Kevin Lewis

September 08, 2023

Independents, not partisans, are more likely to hold and express electoral preferences based in negativity
Joseph Siev, Daniel Rovenpor & Richard Petty
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, January 2024 


The contemporary political domain is characterized by widespread negativity. Much of this negativity is thought to be generated by strong partisans, who overall express more anger, animosity, and bias than weaker partisans. The present research proposes, however, that self-categorized political independents hold preferences based more in negativity than partisans do, making them more likely to frame their preference in oppositional terms, act on the basis of opposition (vs. support), and agree with opposition- (vs. support-) based messages. Five studies (N = 51,687) present evidence of this valenced pattern of independent-partisan differences. In Study 1, across five decades, U.S. independents' (vs. partisans') preferences were more reflective of negative (vs. positive) partisanship. In Study 2, across four presidential elections, a greater proportion of independents than partisans reported voting “against” (vs. “for”) a candidate. In Study 3, negative (vs. positive) attitudes better predicted independents' participatory behaviors relative to those of partisans. In Study 4, independents agreed more with negatively-framed (vs. positively-framed) political appeals, whereas the opposite was true of partisans. Independents' (vs. partisans') preferences were more negative before the current politically polarized era and their proportional increase reflects a broader shift toward negative preferences. Finally, Study 5 replicated Studies 1–2 in three non-political domains, including one where attitudes were positive overall. Implications are discussed for the relationship between partisanship and negativity, how independents differ psychologically from partisans, partisanship as a moderator of preference valence-framing effects, and the possibility of general dispositional tendencies to base, frame, and express one's political and non-political preferences negatively.

Of Rural Resentment and Storming Capitols: An Investigation of the Geographic Contours of Support for Political Violence in the United States 
Kal Munis, Arif Memovic & Olyvia Christley
Political Behavior, forthcoming 


The January 6, 2021 Insurrection at the United States Capitol has renewed concerns that American citizens are becoming more tolerant of political violence, a phenomenon that fits within broader fears that partisan-induced motivated reasoning is driving democratic backsliding within the U.S. and across the Western world. Given the rural origins of many right-wing militia groups, and the widespread set of grievances circulating in rural America, questions and fear abound as to whether rural America is more supportive of political violence. In this paper, we investigate whether there is a substantial geographic component to support for violence against the state or ordinary citizens. Drawing on original survey data collected in the fall of 2021, we present two studies that explore the association between rural geography, rural resentment, and support for political violence. We find that, contrary to popular belief, rural Americans may actually be less likely to support political violence than their non-rural counterparts. Importantly, however, we find that some rural individuals -- namely those who harbor higher levels of rural resentment -- are more likely, on average, to support violence against the state. The same result is not replicated when looking at support for violence against ordinary citizens. These results provide important insight into the relationship between geographic attitudes and political violence and have noteworthy implications for American national security in our contemporary age of hyper-polarization.

Deep Roots: On the Persistence of American Populism
Ze Han, Helen Milner & Kris James Mitchener
Princeton Working Paper, July 2023 


Is American populism a persistent political phenomena? Using a new dataset linking county vote shares in the 1890s with recent periods, we show that populist movements in the United States have deep roots. Counties where voters were enthusiastic about populist parties in the late nineteenth century had higher vote shares for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Exposure to globalization and the intergenerational transmission of political beliefs seem to be mechanisms behind this. Our instrumental variable results imply that globalization fostered populism in the 1890s which in turn laid the ground for populism today. Using individual policy preferences, we show that counties with more individuals holding populist attitudes today are associated with counties voting more populist in the 1890s. Moments of rapid economic change, such as those engendered by globalization, may propel the resurgence of such attitudes, which can then be popularized by charismatic leaders.

Pain sensitivity predicts support for moral and political views across the aisle
Spike Lee & Cecilia Ma
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, forthcoming 


We live in a time of exacerbating political polarization. Bridging the ideological divide is hard. Although some strategies have been found effective for interpersonal persuasion and interaction across the aisle, little is known about what intrapersonal attributes predict which individuals are more inclined to support their ideological opponent’s views. The present work identifies a low-level attribute -- sensitivity to physical pain -- that robustly predicts individual variations in support for moral and political views typically favored by one’s ideological opponent. We first summarize a psychophysical validation of an established pain sensitivity measure (n = 263), then report a series of exploratory and preregistered confirmatory studies and replications (N = 7,360) finding that more (vs. less) pain-sensitive liberal Americans show greater endorsement of moral foundations typically endorsed by conservatives (Studies 1a–1c), higher likelihood of voting for Trump over Biden in the 2020 presidential election, stronger support for Republican politicians, and more conservative attitudes toward contentious political issues (Studies 2a and 2b). Conservatives show the mirroring pattern. These “cross-aisle” effects of pain sensitivity are driven by heightened harm perception (Study 3). They defy lay intuitions (Study 4). They are not attributable to multicollinearity or response set. The consistent findings across studies highlight the value of deriving integrative predictions from multiple previously unconnected perspectives (social properties of pain, moral foundations theory, dyadic morality theory, principle of multiple determinants in higher mental processes). They open up novel directions for theorizing and research on why pain sensitivity predicts support for moral and political views across the aisle.

Political Sentiment and Innovation: Evidence from Patenters
Joseph Engelberg et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2023 


We document political sentiment effects on US inventors. Democratic inventors are more likely to patent (relative to Republicans) after the 2008 election of Obama but less likely after the 2016 election of Trump. These effects are 2-3 times as strong among politically active partisans and are present even within firms over time. Patenting by immigrant inventors (relative to non-immigrants) also falls following Trump’s election. Finally, we show partisan concentration by technology class and firm. This concentration aggregates up to more patenting in Democrat-dominated technologies (e.g., Biotechnology) compared to Republican-dominated technologies (e.g., Weapons) following the 2008 election of Obama.

Following Orders or Following the Oath? Assessing Democratic Norm Endorsement Among Service Academy Cadets
Risa Brooks, Michael Robinson & Heidi Urben
Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming 


How strongly embraced within the officer corps is the commitment to supporting and defending the Constitution and to the ethic of nonpartisanship? This article answers that question through a 2019/2020 survey of 1,470 service academy students, including with a list experiment. The results show that cadets engage in what we term “selective endorsement” of norms, whereby they endorse norms as long as they are not in tension with their partisan identities. In particular, the list experiment reveals that when provided an opportunity to obscure their preferences, many cadets supported following civilian orders, even those at odds with democratic traditions -- and that partisan dynamics may play a role in determining how they respond. The article has important implications for scholarly research on norm robustness and socialization, as well as practical consequences for civil-military relations in light of ongoing challenges to democracy in the United States today.

Like-minded sources on Facebook are prevalent but not polarizing
Brendan Nyhan et al.
Nature, 3 August 2023, Pages 137–144 


Many critics raise concerns about the prevalence of ‘echo chambers’ on social media and their potential role in increasing political polarization. However, the lack of available data and the challenges of conducting large-scale field experiments have made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem. Here we present data from 2020 for the entire population of active adult Facebook users in the USA showing that content from ‘like-minded’ sources constitutes the majority of what people see on the platform, although political information and news represent only a small fraction of these exposures. To evaluate a potential response to concerns about the effects of echo chambers, we conducted a multi-wave field experiment on Facebook among 23,377 users for whom we reduced exposure to content from like-minded sources during the 2020 US presidential election by about one-third. We found that the intervention increased their exposure to content from cross-cutting sources and decreased exposure to uncivil language, but had no measurable effects on eight preregistered attitudinal measures such as affective polarization, ideological extremity, candidate evaluations and belief in false claims. These precisely estimated results suggest that although exposure to content from like-minded sources on social media is common, reducing its prevalence during the 2020 US presidential election did not correspondingly reduce polarization in beliefs or attitudes.

YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is left-leaning in the United States
Hazem Ibrahim et al.
PNAS Nexus, August 2023 


With over two billion monthly active users, YouTube currently shapes the landscape of online political video consumption, with 25% of adults in the United States regularly consuming political content via the platform. Considering that nearly three-quarters of the videos watched on YouTube are delivered via its recommendation algorithm, the propensity of this algorithm to create echo chambers and deliver extremist content has been an active area of research. However, it is unclear whether the algorithm may exhibit political leanings toward either the Left or Right. To fill this gap, we constructed archetypal users across six personas in the US political context, ranging from Far Left to Far Right. Utilizing these users, we performed a controlled experiment in which they consumed over eight months worth of videos and were recommended over 120,000 unique videos. We find that while the algorithm pulls users away from political extremes, this pull is asymmetric, with users being pulled away from Far Right content stronger than from Far Left. Furthermore, we show that the recommendations made by the algorithm skew left even when the user does not have a watch history. Our results raise questions on whether the recommendation algorithms of social media platforms in general, and YouTube, in particular, should exhibit political biases, and the wide-reaching societal and political implications that such biases could entail.

Punishing Protesters on the “Other Side”: Partisan Bias in Public Support for Repressive and Punitive Responses to Protest Violence
Jason Silver & Luzi Shi
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, August 2023


The authors investigated public support for government repression of protests (police repression, legal repression, and punishment of protesters) following incidents of violence and harm. Using two factorial vignette experiments embedded in a national Qualtrics survey (n = 1,229), the authors examined whether partisan bias (i.e., polarized responses to actions by ideological opponents or allies) characterized public preferences for repressive government responses to intentional violence (i.e., rock throwing) or incidental harm (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019 transmission) occurring at protests. The authors also examined whether violence or harm severity, or violence against or harm to police, influenced the degree of partisan bias in public responses. The results indicated partisan bias in support of police repression and punishment preferences and, to a lesser extent, legal repression. Members of the public preferred more repressive responses to political opponents and less repressive responses to political allies. Partisan bias in preferences for punishment was also heightened when a police officer was the target of intentional violence.

On the incentives to exacerbate polarization
Pablo Montagnes & Richard Van Weelden
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming 


An organizer seeks to extract rents from competing interests in a polarized environment. We model these interests as three potential bidders, a neutral bidder, and two bidders who are “polarized” in that they prefer the neutral bidder to win rather than the other polarized bidder. The organizer cannot commit to an optimal mechanism, but can decide which bidders to allow to participate. While greater competition is generally thought to benefit the organizer, we identify conditions under which she increases expected revenue by preventing the neutral bidder from participating, thereby increasing the willingness to pay for polarized bidders. Thus, rather than seeking to bring about compromise, organizers have an incentive to exacerbate conflict. Excluding the neutral bidder always makes the auction less efficient, but the incentive to exclude her is greatest precisely when it lowers efficiency the most. We discuss applications in economics and politics.

Is Affective Polarization Driven by Identity, Loyalty, or Substance?
Lilla Orr, Anthony Fowler & Gregory Huber
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming 


Partisan Americans like members of their own party more than members of the opposing party. Scholars often interpret this as evidence that party identity or loyalty influence interpersonal affect. First, we reassess previous studies and demonstrate that prior results are also consistent with what we would predict if people cared only about policy agreement. Next, we demonstrate the difficulty of manipulating perceptions of party identity without also manipulating beliefs about policy agreement and vice versa. Finally, we show that partisans care much more about policy agreement than they do about party loyalty when the two come into conflict. Our analyses suggest that partisan Americans care about policy agreement; we have little convincing evidence that they care about partisan identity or loyalty per se, and scholars will have to find new research designs if they want to convincingly estimate the effects of identity or loyalty independent of policy substance.

Does the Salience of Partisan Competition Increase Affective Polarization in the United States?
Shane Singh & Judd Thornton
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming 


We examine if increased salience of partisan competition causes affective polarization in the United States during presidential elections. To do so, we leverage the random and quasi-random timing of survey interviews conducted during election campaigns. We conduct three separate studies. In Study 1, we utilize the 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES), in which random survey interview timing allows for a credible causal estimate of salience on affective polarization. In Study 2, we employ American National Election Studies (ANES) data from 1980 to 2016, again leveraging survey timing to assess the effect of salience on affective polarization. In Study 3, we examine changes in affective polarization as a result of increasingly salient partisan competition using NAES and ANES panel data from 1980 to 2008. Across the three studies we identify a meaningful increase in affective polarization toward candidates, but not toward parties, as a result of heightened partisan competition.


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