Kevin Lewis

January 29, 2021

The Effects of High‐Information Environments on Legislative Behavior in the US House of Representatives
Marc Trussler
Legislative Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


I show in this article how changes in the information environment have contributed to the nationalization of legislative behavior. Access to technologies like broadband have eroded local news media resources and led to a more partisan electorate. As such, increased connectivity causes legislators to prioritize national interests over the interests of their constituencies, behavior that is traditionally seen as an electoral liability. I use data on the rollout of broadband to relate changes in the information environment faced by legislators due to the 2002 redistricting to their behavior. I find that legislators who faced more informationally connected environments post‐redistricting voted more in line with their parties, the president, and aligned interest groups. The results are robust to a specification examining within‐member changes in the 108th-111th Congresses. Taken together, these results provide strong evidence that a major contributor to the increasing nationalization of politics is the expansion of access to information.

Morality justifies motivated reasoning in the folk ethics of belief
Corey Cusimano & Tania Lombrozo
Cognition, forthcoming


When faced with a dilemma between believing what is supported by an impartial assessment of the evidence (e.g., that one's friend is guilty of a crime) and believing what would better fulfill a moral obligation (e.g., that the friend is innocent), people often believe in line with the latter. But is this how people think beliefs ought to be formed? We addressed this question across three studies and found that, across a diverse set of everyday situations, people treat moral considerations as legitimate grounds for believing propositions that are unsupported by objective, evidence-based reasoning. We further document two ways in which moral considerations affect how people evaluate others' beliefs. First, the moral value of a belief affects the evidential threshold required to believe, such that morally beneficial beliefs demand less evidence than morally risky beliefs. Second, people sometimes treat the moral value of a belief as an independent justification for belief, and on that basis, sometimes prescribe evidentially poor beliefs to others. Together these results show that, in the folk ethics of belief, morality can justify and demand motivated reasoning.

Ideological Bubbles and Two Types of Conservatives
Deborah Schildkraut, Jeffrey Berry & James Glaser
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming


For several years, and through different administrations, surveys have shown that self-identified liberals are more likely than self-identified conservatives to avoid interactions with and exposure to ideological disagreement. In this study, we demonstrate that this ideological asymmetry in outgroup avoidance can be partially explained by the well-established tendency of self-identified conservatives to hold moderate or liberal policy preferences. Using a nationally representative survey, we show that ideologically consistent conservatives look more like liberals (almost all of whom are ideologically consistent) in their tendency to engage in behaviors that promote ideologically homogeneous social networks. Inconsistent conservatives, on the other hand, are more likely to have ideologically heterogeneous social networks, making them less likely to clash with those on the other side and thus less likely to retreat from engagement, even if they hold conservative identities. This set of findings offers insight into the contours of polarization in contemporary America.

Political Consequences of Economic Hardship: State Economic Activity and Polarization in American Legislatures
Haritz Garro
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming


Previous literature has explored the effects of economic conditions on voting behavior. In this article, I analyze how the economy affects legislative polarization. Using recently available state legislator ideal point estimates, I find a strong negative relationship between state economic activity and political polarization. States that fared worse economically have experienced greater increases in legislative polarization. I show this relationship is causal by employing an instrumental variables strategy. The instrument isolates exogenous variation in state economic activity by exploiting time-series variation in oil prices, which differentially affects individual states according to their economic dependence on oil production. The estimated polarization effects are stronger for Republicans. The findings have implications for understanding the interaction between the economy and political outcomes.

Do Improving Conditions Harden Partisan Preferences? Lived Experiences, Imagined Communities, and Polarized Evaluations
Jiyoun Suk et al.
International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Winter 2020, Pages 750-768


Despite growing attention to an increasing partisan divide and populist voting, little attention has been directed at how social contexts might encourage greater or lesser political polarization. We address this gap by studying how county-level conditions -- economic resilience, population change, and community health -- intersect with individuals’ political orientations and communication patterns to shape partisan evaluations. Our context is Wisconsin around the 2012 election, with our focus on two prominent political figures: Governor Scott Walker and President Barack Obama. Multilevel modeling reveals that partisans living in counties with more affluent, less precarious conditions during 2009-2012 exhibited more polarized partisan attitudes toward Walker and Obama. Our analysis also finds a significant role for interpersonal communication and digital media in shaping polarized attitudes.

Political Parties as Drivers of U.S. Polarization: 1927-2018
Nathan Canen, Chad Kendall & Francesco Trebbi
NBER Working Paper, December 2020


The current polarization of elites in the U.S., particularly in Congress, is frequently ascribed to the emergence of cohorts of ideologically extreme legislators replacing moderate ones. Politicians, however, do not operate as isolated agents, driven solely by their preferences. They act within organized parties, whose leaders exert control over the rank-and-file, directing support for and against policies. This paper shows that the omission of party discipline as a driver of political polarization is consequential for our understanding of this phenomenon. We present a multi-dimensional voting model and identification strategy designed to decouple the ideological preferences of lawmakers from the control exerted by their party leadership. Applying this structural framework to the U.S. Congress between 1927- 2018, we find that the influence of leaders over their rank-and-file has been a growing driver of polarization in voting, particularly since the 1970s. In 2018, party discipline accounts for around 65% of the polarization in roll call voting. Our findings qualify the interpretation of -- and in two important cases subvert -- a number of empirical claims in the literature that measures polarization with models that lack a formal role for parties.

Gender, Sex, and Trust in Government
Monika McDermott & David Jones
Politics & Gender, forthcoming


As Americans’ trust in their government - most specifically Congress - has declined over the past half century, it has become increasingly important to answer the question of who does or does not trust government and why. Trust research tends to take for granted that sex affects trust - most studies control for it - but results have been mixed. This could be because researchers have been looking at the wrong aspect of gender, relying on the traditional distinction of sex rather than an alternative - the non-sex-specific distinction of feminine personality traits. These traits are communal in nature, and as such, they may lead to higher levels of trust in government. This article analyzes the potential effect of femininity, demonstrating that feminine personalities are significantly more trusting of our governing institutions than nonfeminine personalities.

Handedness and the 2016 U.S. Primaries: Consistent handedness predicts support for Donald Trump among Republicans, but gender predicts support for Hillary Clinton among Democrats
Eric Prichard & Stephen Christman
Laterality: Asymmetries of Brain, Behaviour, and Cognition, November 2020, Pages 641-653


A growing number of studies demonstrate that consistent handers, people who use their dominant hand for all or most manual tasks, are less cognitively flexible than inconsistent handers, people who use their non-dominant hands at least some of the time. A recent hypothesis suggests that differences in handedness emerged evolutionarily because populations benefited from a balance between cognitively rigid and cognitively flexible people. One expectation is that cognitively rigid consistent handers would support more authoritarian policies or candidates. To test this idea, we looked at handedness, gender, and political affiliation as predictors of support for Donald Trump, a candidate whose supporters self-report being more authoritarian, in the 2016 primary. Our data show that in the Republican Primary, consistent handers report more support than inconsistent for Donald Trump. When authoritarianism was added as a covariate, the handedness effect disappeared. Further analyses showed that authoritarianism mediates the relationship between handedness and support for Donald Trump. In the Democratic Primary, there was a main effect of gender. Women reported more support than men for Hillary Clinton.

College roommates have a modest but significant influence on each other’s political ideology
Logan Strother et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2021


Does college change students’ political preferences? While existing research has documented associations between college education and political views, it remains unclear whether these associations reflect a causal relationship. We address this gap in previous research by analyzing a quasi-experiment in which university students are assigned to live together as roommates. While we find little evidence that college students as a whole become more liberal over time, we do find strong evidence of peer effects, in which students’ political views become more in line with the views of their roommates over time. This effect is strongest for conservative students. These findings shed light on the role of higher education in an era of political polarization.

How College Makes Liberals (or Conservatives)
Tamkinat Rauf
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, January 2021


The author examines the role of affiliation networks in shaping the political identities of students in college, using panel survey data from a case study of a predominantly liberal institution, tracking students’ political identities and affiliation memberships throughout the course of college. Although there was some self-selection into politically homophilous student organizations and majors, the extent of political sorting was relatively low, which resulted in considerable political heterogeneity in the affiliation networks. During the course of college, students’ political identities shifted in both liberal and conservative directions. Results from hierarchical multinomial logistic regressions suggest that identity transitions were driven by both the political composition of peer networks and influences outside the educational institution, such as family and prior socialization. This research underscores the importance of considering network stratification and individual contexts for understanding heterogeneous influences of seemingly uniform institutional settings.

Political Humor, Sharing, and Remembering: Insights from Neuroimaging
Jason Coronel et al.
Journal of Communication, forthcoming


Over the last two decades, news-oriented comedy programs have risen to compete with traditional hard news media as sources of information about politics. To the extent that a politically knowledgeable electorate is necessary for a thriving democracy, understanding the mechanisms underlying the extent to which political comedy facilitates or inhibits a well-informed citizenry is critical. Across two studies, we use behavioral experiments and neuroimaging to examine the causal effects of humor on the desire to share and the capacity to remember political information. We find that humor increases the likelihood to share political information with others and enhances people’s memory for information. Humor also increases brain response in regions associated with understanding other people’s mental states (i.e., mentalizing), which advances a theoretical framework that humor may facilitate considerations of others’ views (e.g., how other people will respond to shared political information).


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