Mean to an End

Kevin Lewis

July 30, 2021

Catching My Anger: How Political Elites Create Angrier Citizens
Carey Stapleton & Ryan Dawkins
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


Anger is a common feature in contemporary American politics. Through the process of affect linkage, we argue that one way the electorate becomes angrier about politics is by observing angry displays from political elites. Affect linkage occurs when a person’s emotional state of mind changes to match the emotions displayed by someone else. Using an online experiment in which subjects are randomly exposed to an angry or unemotional debate between a Democrat and Republican running for Congress, we show that exposure to an angry in-party politician significantly increases the amount of anger, disgust, and outrage expressed by co-rank-and-file partisans. This increase in aversive emotions, moreover, increases the likelihood that citizens report the intention to vote, and this affect linkage effect is most pronounced in those who are most likely to stay home on election day: the weakest partisans. Interestingly, angry rhetoric by political elites does not have any effect on out-partisans, suggesting that anger via emotional contagion does not cross party lines.

Activating Animus: The Uniquely Social Roots of Trump Support
Lilliana Mason, Julie Wronski & John Kane
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


Partisanship in American politics is inextricably linked with social identities, and sentiments toward party-aligned groups affect political orientations. However, out-group animosity may operate differently depending on the party or elite. We investigate the extent to which citizens’ animus toward (Democratically aligned) minority groups drove political support for Donald Trump, whose incendiary rhetoric regarding such groups is unique in modern presidential politics. Leveraging panel data beginning before Trump’s candidacy, we find that animus toward Democratic-linked groups in 2011 predicts future support for Trump regardless of party identity. This animus does not predict future support for other Republican or Democratic politicians or either party. Nor do we find that animus toward Republican groups predicts support for Democratic elites. Trump’s support is thus uniquely tied to animus toward minority groups. Our findings provide insights into the social divisions underlying American politics and the role of elite rhetoric in translating animus into political support.

Do Presidential Primary Debates Increase Political Polarization?
Benjamin Warner et al.
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


This study presents the results of a quasi-experiment to assess the effects of viewing a strategically manipulated portion of a 2020 Democratic Primary debate. Our aim was to assess the polarizing potential of primary debates on both ingroup (Democratic) and outgroup (Republican) viewers. Viewing the primary debate resulted in less perceived closeness with members of the opposing political party, greater feelings of social distance, and more attribution of malevolent intentions. These effects were consistent regardless of whether the viewer was a member of the political ingroup (Democrats) or outgroup (Republicans). Conversely, there was no effect of debate viewing on evaluations of outparty candidates (with respect to negative trait attributions or lower feeling thermometer evaluations)., nor did support for political compromise change as a result of viewing the debate. Both Democrats and independents reported improved evaluations of participating candidates, though Republican evaluations did not change.

The rise in extreme mental distress among LGBT people during Trump’s rise and presidency
Masanori Kuroki
Economics & Human Biology, forthcoming


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocates argue that President Donald Trump’s 2016 election victory and his administration's agenda raised concerns about changes to legal rights and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Using data on more than one million randomly sampled people during 2014-2020, this study estimates event study and difference-in-differences models to examine whether the prevalence of extreme mental distress (the percentage who reported major mental and emotional problems in all 30 of the last 30 days) increased among LGBT people relative to non-LGBT people after Trump became the Republican presidential frontrunner in early 2016. The difference-in-differences estimate indicates that the extreme mental distress gap between LGBT people and non-LGBT people increased from 1.8 percentage points during 2014-2015 to 3.8 percentage points after Trump’s presidency became a real possibility in early 2016.

Putting US First: How Outgroup Hostilities and Defense of the Status Quo Motivate White Evangelical Affect Toward Candidates in U.S. Elections 2004 to 2016
Wayde Marsh
American Politics Research, September 2021, Pages 534-547


How do voters construct feelings toward inparty elites? More specifically, how do they do so when they lack a shared policy agenda or shared salient social identity with candidates beyond partisan identification? In this paper, I investigate this puzzle by developing a theory of Putting America First to explain white evangelical affect toward Republican presidential candidates from 2004 to 2016. Using ANES surveys from 2004 to 2016, I test the effectiveness of this model of candidate affect. I find that shared outgroup hostility, what I call Putting Us First, motivates positive affect for presidential candidates among white evangelicals, regardless of shared policy objectives and descriptive representation. Overtime, white evangelicals’ affect is driven by outgroup hostilities rather than Culture Wars values. Overall, this informs our understanding of voter affect toward candidates and the increasingly important role of social outgroup hostility in defense of the status quo.

Political Ideology and Corporate Innovation: Evidence from the Expansion of a Local TV Network
Yuqi Gu et al.
Temple University Working Paper, May 2021


We investigate how political ideology affects corporate innovation by using the expansion of Sinclair Broadcasting, the largest conservative media network in the U.S., as a plausible shock to the local ideology. We find that innovation quantity (patent counts) and quality (citation counts per patent, originality, generality, the number of impactful patents, and the economic value of innovation) fall significantly upon the Sinclair entry to a local TV market. The effect is driven by the departure of innovative talent, and the decline in innovativeness among the inventors who remain in the firms. These findings are important especially with the increasing political divide in the U.S., and the heightened polarization in the media environment.

Partisan media effects beyond one-shot experimental designs
Kathleen Searles et al.
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming


Previous study demonstrates that partisans perceive in-party news outlets as fair, and out-party news outlets as unfair. However, much of this study relies on one-shot designs. We create an ecologically valid design that randomly assigns participants to news feeds within a week-long online news portal where the balance of in-party and out-party news outlets has been manipulated. We find that sustained exposure to a feed that features out-party news media attenuates Democrats' beliefs that Fox News is unfair, but the same is not true for Republican's perceptions of MSNBC's fairness. Unexpectedly, repeated exposure to in-party news did increase Republicans' beliefs that Fox News is unfair. This study updates our understanding of partisan news effects in a fragmented online news environment.

The Power of a Genre: Political News Presented as Fact-Checking Increases Accurate Belief Updating and Hostile Media Perceptions
Jianing Li et al.
Mass Communication and Society, forthcoming


Concerns over misinformation have inspired research on how people are influenced by, and form perceptions of, media messages that aim to correct false claims. We juxtapose two seemingly incongruent expectations from the theories of motivated reasoning and hostile media perceptions, uncovering the unique effects of presenting a political news story with corrective information as a “fact-check.” We test our theoretical expectations through two online survey experiments. We find that compared to a conventional style of news reporting, a news story presented in a fact-checking genre significantly increases how accurately people are able to evaluate factual information, but it also comes with an important counterproductive effect: people will be more likely to perceive the journalist and the story as biased. We discuss the implications of our findings in theorizing the persuasion effects of corrective information in the contemporary media environment.

Character deprecation in fake news: Is it in supply or demand?
Jonathon McPhetres, David Rand & Gordon Pennycook
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, June 2021, Pages 624-637


A major focus of current research is understanding why people fall for and share fake news on social media. While much research focuses on understanding the role of personality-level traits for those who share the news, such as partisanship and analytic thinking, characteristics of the articles themselves have not been studied. Across two pre-registered studies, we examined whether character-deprecation headlines – headlines designed to deprecate someone’s character, but which have no impact on policy or legislation – increased the likelihood of self-reported sharing on social media. In Study 1 we harvested fake news items from online sources and compared sharing intentions between Republicans and Democrats. Results showed that, compared to Democrats, Republicans had greater intention to share character-deprecation headlines compared to news with policy implications. We then applied these findings experimentally. In Study 2 we developed a set of fake news items that was matched for content across pro-Democratic and pro-Republican headlines and across news focusing on a specific person (e.g., Trump) versus a generic person (e.g., a Republican). We found that, contrary to Study 1, Republicans were no more inclined toward character deprecation than Democrats. However, these findings suggest that while character assassination may be a feature of pro-Republican news, it is not more attractive to Republicans versus Democrats. News with policy implications, whether fake or real, seems consistently more attractive to members of both parties regardless of whether it attempts to deprecate an opponent’s character. Thus, character deprecation in fake news may in be in supply, but not in demand.

The Effects of Information on Policy and Consumer Behavior Beliefs During a Pandemic
Jonathan Rothwell et al.
Gallup Working Paper, June 2021


It is well documented that policy and behavioral responses to the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic have become politically polarized in the United States. We test whether some of these differences may be the result of varying exposure to information using a nationally representative sample of 5,009 U.S. adults who were randomly exposed to brief text-based segments of information. The segments are all fact-based and were chosen to convey reassuring or alarming news about the pandemic and the potential safety of certain behaviors. First, we document new facts about dispersion in policy preferences, consumer behavior, media diet, and information sources by political affiliation. Second, we quantify how the provision of information affects COVID-19 policy preferences and consumer behavior. The baseline effects are large and remain so after adding extensive controls, including respondent numeracy. We also show that these results largely do not vary by political party nor the political orientation of the news diet. These findings suggest partisan policy and behavioral gaps are driven, at least in part, by exposure to different and often low-quality information.

Ideological Asymmetries and the Determinants of Politically Motivated Reasoning
Brian Guay & Christopher Johnston
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


A large literature demonstrates that conservatives have greater needs for certainty than liberals. This suggests an asymmetry hypothesis: Conservatives are less open to new information that conflicts with their political identity and, in turn, political accountability will be lower on the right than the left. However, recent work suggests that liberals and conservatives are equally prone to politically motivated reasoning (PMR). The present article confronts this puzzle. First, we identify significant limitations of extant studies evaluating the asymmetry hypothesis and deploy two national survey experiments to address them. Second, we provide the first direct test of the key theoretical claim underpinning the asymmetry hypothesis: epistemic needs for certainty promote PMR. We find little evidence for the asymmetry hypothesis. Importantly, however, we also find no evidence that epistemic needs promote PMR. That is, although conservatives report greater needs for certainty than liberals, these needs are not a major source of political bias.

The targets of all treachery: Delusional ideation, paranoia, and the need for uniqueness as mediators between two forms of narcissism and conspiracy beliefs
Cameron Kay
Journal of Research in Personality, forthcoming


The present cross-sectional study (NParticipants = 397; NInformants = 460) examined the association of both grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism with conspiracy beliefs in the context of four theoretically-relevant mediators. Participants who were higher in grandiose narcissism and vulnerable narcissism were more likely to believe in conspiracy theories, seemingly because they were more likely to hold unusual beliefs. There was, likewise, some evidence to suggest that vulnerable narcissists believe in conspiracy theories because they suffer from paranoia, whereas grandiose narcissists believe in conspiracy theories because of a desire to be unique. Together, these results suggest that the conspiracist ideation seen among grandiose and vulnerable narcissists is a consequence of features that are shared between and unique to each of the traits.

When Polarization Triggers Out-Group “Counter-Projection” Across the Political Divide
Kathryn Denning & Sara Hodges
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Although projecting one’s own characteristics onto another person is pervasive, “counter-projection,” or seeing the opposite of oneself in others is also sometimes found, with implications for intergroup conflict. After a focused review of previous studies finding counter-projection (often unexpectedly), we map conditions for counter-projection to an individual out-group member. Counter-projection requires identified antagonistic groups, is moderated by in-group identity, and is moderated by which information is assessed in the target person. Using political groups defined by support for former U.S. President Trump, across our Initial Experiment (N = 725) and Confirmatory Experiment (N = 618), we found counter-projection to individual political out-group targets for moral beliefs, personality traits, and everyday likes (e.g., preference for dogs vs. cats). Counter-projection was increased by in-group identification and overlapped considerably with “oppositional” out-group stereotypes, but we also found counter-projection independent of out-group stereotypes (degree of overlap with stereotyping depended on the information being projected).

Inclusion reduces political prejudice
Jan Voelkel, Dongning Ren & Mark Brandt
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, July 2021


Political inclusion is when someone receives a fair chance to voice one's opinions in a discussion of political topics with political outgroup members. In three preregistered studies (total n = 799), we test if political inclusion reduces or increases prejudice toward the political outgroup using either an imagined scenario (Study 1) or an experience in an ostensible online political discussion (Studies 2 & 3). Across all studies, participants who were politically included by political outgroup members reported reduced prejudice toward their political outgroup compared to participants in a neutral control condition (Cohen's ds ranging from −0.50 to −0.27). Study 3 showed that this effect extends to non-political inclusion. The effects of political and non-political inclusion were mediated by perceptions of the political outgroup as fairer and less dissimilar in their worldviews. Our results indicate that inclusive political and non-political discussions reduce political prejudice.


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