Off The Deep End

Kevin Lewis

August 27, 2021

The Psychological Burden of the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Associated With Antisystemic Attitudes and Political Violence
Henrikas Bartusevičius et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming

What are the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for people’s political attitudes and behavior? We tested, specifically, whether the psychological burden of the COVID-19 pandemic relates to antisystemic attitudes (dissatisfaction with the fundamental social and political order), peaceful political activism, and political violence. Nationally representative two-wave panel data were collected via online surveys of adults in the United States, Denmark, Italy, and Hungary (ns = 6,131 and 4,568 in Waves 1 and 2, respectively). Overall, levels of antisystemic attitudes were low, and only a small share of interviewees reported behavioral intentions to participate in and actual participation in political violence. However, preregistered analyses indicated that perceived COVID-19 burden was associated with antisystemic attitudes and intentions to engage in political violence. In the United States, the burden of COVID-19 was also associated with self-reported engagement in violence surrounding the Black Lives Matter protests and counterprotests. We found less robust evidence that perceived COVID-19 burden was associated with peaceful activism.

Clarifying the structure and nature of left-wing authoritarianism
Thomas Costello et al.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming

Authoritarianism has been the subject of scientific inquiry for nearly a century, yet the vast majority of authoritarianism research has focused on right-wing authoritarianism. In the present studies, we investigate the nature, structure, and nomological network of left-wing authoritarianism (LWA), a construct famously known as “the Loch Ness Monster” of political psychology. We iteratively construct a measure and data-driven conceptualization of LWA across six samples (N = 7,258) and conduct quantitative tests of LWA’s relations with more than 60 authoritarianism-related variables. We find that LWA, right-wing authoritarianism, and social dominance orientation reflect a shared constellation of personality traits, cognitive features, beliefs, and motivational values that might be considered the “heart” of authoritarianism. Relative to right-wing authoritarians, left-wing authoritarians were lower in dogmatism and cognitive rigidity, higher in negative emotionality, and expressed stronger support for a political system with substantial centralized state control. Our results also indicate that LWA powerfully predicts behavioral aggression and is strongly correlated with participation in political violence. We conclude that a movement away from exclusively right-wing conceptualizations of authoritarianism may be required to illuminate authoritarianism’s central features, conceptual breadth, and psychological appeal.

Citizen Assessment of Electoral Reforms: Do Evaluations of Fairness Blunt Self-Interest?
Daniel Biggers & Shaun Bowler
Political Behavior, forthcoming

A large literature shows that citizens care about the procedural fairness of rules and institutions. This body of work suggests that citizen evaluations of institutional changes should be constrained by fairness considerations, even if they would personally benefit from the reforms. We test this expectation using two panel studies to examine whether citizens become more accepting of proposals rated as unfair (in wave one) after we experimentally manipulate (in wave two) whether the proposals aid their party’s electoral prospects. Using this approach, we are able to establish what citizens see to be fair or unfair separate from their evaluation of a given rule change. We find that supporters of both parties are consistently more favorable toward reforms their fellow partisans and, crucially, they themselves, claim reduce electoral fairness when framed as advancing their partisan interests. The results provide important insights into how citizens evaluate electoral processes, procedural fairness, and, hence, the acceptable limits of institutional change.

Cable News and COVID-19 Vaccine Compliance
Matteo Pinna, Léo Picard & Christoph Goessmann
ETH Zürich Working Paper, July 2021

COVID-19 vaccines have already reduced infections and hospitalizations across the globe, yet resistance to vaccination remains strong. This paper investigates the role of cable television news in vaccine skepticism and associated local vaccination rates in the United States. We find that, in the later stages of the vaccine roll-out (starting May 2021), higher local viewership of Fox News Channel has been associated with lower local vaccination rates. We can verify that this association is causal using exogenous geographical variation in the channel lineup. The effect is driven by younger individuals (under 65 years of age), for whom COVID-19 has a low mortality risk. Consistent with changes in beliefs about the effectiveness of the vaccine as a mechanism, we find that Fox News increased reported vaccine hesitancy in local survey responses. We can rule out that the effect is due to differences in partisanship, to local health policies, or to local COVID-19 infections or death rates. The other two major television networks, CNN and MSNBC, have no effect, indicating that messaging matters and that the observed effect on vaccinations is not due the consumption of cable news in general. We also show that there is no historical effect of Fox News on flu vaccination rates, suggesting that the effect is COVID-19-specific and not driven by general skepticism toward vaccines.

Cognitive Political Economy: A Growing Partisan Divide in Economic Perceptions
David Brady, John Ferejohn & Brett Parker
American Politics Research, forthcoming

Research suggests that American partisans are increasingly distinct in their beliefs. These strengthened partisan feelings extend to economic perceptions—as numerous scholars have shown, there is a substantial gap between the proportion of Democrats and the proportion of Republicans that believe the economy is improving. Here, we examine the extent to which these perceptions have polarized over the past two decades and the degree to which they still respond to objective economic indicators. Exploiting a Gallup time-series, we show that the gap in economic perceptions approximately doubled between 1999 and 2020, and that partisan economic perceptions no longer seem to converge during economic crises. We further demonstrate that the economic perceptions of Democrats and Republicans have polarized relative to Independents and that this polarization is not asymmetric in magnitude. Collectively, these results document the extraordinary rise of perceptual polarization and illustrate that neither Democrats nor Republicans are immune to its effects.

The straw man effect: Partisan misrepresentation in natural language
Michael Yeomans
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, forthcoming

Political discourse often seems divided not just by different preferences, but by entirely different representations of the debate. Are partisans able to accurately describe their opponents’ position, or do they instead generate unrepresentative “straw man” arguments? In this research we examined an (incentivized) political imitation game by asking partisans on both sides of the U.S. health care debate to describe the most common arguments for and against ObamaCare. We used natural language-processing algorithms to benchmark the biases and blind spots of our participants. Overall, partisans showed a limited ability to simulate their opponents’ perspective, or to distinguish genuine from imitation arguments. In general, imitations were less extreme than their genuine counterparts. Individual difference analyses suggest that political sophistication only improves the representations of one’s own side but not of an opponent’s side, exacerbating the straw man effect. Our findings suggest that false beliefs about partisan opponents may be pervasive.

Can changes in sentiments influence consumer behavior? Evidence from the Trump-Russia investigation
Christopher Biolsi & Alex Lebedinsky
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming

We examine the hypothesis that animal spirits might affect economic behavior by analyzing how consumer spending changes in response to the news coverage of the investigation into coordination between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia. Using daily consumption data, we find that Republicans and Democrats responded differently to the news. Increased media coverage led households in counties that voted for Hillary Clinton to spend less: On the days of heaviest news coverage, spending declined by $0.007 to $0.011 per household member for every point added to Clinton's vote share. There is evidence that in Republican counties, the coverage had opposite effects.

Ability-related political polarization in the COVID-19 pandemic
Brittany Shoots-Reinhard et al.
Intelligence, forthcoming

In two large-scale longitudinal datasets (combined N = 5761), we investigated ability-related political polarization in responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. We observed more polarization with greater ability in emotional responses, risk perceptions, and product-purchase intentions across five waves of data collection with a diverse, convenience sample from February 2020 through July 2020 (Study 1, N = 1267). Specifically, more liberal participants had more negative emotional responses and greater risk perceptions of COVID-19 than conservative participants. Compared to conservatives, liberal participants also interpreted quantitative information as indicating higher COVID-19 risk and sought COVID-related news more from liberal than conservative news media. Of key importance, we also compared verbal and numeric cognitive abilities for their independent capacity to predict greater polarization. Although measures of numeric ability, such as objective numeracy, are often used to index ability-related polarization, ideological differences were more pronounced among those higher in verbal ability specifically. Similar results emerged in secondary analysis of risk perceptions in a nationally representative longitudinal dataset (Study 2, N = 4494; emotions and purchase intentions were not included in this dataset). We further confirmed verbal-ability-related polarization findings on non-COVID policy attitudes (i.e., weapons bans and Medicare-for-all) measured cross-sectionally. The present Study 2 documented ability-related polarization emerging over time for the first time (rather than simply measuring polarization in existing beliefs). Both studies demonstrated verbal ability measures as the most robust predictors of ability-related polarization. Together, these results suggest that polarization may be a function of the amount and/or application of verbal knowledge rather than selective application of quantitative reasoning skills.

When White Americans see “non-Whites” as a group: Belief in minority collusion and support for White identity politics
Eric Knowles, Linda Tropp & Mao Mogami
Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, forthcoming

White Americans may find diversity threatening in part because they construe non-White Americans as a coherent social and political force. We argue that this perception manifests in a belief that minority groups collude against White people and that White people should act as a political bloc to defend ingroup interests. In a 3-year longitudinal study, the belief in minority collusion and support for White identity politics increased significantly among a nationally representative sample of 2,635 White Americans. Compared to White Democrats, White Republicans more strongly endorsed minority collusion beliefs and White identity politics, and increased more in these beliefs over time. Essentialist perceptions of the White ingroup were associated with longitudinal increases in minority collusion beliefs, but not in support for White identity politics. Endorsement of minority collusion and support for White identity politics both predicted lower support for Black Lives Matter and greater support for the Alt-Right movement. Implications for race relations, stigma-based solidarity, and the psychology of partisanship and ideology are discussed.

Politically Polarized Depositors
Jinoug Jeung
Emory University Working Paper, July 2021

Exploiting a shock drawing public attention to banks’ financial relationships with the firearms industry – antigun activism following the 2018 Parkland shooting – this paper demonstrates that political values shape depositor behavior. I find that, following the 2018 Parkland shooting, banks that financed firearms manufacturers experienced significant decreases in deposit growth. These antigun depositor movements were stronger in counties with higher Democrat shares and for more Republican-leaning banks. Banks that implemented antigun policies also experienced substantial reductions in deposit growth, but these pro-gun depositor movements were stronger in counties with higher Republican shares. These divergent depositor movements suggest that conflicting political values between banks and depositors lead to depositor movements. Furthermore, this paper presents the implications of antigun depositor movements for the deposit market and the firearms industry. I find that antigun depositor movements deteriorated the market competitiveness of targeted banks, thus leading them to decrease deposit spreads in favor of depositors. The targeted banks’ increased costs of funding by the sluggish deposit growth and the decreased deposit spreads imposed higher financial constraints on the firearms industry, thus contracting their business.

Partisan Bias in Bipartisan Places? A Field Experiment Measuring Attitudes Toward the Presidential Alert in Real Time
Brian Guay & Jesse Lopez
Public Opinion Quarterly, Spring 2021, Pages 161–171

An extensive literature examines how partisanship divides public opinion on hot-button political issues, but little is known about its potential to polarize attitudes on bipartisan issues. Recent work shows that while Americans hold strong preferences for bipartisanship, their attitudes toward bipartisan issues quickly become polarized when associated with partisan identities. While prior research has examined the effect of these associations in lab settings, tests outside the lab are far more rare. In this research note, we aim to provide such a test by leveraging a bipartisan issue that became associated with partisan identities suddenly in 2018: the presidential alert. While the presidential alert — a product of bipartisan efforts to improve the government's capacity to send emergency communications in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — received little notice when signed into law, it gained widespread media attention during its inaugural test in 2018. We rapidly recruited a sample of US adults immediately before the alert was sent, such that participants in our study received the alert on their phones while completing a survey. We exploited the timing of the alert to randomize whether respondents answered questions about the alert moments before or after receiving it. Across two experiments we find little evidence that associating the alert with the Trump administration had any polarizing effect on attitudes, even when explicitly associated with a partisan cue, suggesting that at least some bipartisan attitudes are not as easily polarized as prior work implies.

Is Deliberation an Antidote to Extreme Partisan Polarization? Reflections on “America in One Room”
James Fishkin et al.
American Political Science Review, forthcoming

This paper is positioned at the intersection of two literatures: partisan polarization and deliberative democracy. It analyzes results from a national field experiment in which more than 500 registered voters were brought together from around the country to deliberate in depth over a long weekend on five major issues facing the country. A pre–post control group was also asked the same questions. The deliberators showed large, depolarizing changes in their policy attitudes and large decreases in affective polarization. The paper develops the rationale for hypotheses explaining these decreases and contrasts them with a literature that would have expected the opposite. The paper briefly concludes with a discussion of how elements of this “antidote” can be scaled.

The (Null) Effects of Happiness on Affective Polarization, Conspiracy Endorsement, and Deep Fake Recognition: Evidence from Five Survey Experiments in Three Countries
Xudong Yu et al.
Political Behavior, September 2021, Pages 1265–1287

Affective polarization is a key concern in America and other democracies. Although past evidence suggests some ways to minimize it, there are no easily applicable interventions that have been found to work in the increasingly polarized climate. This project examines whether irrelevant factors, or incidental happiness more specifically, have the power to reduce affective polarization (i.e., misattribution of affect or “carryover effect”). On the flip side, happiness can minimize systematic processing, thus enhancing beliefs in conspiracy theories and impeding individual ability to recognize deep fakes. Three preregistered survey experiments in the US, Poland, and the Netherlands (total N = 3611) induced happiness in three distinct ways. Happiness had no effects on affective polarization toward political outgroups and hostility toward various divisive social groups, and also on endorsement of conspiracy theories and beliefs that a deep fake was real. Two additional studies in the US and Poland (total N = 2220), also induced anger and anxiety, confirming that all these incidental emotions had null effects. These findings, which emerged uniformly in three different countries, among different partisan and ideological groups, and for those for whom the inductions were differently effective, underscore the stability of outgroup attitudes in contemporary America and other countries.


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