The right side of history
I May Not Agree With You, but I Trust You: Caring About Social Issues Signals Integrity
Psychological Science, forthcoming
What characteristics of an individual signal trustworthiness to other people? I propose that individuals who care about contentious social issues signal to observers that they have integrity and thus can be trusted. Critically, this signal conveys trustworthiness whether or not the target and the observer hold the same view on the issue. Five studies (N = 3,817) demonstrated the predicted effect of caring on integrity-based trust (Studies 1, 2, 3a, 3b, and 4) - even in cases of strong disagreement - across a variety of issues (Study 1) and when behavioral outcomes with real stakes were used (Studies 3a and 3b). This effect largely results from a perception of low-caring targets as particularly untrustworthy (Study 2). Additionally, participants trusted targets with staunchly opposing views about an issue even though they simultaneously disliked them (Study 4). These findings have important implications for how people form impressions of others and speak to potential interventions to help mitigate the growing ideological divide.
Resolving the Progressive Paradox: Conservative Value Framing of Progressive Economic Policies Increases Candidate Support
Jan Gerrit Voelkel & Robb Willer
Stanford Working Paper, May 2019
While polls show progressive economic policies are popular, progressive candidates typically lose elections in the U.S. One explanation for this progressive paradox is that the opponents of progressive candidates often win through “symbolic politics,” successfully harnessing values and ideologies that receive broad support from the general public. Here we explore one solution to the progressive paradox, testing whether progressive candidates achieve greater support by framing their policy platforms in terms of values and ideologies that resonate beyond the progressive base. We tested this claim in two experiments (total N=4,138), including one pre-registered experiment conducted on a nationally representative sample. We found that a presidential candidate who framed his progressive economic platform to be consistent with more conservative value concerns like patriotism, family, and respect for tradition - as opposed to more liberal value concerns like equality and social justice - was supported significantly more by conservatives and, unexpectedly, by moderates as well. These effects were mediated by perceived value similarity with the candidate. Furthermore, a manipulation of how progressive the candidate’s platform was had weak and inconsistent effects, and did not interact with the framing of the platform. These findings indicate that in our experiments framing mattered more than policy, suggesting that moral reframing could be an effective alternative to policy centrism for candidates seeking broader support. Our results illustrate the important effects of value framing of economic policy, offering a solution to the longstanding puzzle regarding the gap between progressive policy and candidate support.
Democracy in America? Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the United States
Matthew Graham & Milan Svolik
Yale Working Paper, March 2019
Is support for democracy in the United States robust enough to deter undemocratic behavior by elected politicians? We develop a model of the public as a democratic check and evaluate it using two empirical strategies: an original, nationally representative candidate choice experiment in which some politicians take positions that violate key democratic principles, and a natural experiment that occurred during Montana's 2017 special election for the U.S. House. Our research design allows us to infer Americans' willingness to trade-off democratic principles for other valid but potentially conflicting considerations such as political ideology, partisan loyalty, and policy preferences. We find the U.S. public's viability as a democratic check to be strikingly limited: only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices and their tendency to do so is decreasing in several measures of polarization, including the strength of partisanship, policy extremism, and candidate platform divergence. Our findings echo classic arguments about the importance of political moderation and cross-cutting cleavages for democratic stability and highlight the dangers that polarization represents for democracy.
How Getting the Facts Right Can Fuel Partisan‐Motivated Reasoning
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming
Scholars often evaluate citizens' democratic competence by focusing on their ability to get relevant facts right. In this article, I show why this approach can yield misleading conclusions about citizen competence. I argue that although citizens with strong partisan loyalties might be forced to accept the same facts, they find alternative ways to rationalize reality. One such way, I show, is through the selective attribution of credit and blame. With four randomized experiments, conducted in diverse national settings and containing closed‐ as well as open‐ended questions, I find that as partisans correctly updated economic beliefs to reflect new facts, they conversely attributed responsibility in a highly selective fashion. Although partisans might acknowledge the same facts, they are apt in seizing on and producing attributional arguments that fit their preferred worldviews.
Monumental Decisions: How Direct Democracy Shapes Attitudes in the Conflict over Confederate Memorials
Tyler Johnson, Kathleen Tipler & Tyler Camarillo
PS: Political Science & Politics, forthcoming
Americans are engaged in a heated, sometimes violent, debate over the fate of Confederate monuments. As communities decide whether to remove these monuments, elected and appointed officials typically have had the final say. What if instead of allowing elected officials to make such decisions, voters had the power? Would this affect how the public feels about the outcome, win or lose? We used a survey experiment to examine whether the mode of decision making affects public attitudes, testing the effects of a decision made by public referendum versus by a city council. We found that respondents view decisions made by referendum to be fairer and more legitimate and allow multiple perspectives to be heard. These results hold even for respondents who oppose the referendum’s outcome. Our results speak to the potential of direct democracy to enhance public acceptance of decisions, particularly when the public is divided.
The wisdom of partisan crowds
Joshua Becker, Ethan Porter & Damon Centola
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming
Theories in favor of deliberative democracy are based on the premise that social information processing can improve group beliefs. While research on the “wisdom of crowds” has found that information exchange can increase belief accuracy on noncontroversial factual matters, theories of political polarization imply that groups will become more extreme - and less accurate - when beliefs are motivated by partisan political bias. A primary concern is that partisan biases are associated not only with more extreme beliefs, but also with a diminished response to social information. While bipartisan networks containing both Democrats and Republicans are expected to promote accurate belief formation, politically homogeneous networks are expected to amplify partisan bias and reduce belief accuracy. To test whether the wisdom of crowds is robust to partisan bias, we conducted two web-based experiments in which individuals answered factual questions known to elicit partisan bias before and after observing the estimates of peers in a politically homogeneous social network. In contrast to polarization theories, we found that social information exchange in homogeneous networks not only increased accuracy but also reduced polarization. Our results help generalize collective intelligence research to political domains.
Cognitive Inflexibility Predicts Extremist Attitudes
Leor Zmigrod, Peter Jason Rentfrow & Trevor Robbins
Frontiers in Psychology, May 2019
Research into the roots of ideological extremism has traditionally focused on the social, economic, and demographic factors that make people vulnerable to adopting hostile attitudes toward outgroups. However, there is insufficient empirical work on individual differences in implicit cognition and information processing styles that amplify an individual’s susceptibility to endorsing violence to protect an ideological cause or group. Here we present original evidence that objectively assessed cognitive inflexibility predicts extremist attitudes, including a willingness to harm others, and sacrifice one’s life for the group. Across two samples (N = 1,047) from the United Kingdom and United States, structural equation models demonstrated that cognitive inflexibility predicted endorsement of violence to protect the national ingroup, which in turn predicted a willingness to die for the group. These statistical models accounted for an average of 31.4% of the variance in willingness to die for the group, after accounting for demographic variables. Furthermore, cognitive inflexibility was related to greater confidence in the decision to sacrifice one’s life in an ingroup trolley problem scenario. Analysis of participants’ performance on the cognitive tasks revealed that cognitive rigidity - distinctly from other aspects of cognition - was specifically implicated as a cognitive antecedent of extremist attitudes. Implications for the study of radicalization and identity fusion through a neurocognitive lens are discussed.
They Might Be a Liar But They’re My Liar: Source Evaluation and the Prevalence of Misinformation
Briony Swire‐Thompson et al.
Political Psychology, forthcoming
Even if people acknowledge that misinformation is incorrect after a correction has been presented, their feelings towards the source of the misinformation can remain unchanged. The current study investigated whether participants reduce their support of Republican and Democratic politicians when the prevalence of misinformation disseminated by the politicians appears to be high in comparison to the prevalence of their factual statements. We presented U.S. participants either with (1) equal numbers of false and factual statements from political candidates or (2) disproportionately more false than factual statements. Participants received fact‐checks as to whether items were true or false, then rerated both their belief in the statements as well as their feelings towards the candidate. Results indicated that when corrected misinformation was presented alongside equal presentations of affirmed factual statements, participants reduced their belief in the misinformation but did not reduce their feelings towards the politician. However, if there was considerably more misinformation retracted than factual statements affirmed, feelings towards both Republican and Democratic figures were reduced - although the observed effect size was extremely small.
Motivated Reasoning, Public Opinion, and Presidential Approval
Kathleen Donovan et al.
Political Behavior, forthcoming
Presidential approval is a desirable commodity for US presidents, one that bolsters re-election chances and the prospects of legislative success. An important question, then, is what shapes citizens’ approval of the executive. A large body of literature demonstrates that the president’s handling of issues, particularly the economy, is an important component. A similarly large literature confirms that evaluations of the president, like most political objects, are filtered through partisan lenses. Due to changes in the US political environment in the last few decades, we suspect that the relative importance of these components has changed over time. In particular, we argue that polarization has increased partisan motivated reasoning when it comes to evaluations of the president. We support this empirically by disaggregating approval ratings from Reagan to Obama into in- and out-partisans, finding that approval is increasingly detached from economic assessments. This is true for members opposite the president’s party earlier than it is for in-partisans. While the president has been over-attributed credit and blame for economic conditions, the increasing impact of partisanship on approval at the expense of economic sentiment has generally negative implications when it comes to electoral outcomes and democratic accountability.
Ismism, Or Has Liberalism Ruined Everything?
Harvard Working Paper, April 2019
There has been considerable recent discussion of the social effects of “liberalism,” which are said to include (among other things) a growth in out-of-wedlock childbirth, repudiation of traditions (religious and otherwise), a rise in populism, increased reliance on technocracy, inequality, environmental degradation, sexual promiscuity, deterioration of civic associations, a diminution of civic virtue, political correctness on university campuses, and a general sense of alienation. There is good reason for skepticism about these claims. Liberalism is not a person, and it is not an agent in history. Claims about the supposedly adverse social effects of liberalism are best taken not as causal claims at all, but as normative objections that should be defended on their merits. These propositions are elaborated with reference to three subordinate propositions: (1) liberalism, as such, does not lack the resources to defend traditions; (2) liberalism, as such, hardly rejects the idea of “constraint,” though the domains in which liberals accept constraints differ from those of antiliberals, and vary over time; (3) liberalism, as such, does not dishonor the idea of “honor.” There is a general point here about the difficulty of demonstrating, and the potential recklessness of claiming, that one or another “ism” is causally associated with concrete social developments.
Follow Your Heart: Could Psychophysiology Be Associated with Political Discussion Network Homogeneity?
Taylor Carlson, Charles McClean & Jaime Settle
Political Psychology, forthcoming
Most Americans are sorted into social networks that are largely politically homogeneous. A large body of political science research has explored the behavioral implications of being embedded in a politically homogeneous or heterogeneous network, but substantially less attention has been given to explaining why some people find themselves in politically homogeneous or heterogeneous social networks. In this article, we explore the psychological and physiological underpinnings of political network homogeneity. We use social network data from an original survey of 129 undergraduates paired with lab experimental evidence that measures individuals' physiological reactivity to an anticipated political discussion. Using our original survey and a separate nationally representative survey, we find suggestive evidence that individuals who are more socially anxious are more likely to share partisanship with their social network ties. Moreover, we find that individuals who experienced a greater increase in heart rate when anticipating a political discussion were more likely to be in homogeneous discussion networks, but we do not find a relationship between electrodermal activity and network homogeneity. Aversion to psychological and physiological discomfort induced by political discussions could contribute to social polarization in the American public.
Real Solutions for Fake News? Measuring the Effectiveness of General Warnings and Fact-Check Tags in Reducing Belief in False Stories on Social Media
Katherine Clayton et al.
Political Behavior, forthcoming
Social media has increasingly enabled “fake news” to circulate widely, most notably during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. These intentionally false or misleading stories threaten the democratic goal of a well-informed electorate. This study evaluates the effectiveness of strategies that could be used by Facebook and other social media to counter false stories. Results from a pre-registered experiment indicate that false headlines are perceived as less accurate when people receive a general warning about misleading information on social media or when specific headlines are accompanied by a “Disputed” or “Rated false” tag. Though the magnitudes of these effects are relatively modest, they generally do not vary by whether headlines were congenial to respondents’ political views. In addition, we find that adding a “Rated false” tag to an article headline lowers its perceived accuracy more than adding a “Disputed” tag (Facebook’s original approach) relative to a control condition. Finally, though exposure to the “Disputed” or “Rated false” tags did not affect the perceived accuracy of unlabeled false or true headlines, exposure to a general warning decreased belief in the accuracy of true headlines, suggesting the need for further research into how to most effectively counter false news without distorting belief in true information.
Policy over party: Comparing the effects of candidate ideology and party on affective polarization
Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming
At least two theories have been offered that explain the rise of affective polarization. Some scholars, relying on social identity theory, argue that as the relevance of party identification increased, Americans became more likely to see their in-party in positive terms and the out-party in negative terms. Other scholars argue that affective polarization is a reaction to increasingly extreme political actors. This study seeks to arbitrate between these two theories of affective polarization through a survey experiment which asks respondents to rate candidates whose party (or lack thereof) and ideology (or lack thereof) is randomly assigned. In line with the policy-oriented view of affective polarization, respondents reacted far more strongly to ideology than party, especially if it was the ideology of the member of the out-party.
Authoritarian Personality and Gender Differences in Gun Control Attitudes
Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, forthcoming
This article investigates the gender gap in gun control attitudes, in which women are more likely to support gun control than men. Women are less likely than men to own a gun and to see owning guns as a means of self-protection. Using the 2012 American National Election Study Data, this article tests authoritarianism, which includes the desire for security and a disposition toward higher levels of perceived threat, as an explanation for the gap. The results indicate that authoritarian women are more likely than authoritarian men to support gun control. In fact, authoritarianism appears to have the opposite effect on men and women’s gun control attitudes. Authoritarianism is associated with higher levels of support for gun control among women and lower levels of support among men.
The Social Dimension of Political Values
Political Behavior, forthcoming
Worries about the instability of political attitudes and lack of ideological constraint among the public are often pacified by the assumption that individuals have stable political values. These political values are assumed to help individuals filter political information and thus both minimize outside influence and guide people through complex political environments. This perspective, though, assumes that political values are stable and consistent across contexts. This piece questions that assumption and argues that political values are socially reinforced - that is, that political values are not internal predispositions, but the result of social influence. I consider this idea with two empirical tests: an experimental test that recreates the transmission of political values and an observational analysis of the effect of politically homogeneous social contexts on political value endorsements. Results suggest that political values are socially reinforced. The broader implication of my findings is that the concepts scholars term “political values” may be reflections of individuals’ social contexts rather than values governing political behavior.