Whatever it takes

Kevin Lewis

September 13, 2019

How conspiracy theories can stimulate political engagement
Yongkwang Kim
Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, forthcoming

Although a growing body of studies has explored the antecedents of people’s adoption of conspiracy beliefs, the behavioral consequences of conspiracy theories - particularly regarding political engagement - have been less explored. Research has looked at conspiracy beliefs, exposure to specific conspiracy theories, conspiracy thinking, and the communication of conspiracy theories as predictor variables. To date, the findings are mixed due to conceptual differences and the selection of predictors with different functions and aspects. I offer new evidence. First, I explore whether conspiracy beliefs translate into political engagement. Having analyzed the 2012 American National Election Study, I find a positive association between conspiracy beliefs and political activities. Second, by manipulating exposure to a nascent conspiracy theory that emerged during the 2016 presidential primary elections, I examine whether exposure to conspiracy theories drives intention to engage in politics. Across two original survey experiments, the results indicate that conspiracy theories may lead to positive action, encouraging people to get involved in politics. The findings demonstrate that the spread of conspiracy theories is not uniformly detrimental to society. These findings also help to explain why elites within losing political organizations are more likely to spread conspiracy theories: they are a means for mobilizing disenfranchised citizens.

The Role of Whiteness in the 2016 Presidential Primaries
Tehama Lopez Bunyasi
Perspectives on Politics, September 2019, Pages 679-698

Donald Trump initiated his run for president by framing the United States as a nation in descent. Adopting the slogan “Make America Great Again,” he set his campaign against a backdrop of loss and declared a mission for reclamation. Numerous analysts claim that his candidacy and rhetoric galvanized white voters who feel left behind by changing times, but few have been able to provide direct evidence of a racialized sense of disadvantage, and most polls were not prepared to ask such specific questions prior to the Iowa Caucus. Using data from the National Study of Color-Blindness and Race-Consciousness - a unique nationally-sampled dataset fielded two weeks before the beginning of the 2016 primary election season - I demonstrate that Trump was not only the most popular candidate among white voters, but that he was especially supported by whites who think that their racial group fares worse in the job market than do black Americans, who feel that being white has been personally detrimental to their job prospects; who believe that there are generally more disadvantages to being white than there are advantages; and who disagree with the notion that systematic racism mainly benefits whites. My analysis argues that how whites think about whiteness mattered for their likelihood to support Donald Trump.

Shifting Standards: How Voters Evaluate the Qualifications of Female and Male Candidates
Nichole Bauer
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Existing empirical research finds that female candidates have higher levels of qualifications for political office compared to male candidates. An untested assumption behind this finding is that female candidates must have stronger qualifications to overcome feminine stereotypes that characterize women as ill-qualified for leadership positions. I test this assumption by drawing on psychology research to develop a theory that explains how a candidate’s sex affects the way voters evaluate the qualifications of political candidates. Using innovative survey experiments, the results show that, across multiple experiments, voters hold female candidates, relative to male candidates, to more stringent qualification standards, and these higher standards limit the ability of female candidates to secure electoral support. These findings uncover a subtle but pernicious source of bias facing female candidates. The implications speak to how candidate sex affects voter decision-making and the ability of democratic institutions to select the best candidates for leadership.

Strict Voter Identification Laws, Turnout, and Election Outcomes
Mark Hoekstra & Vijetha Koppa
NBER Working Paper, August 2019

Since 2000, ten states have enacted strict voter identification laws, which require that voters show identification in order for their votes to count. While proponents argue these laws prevent voter fraud and protect the integrity of elections, opponents argue they disenfranchise low-income and minority voters. In this paper, we document the extent to which these laws can affect voter turnout and election outcomes. We do so using historical data on more than 2,000 races in Florida and Michigan, which both allow and track ballots cast without identification. Results indicate that at most only 0.10% and 0.31% of total votes cast in each state were cast without IDs. Thus, even under the extreme assumption that all voters without IDs were either fraudulent or would be disenfranchised by a strict law, the enactment of such a law would have only a very small effect on turnout. Similarly, we also show under a range of conservative assumptions that very few election results could have been flipped due to a strict law. Collectively, our findings indicate that even if the worst fears of proponents or critics were true, strict identification laws are unlikely to have a meaningful impact on turnout or election outcomes.

The Party's Primary Preferences: Race, Gender, and Party Support of Congressional Primary Candidates
Hans Hassell & Neil Visalvanich
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

Party support has a strong influence on candidate success in the primary. What remains unexplored is whether party actions during the primary are biased along racial and gender lines. Using candidate demographic data at the congressional level and measures of party support for primary candidates, we test whether parties discriminate against women and minority candidates in congressional primaries and also whether parties are strategic in their support of minority candidates in certain primaries. Our findings show parties are not biased against minority candidates and also that white women candidates receive more support from the Democratic Party than do other types of candidates. Our findings also suggest that parties do not appear to strategically support minority candidates in districts with larger populations of minorities. Lastly, we also find no significant differences in the effects of party support on the likelihood of success in the primary by candidate race or gender.

Do Local Party Chairs Think Women and Minority Candidates Can Win? Evidence from a Conjoint Experiment
David Doherty, Conor Dowling & Michael Miller
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

We conducted a national survey of local party chairs that included a conjoint experiment to assess the effects of candidates’ race and gender on chairs’ assessments of their likelihood of winning a state legislative primary election in their area. Chairs from both parties viewed women candidates as just as likely as men to win the support of their base but viewed Latinx and black candidates as substantially less likely to win. The disadvantage chairs believe minority candidates face is insensitive to variation in county demographics among Republican chairs but is attenuated among Democratic chairs serving counties with larger minority populations. Our findings suggest that officials from both parties believe that minority candidates face an uphill battle with their base. This perception may color chairs’ decisions about which candidates to recruit and most vigorously support.

Should Public Figures Apologize? Preliminary Evidence and Speculations
Cass Sunstein
Harvard Working Paper, August 2019

In the modern era, the statements and actions of public figures are scrutinized with great care, and it often emerges that they have said or done things that many people consider objectionable, hurtful, offensive, or despicable. A persistent question is whether public figures should apologize for those statements or actions. Suppose that an apology has a purely strategic motivation: helping a politician to be elected or reelected, helping an executive to keep his job, helping a nominee to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Empirical work presented here suggests that an apology might well turn out to be futile or even counterproductive. One reason is Bayesian; an apology produces updating that can be unfavorable to the apologizer (by, for example, resolving doubts about whether the apologizer actually said or did the objectionable thing, and about whether what the apologizer did was actually objectionable). Another reason is behavioral; an apology triggers the public’s attention, makes the public figure’s wrongdoing more salient, and can help define him or her. But many open questions remain about the reasons why apologies by public figures fail, and about the circumstances in which they might turn out to be effective.

Economic Populism and Bandwagon Bigotry: Obama-to-Trump Voters and the Cross Pressures of the 2016 Election
Stephen Morgan & Jiwon Lee
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, August 2019

Through an analysis of validated voters in the 2016 American National Election Study, this article considers the voters who supported Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. More than 5.7 million in total, Obama-to-Trump voters were crucial to Trump’s victory in the Electoral College. They were more likely to be white, working class, and resident in the Midwest. They had lower levels of political interest, were centrist in both party affiliation and ideology, and were late deciders for the 2016 election. On economic interests, they were centrists, except for trade policy, which they viewed, on average, as a greater threat than other voters. They claimed to have more experience with economic vulnerability than Democratic loyalists of comparable social standing. On racial attitudes, including the racialized economic topic of immigration, they had a profile similar to Republican loyalists. While their support of Trump may be attributable to surging white nativism, this article argues for an alternative explanation. Voters who were attracted by Trump’s economic populism only joined his coalition if they could accept his racialized rhetoric. As a result, the Trump bandwagon predominantly attracted generically bigoted voters with racial attitudes similar to Republican loyalists.

How Unusual Was 2016? Flipping Counties, Flipping Voters, and the Education-Party Correlation since 1952
Michael Sances
Perspectives on Politics, September 2019, Pages 666-678

Many explanations of the 2016 election result, a seemingly anomalous macrolevel phenomenon, have centered on two seemingly anomalous microlevel phenomena: many counties and citizens who had voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 flipped and voted for Trump, and low-education whites gave more of their votes to Trump than to Clinton. In this article, I first assess the novelty of these phenomena by placing them in the context of past elections. Compared to past presidential elections, the number of flips in 2016 was not unusually large, even in the Midwestern states. In contrast, the partisan divide by education was the highest ever in 2016. Using a series of counterfactual analyses, I then assess whether these factors were pivotal. If the flipping counties had not flipped, Clinton would have won the electoral college by 3 votes, and if the lowest-educated 20% of counties voted as they did in 2012, she would have won the electoral college by about 30 votes.

Inversions in US Presidential Elections: 1836-2016
Michael Geruso, Dean Spears & Ishaana Talesara
NBER Working Paper, September 2019

Inversions - in which the popular vote winner loses the election - have occurred in 4 US Presidential elections. We show that rather than being statistical flukes, inversions have been ex ante likely since the 1800s. In elections yielding a popular vote margin within one percentage point (which has happened in one-eighth of Presidential elections), 40% will be inversions in expectation. Inversion probabilities are asymmetric, in various periods favoring Whigs, Democrats, or Republicans. Feasible policy changes - including awarding each state’s Electoral College ballots proportionally between parties rather than awarding all to the state winner - could substantially reduce inversion probabilities, though not in close elections.

Crime News Effects and Democratic Accountability: Experimental Evidence From Repeated Exposure in a Multiweek Online Panel
Nathan Kalmoe et al.
International Journal of Public Opinion Research, Autumn 2019, Pages 506-527

Publics hold chief executives uniquely responsible for national well-being, and they learn about national conditions through news. But when news disproportionately covers problems, what happens to democratic accountability? Here, we experimentally test how leader approval changes when crime loses prominence in news for a sustained period. We create an online news environment coding real news in real time, then experimentally filter news for nationally diverse U.S. panelists over 1 week. We find causal evidence that reducing crime news raises presidential approval and depresses problem importance evaluations for crime. No other leaders are credited, and reducing all problems produces no further gains. These effects persist well after exposure but dissipate within a week. We conclude with broad implications for journalism and democratic judgment.

Crashing the Party? Elites, Outsiders, and Elections
Peter Buisseret & Richard Van Weelden
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

We consider an election between two parties that nominate candidates for office. The parties are polarized along a traditional cleavage, but they are also internally divided along a second issue dimension. We introduce a threat of entry from Outsider candidates, who have the prominence and resources to bypass party elites. We consider when voters will turn to Outsiders, and identify the conditions under which Outsiders will enter the election through an established party's nomination process, as opposed to circumventing established parties via a third‐party challenge. We further explore when the elites will fail to respond to the threat of Outsider candidates. Our framework highlights how established parties will be especially vulnerable to Outsider primary entry in periods of intense ideological polarization between the parties, and that this vulnerability is especially heightened for the majority party.

Information gerrymandering and undemocratic decisions
Alexander Stewart et al.
Nature, 5 September 2019, Pages 117-121

People must integrate disparate sources of information when making decisions, especially in social contexts. But information does not always flow freely. It can be constrained by social networks and distorted by zealots and automated bots. Here we develop a voter game as a model system to study information flow in collective decisions. Players are assigned to competing groups (parties) and placed on an ‘influence network’ that determines whose voting intentions each player can observe. Players are incentivized to vote according to partisan interest, but also to coordinate their vote with the entire group. Our mathematical analysis uncovers a phenomenon that we call information gerrymandering: the structure of the influence network can sway the vote outcome towards one party, even when both parties have equal sizes and each player has the same influence. A small number of zealots, when strategically placed on the influence network, can also induce information gerrymandering and thereby bias vote outcomes. We confirm the predicted effects of information gerrymandering in social network experiments with n = 2,520 human subjects. Furthermore, we identify extensive information gerrymandering in real-world influence networks, including online political discussions leading up to the US federal elections, and in historical patterns of bill co-sponsorship in the US Congress and European legislatures. Our analysis provides an account of the vulnerabilities of collective decision-making to systematic distortion by restricted information flow. Our analysis also highlights a group-level social dilemma: information gerrymandering can enable one party to sway decisions in its favour, but when multiple parties engage in gerrymandering the group loses its ability to reach consensus and remains trapped in deadlock.

Man Bites Blue Dog: Are Moderates Really More Electable than Ideologues?
Stephen Utych
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Are ideologically moderate candidates more electable than ideologically extreme candidates? Historically, both research in political science and conventional wisdom answer yes to this question. However, given the rise of ideologues on both the right and the left in recent years, it is important to consider whether this assumption is still accurate. I find that, while moderates have historically enjoyed an advantage over ideologically extreme candidates in Congressional elections, this gap has disappeared in recent years, where moderates and ideologically extreme candidates are equally likely to be elected. This change persists for both Democratic and Republican candidates.

The Fickle Financiers of elections? The impact of moving on individual contributions
Jaclyn Kettler & Jeffrey Lyons
Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, forthcoming

What is the effect of a change in geographic location on the behavior of campaign donors? Looking at people who move presents a unique opportunity to assess the ways in which political behavior is altered by external circumstances. Holding the individual constant and observing how donation patterns vary under different external conditions allows us to explore donor behaviors in ways that are more difficult when using cross-sectional data. We use the DIME dataset to compare the donation behavior of over 7,000 individuals in the U.S. House election before and after they have moved. We observe the ways in which changes in the partisanship of the districts that they live in alter the share of their donations that go to each party. We find that the partisan composition of the districts that people arrive in influence their donation behavior - a move to a more Democratic district tends to increase the share of one’s donations that go to Democrats. We conclude by discussing what these findings can tell us about the partisan and strategic motivations of campaign donors.

When does activism benefit well-being? Evidence from a longitudinal study of Clinton voters in the 2016 U.S. presidential election
Patrick Dwyer et al.
PLoS ONE, September 2019

Contrary to the expectations of many, Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The initial shock to her supporters turned into despair for most, but not everyone was affected equally. We draw from the literature on political activism, identity, and self-other overlap in predicting that not all Clinton voters would be equivalently crushed by her loss. Specifically, we hypothesize that pre-election measures of political activism, and level of self-other identification between participants and Clinton - that is, how much a person was “with her” - will interact to predict the level of distress of Clinton voters two months later. Longitudinal data support our hypothesis. Notably, among Clinton voters, greater activism negatively predicted depressive symptoms, and positively predicted sleep quality, but only when participants were highly identified with Clinton. We discuss the implications of the results for theory and research on social action and well-being.

Counting the Pinocchios: The effect of summary fact-checking data on perceived accuracy and favorability of politicians
Alexander Agadjanian et al.
Research & Politics, August 2019

Can the media effectively hold politicians accountable for making false claims? Journalistic fact-checking assesses the accuracy of individual public statements by public officials, but less is known about whether this process effectively imposes reputational costs on misinformation-prone politicians who repeatedly make false claims. This study therefore explores the effects of exposure to summaries of fact-check ratings, a new format that presents a more comprehensive assessment of politician statement accuracy over time. Across three survey experiments, we compared the effects of negative individual statement ratings and summary fact-checking data on favorability and perceived statement accuracy of two prominent elected officials. As predicted, summary fact-checking had a greater effect on politician perceptions than individual fact-checking. Notably, we did not observe the expected pattern of motivated reasoning: co-partisans were not consistently more resistant than supporters of the opposition party. Our findings suggest that summary fact-checking is particularly effective at holding politicians accountable for misstatements.

Do Felony Disenfranchisement Laws (De)Mobilize? A Case of Surrogate Participation
Allison Anoll & Mackenzie Israel-Trummel
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

Recent studies provide conflicting accounts of whether indirect contact with the American carceral state mobilizes. We revisit this controversy, using a large national survey of Black Americans that includes a novel measure of social connections to people with felony convictions to examine spillover dynamics. We find that while ties to the carceral state are widespread, the impact of these connections on participation is moderated by the severity of state-level felony disenfranchisement laws. In states with the most severe disenfranchisement policies, close ties to people with felony convictions increase both voting and nonvoting participation, but there is no effect in states with more moderate laws. The findings suggest that surrogate participation may be at work, whereby formally removing the rights of one group in a way that seems extreme or unjust mobilizes those close to them, and highlight the importance of policy context on political behavior.

Who Becomes a Member of Congress? Evidence From De-Anonymized Census Data
Daniel Thompson et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2019

We link future members of Congress to the de-anonymized 1940 census to offer a uniquely detailed analysis of how economically unrepresentative American politicians were in the 20th century, and why. Future members under the age of 18 in 1940 grew up in households with parents who earned more than twice as much as the population average and who were more than 6 times as likely as the general population to hold college degrees. However, compared to siblings who did not become politicians, future members of Congress between the ages of 18 and 40 in 1940 were higher-earners and more educated, indicating that socioeconomic background alone does not explain the differences between politicians and non-politicians. Examining a smaller sample of candidates that includes non-winners, we find that the candidate pool is much higher-earning and more educated than the general population. At the same time, among the candidate pool, elections advantage candidates with higher earnings ability and education. We conclude that barriers to entry likely deter a more economically representative candidate pool, but that electoral advantages for more-educated individuals with more private-sector success also play an important role.


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