To the barricades

Kevin Lewis

September 15, 2017

Authoritarianism and Affective Polarization: A New View on the Origins of Partisan Extremism
Matthew Luttig
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming


What drives affective polarization in American politics? One common argument is that Democrats and Republicans are deeply polarized today because they are psychologically different - motivated by diametrically opposed and clashing worldviews. This paper argues that the same psychological motivation - authoritarianism - is positively related to partisan extremism among both Republicans and Democrats. Across four studies, this paper shows that authoritarianism is associated with strong partisanship and heightened affective polarization among both Republicans and Democrats. Thus, strong Republicans and Democrats are psychologically similar, at least with respect to authoritarianism. As authoritarianism provides an indicator of underlying needs to belong, these findings support a view of mass polarization as nonsubstantive and group-centric, not driven by competing ideological values or clashing psychological worldviews.

The Belief in a Favorable Future
Todd Rogers, Don Moore & Michael Norton
Psychological Science, September 2017, Pages 1290-1301


People believe that future others' preferences and beliefs will change to align with their own. People holding a particular view (e.g., support of President Trump) are more likely to believe that future others will share their view than to believe that future others will have an opposing view (e.g., opposition to President Trump). Six studies demonstrated this belief in a favorable future (BFF) for political views, scientific beliefs, and entertainment and product preferences. BFF is greater in magnitude than the tendency to believe that current others share one's views (false-consensus effect), arises across cultures, is distinct from general optimism, is strongest when people perceive their views as being objective rather than subjective, and can affect (but is distinct from) beliefs about favorable future policy changes. A lab experiment involving monetary bets on the future popularity of politicians and a field experiment involving political donations (N = 660,542) demonstrated that BFF can influence people's behavior today.

Do Online Media Polarize? Evidence from the Comments' Section
David Asker & Elias Dinas
University of Oxford Working Paper, August 2017


An ongoing debate in political communication research tries to gauge the impact of online media on opinion polarization. On the one hand, the "echo chamber" thesis postulates that online media increases polarization by exacerbating selective exposure. Critics, on the other hand, point to the potential of online media to amplify the partisan spectrum of exposure. Embedded in this discussion is the assumption that online media affects public opinion via the range of information that it offers to users. We try to contribute in this debate by showing that online media can induce opinion polarization even in groups of users exposed to the same set of information, by heightening the emotional intensity with which that information is expressed. We focus on a largely ignored aspect of online media, namely the comments' section. We show that participants who are randomly assigned to read an online news article with a user comment section subsequently express more polarized views on the topic of the article than a control group reading the same news article without any comments. Consistent with our expectations, polarization increases with the emotional intensity of the comments, lending support to the idea that the mechanism driving this effect is motivated reasoning.

Deliberate with the Enemy? Polarization, Social Identity, and Attitudes toward Disagreement
Ryan Strickler
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


As of late, political theory, research, and practice have taken a deliberative turn, extolling the benefits of idealized public discourse. This paper explores how mass polarization impacts the preconditions for such discourse. Drawing from social identity theory, partisanship is conceptualized as having distinct, yet interrelated social and ideological dimensions. Through both online and telephone-based survey experiments, the paper then examines how these two dimensions affect attitudes toward discussion that theorists prioritize. Strong social attachments to one's party consistently drive antideliberative attitudes toward disagreement; ideological partisan attachment, however, does not have this effect. The results suggest that the rise of social identity polarization has driven the public away from discursive norms that would support a deliberative democratic system.

The Paradox of Well-being: Do Unfavorable Socioeconomic and Sociocultural Contexts Deepen or Dampen Radical Left and Right Voting Among the Less Well-Off?
Matthijs Rooduijn & Brian Burgoon
Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming


Radical left and right parties are increasingly successful - particularly among the less well-off. We assess the extent to which this negative effect of well-being on radical voting is moderated by contextual factors. Our study suggests that less well-off citizens vote for radical parties mainly under favorable aggregate-level circumstances. We distinguish two possible mechanisms underlying this effect - relative deprivation and risk aversion - and find support for relative deprivation only among radical right voters and for risk aversion for both types of radical voters, yet with predictable differences between the radical left and right supporter bases. Economic hardship leads to radical right voting when the socioeconomic circumstances are favorable and to radical left voting when net migration is modest. Our findings suggest a genuine paradox of radicalism: individual economic suffering might foster left and right radicalism, but mainly when that suffering takes place amid favorable conditions at the aggregate level.

The Long-Term and Geographically Constrained Effects of Campaign Advertising on Political Polarization and Sorting
Travis Ridout et al.
American Politics Research, forthcoming


Scholars agree that there has been an increase in polarization among political elites, though there continues to be debate on the extent to which polarization exists among the mass public. Still, there is general agreement that the American public has become more sorted over the past two decades, a time during which political ad volumes have increased and ads have become more negative. In this research, we explore whether there is a link between the two. We take advantage of variation in the volume and tone of political advertising across media markets to examine the link between advertising and three dependent variables: issue polarization, affective polarization, and sorting. We focus on the impact of both recent ad exposure and cumulative ad exposure across several election cycles. Ultimately, we find little impact of advertising on polarization or sorting, both overall and among subgroups of the population.

The Role of the Information Environment in Partisan Voting
Erik Peterson
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


Voters are often highly dependent on partisanship to structure their preferences toward political candidates and policy proposals. What conditions enable partisan cues to "dominate" public opinion? Here I theorize that variation in voters' reliance on partisanship results, in part, from the opportunities their environment provides to learn about politics. A conjoint experiment and an observational study of voting in congressional elections both support the expectation that more detailed information environments reduce the role of partisanship in candidate choice. These findings clarify previously unexplained cross-study variation in party cue effects. They also challenge competing claims that partisan cues inhibit responsiveness to such a degree that voters fail to use other information or that high-information environments increase voter reliance on partisanship.

Left wings to the left: Posing and perceived political orientation
Kari Duerksen & Lorin Elias
Laterality: Asymmetries of Body, Brain and Cognition, forthcoming


Images of individuals posing with the left cheek toward the camera are rated as more emotionally expressive than images with the right cheek toward the camera, which is theorized to be due to right hemisphere specialization for emotion processing. Liberals are stereotyped as being more emotional than conservatives. In the present study, we presented images of people displaying either leftward or rightward posing biases in an online task, and asked participants to rate people's perceived political orientation. Participants rated individuals portrayed with a leftward posing bias as significantly more liberal than those presented with a rightward bias. These findings support the idea that posing direction is related to perceived emotionality of an individual, and that liberals are stereotyped as more emotional than conservatives. Our results differ from those of a previous study, which found conservative politicians are more often portrayed with a leftward posing bias, suggesting differences between posing output for political parties and perceived political orientation. Future research should investigate this effect in other countries, and the effect of posing bias on perceptions of politicians.

No Need to Watch: How the Effects of Partisan Media Can Spread via Interpersonal Discussions
James Druckman, Matthew Levendusky & Audrey McLain
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


To what extent do partisan media sources shape public opinion? On its face, it would appear that the impact of partisan media is limited, given that it attracts a relatively small audience. We argue, however, that its influence may extend beyond its direct audience via a two-step communication flow. Specifically, those who watch and are impacted by partisan media outlets talk to and persuade others who did not watch. We present experimental results that demonstrate this process. We therefore show that previous studies may have significantly underestimated the effect of these outlets. We also illustrate that how the two-step communication flow works is contingent upon the precise composition of the discussion group (e.g., is it consistent of all fellow partisans or a mix of partisans?). We conclude by highlighting what our results imply about the study of media, preference formation, and partisan polarization.

Speaking two "Languages" in America: A semantic space analysis of how presidential candidates and their supporters represent abstract political concepts differently
Ping Li, Benjamin Schloss & Jake Follmer
Behavior Research Methods, forthcoming


In this article we report a computational semantic analysis of the presidential candidates' speeches in the two major political parties in the USA. In Study One, we modeled the political semantic spaces as a function of party, candidate, and time of election, and findings revealed patterns of differences in the semantic representation of key political concepts and the changing landscapes in which the presidential candidates align or misalign with their parties in terms of the representation and organization of politically central concepts. Our models further showed that the 2016 US presidential nominees had distinct conceptual representations from those of previous election years, and these patterns did not necessarily align with their respective political parties' average representation of the key political concepts. In Study Two, structural equation modeling demonstrated that reported political engagement among voters differentially predicted reported likelihoods of voting for Clinton versus Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Study Three indicated that Republicans and Democrats showed distinct, systematic word association patterns for the same concepts/terms, which could be reliably distinguished using machine learning methods. These studies suggest that given an individual's political beliefs, we can make reliable predictions about how they understand words, and given how an individual understands those same words, we can also predict an individual's political beliefs. Our study provides a bridge between semantic space models and abstract representations of political concepts on the one hand, and the representations of political concepts and citizens' voting behavior on the other.

Who Gives, Who Takes? "Real America" and Contributions to the Nation-State
Maria Abascal & Miguel Angel Centeno
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


Although service to the nation-state features in academic and lay understandings of patriotism, claims of patriotism are rarely examined alongside contributions to the nation-state. The present study examines four behaviors - military enlistment, voting, monetary contributions, and census response - to evaluate the claim that certain parts of the United States, and specifically the communities of "real America," contribute more than others to the country overall. Consistent with the words of several electoral candidates, ruralness, religiosity, political conservatism, and gun culture collectively identify a distinctive set of communities where residents are both more likely to report "American" as their ancestry and to vote for Republican presidential candidates, including Donald Trump. However, visual and statistical evidence undermine the claim that these communities contribute more than other parts of the country. Instead, and in several respects, these communities make smaller contributions to the nation-state than one would expect based on other characteristics. The findings undermine divisive claims about a "real" America that gives more than its "fair share."

Political Fact-Checking on Twitter: When Do Corrections Have an Effect?
Drew Margolin, Aniko Hannak & Ingmar Weber
Political Communication, forthcoming


Research suggests that fact checking corrections have only a limited impact on the spread of false rumors. However, research has not considered that fact-checking may be socially contingent, meaning there are social contexts in which truth may be more or less preferred. In particular, we argue that strong social connections between fact-checkers and rumor spreaders encourage the latter to prefer sharing accurate information, making them more likely to accept corrections. We test this argument on real corrections made on Twitter between January 2012 and April 2014. As hypothesized, we find that individuals who follow and are followed by the people who correct them are significantly more likely to accept the correction than individuals confronted by strangers. We then replicate our findings on new data drawn from November 2015 to February, 2016. These findings suggest that the underlying social structure is an important factor in the correction of misinformation.

Partisan strength, political trust and generalized trust in the United States: An analysis of the General Social Survey, 1972-2014
Marc Hooghe & Jennifer Oser
Social Science Research, forthcoming


The literature on political parties suggests that strong partisan identities are associated with citizens' effective interaction with the political system, and with higher levels of political trust. Traditionally, party identity therefore is seen as a mechanism that allows for political integration. Simultaneously, however, political parties have gained recent attention for their role in promoting societal polarization by reinforcing competing and even antagonistic group identities. This article uses General Social Survey data from 1972 - 2014 to investigate the relationship between partisan strength and both political and generalized trust. The findings show that increases in partisan strength are positively related to political trust, but negatively related to generalized trust. This suggests that while partisan strength is indeed an important linkage mechanism for the political system, it is also associated with a tendency toward social polarization, and this corrosive effect thus far has not gained sufficient attention in literature on party identity.

Economic Downturns and Political Competition since the 1870s
Johannes Lindvall
Journal of Politics, forthcoming


Relying on new data on the ideology of heads of government in 27 democracies over a period of more than 140 years, this article shows that short economic downturns, with a single year of falling per capita consumption, have more often resulted in shifts to the right than shifts to the left. But long-lasting economic downturns, with more than one consecutive year of falling consumption, are different, since they tend to affect a much greater proportion of the population: compared with short downturns, which favor the right, long downturns have more uniform political effects.

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