fundamental channel. Our paper provides partisanship as a novel aspect in understanding abnormal stock returns during the pandemic.

Long Distance Migration as a Two-Step Sorting Process: The Resettlement of Californians in Texas
James Gimpel & Daron Shaw
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


Prominent historical examples point to how population surges from elsewhere have contributed to the social and political reconstitution of local electorates. Population mobility internal to the United States varies over time and across states but has always been impressive enough in volume to raise the curiosity of observers about its political effects. Here we press the question of whether the well-documented stream of migrants relocating from California to Texas has been sufficient to alter the political complexion of the destination state. Including migrants from Florida proves to be an illuminating contrast, showing that the California influx is indeed large, but politically quite mixed. We find that the aggregate effect of this flow on the partisan balance of Texas has been minimal in the short-term. Local effects on the counties and smaller localities in Texas are more noticeable, however, as cross-state migrants are highly selective in their relocation decisions, gravitating toward destinations consonant with their political values.

Blind Trust, Blind Skepticism: Liberals' & Conservatives' Response to Academic Research
Lauren Ratliff Santoro & Emily Sydnor
American Politics Research, forthcoming 


Public perceptions of science and scientific institutions have become more negative in recent years, especially among individuals who identify as ideologically conservative in the United States. While there is much work investigating the origins and implications of this decline, we focus instead on understanding the ways in which symbols of scientific expertise, like the university, convey information in a politicized environment. Universities are seen as trusted scientific experts or biased propagandists, depending on individuals' ideological identification. Are individuals more likely to believe research coming out of universities that they perceive to reflect their own ideological biases? This project looks at the effect of the academic source cue -- the university label -- on individual assessments of the research that these universities produce. Drawing on results from two survey experiments focused on climate change and racial wealth disparity research, we find that while liberals are more likely to believe research that confirms their previously held beliefs, they are also more likely to believe incongruent information when it comes from a university that they believe shares their bias. Conservatives, on the other hand, remain skeptical of academic research despite the message or its source. The findings point toward both "blind trust" and "blind skepticism" in academic institutions.

Wealth of Tongues: Why Peripheral Regions Vote for the Radical Right in Germany
Daniel Ziblatt, Hanno Hilbig & Daniel Bischof
American Political Science Review, forthcoming 


Why is support the radical right higher in some geographic locations than others? This article argues that what is frequently classified as the "rural" bases of radical-right support in previous research is in part the result of something different: communities that were in the historical "periphery" in the center-periphery conflicts of modern nation-state formation. Inspired by a classic state-building literature that emphasizes the prevalence of a "wealth of tongues" -- or nonstandard linguistic dialects in a region -- as a definition of the periphery, we use data from more than 725,000 geo-coded responses in a linguistic survey in Germany to show that voters from historically peripheral geographic communities are more likely to vote for the radical right today.


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