Kevin Lewis

April 07, 2011

Looking the Part: Television Leads Less Informed Citizens to Vote Based on Candidates' Appearance

Gabriel Lenz & Chappell Lawson
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

As long as there has been democratic government, skeptics have worried that citizens would base their choices and their votes on superficial considerations. A series of recent studies seems to validate these fears, suggesting that candidates who merely look more capable or attractive perform better in elections. In this article, we examine the underlying process behind the appearance effect. Specifically, we test whether the effect of appearance is more pronounced among those who know little about politics but are exposed to visual images of candidates. To do so, we combine appearance-based assessments of U.S. Senate and gubernatorial candidates with individual-level survey data measuring vote intent, political knowledge, and television exposure. Confirming long-standing concerns about image and television, we find that appealing-looking politicians benefit disproportionately from television exposure, primarily among less knowledgeable individuals.


How Large and Long-lasting Are the Persuasive Effects of Televised Campaign Ads? Results from a Randomized Field Experiment

Alan Gerber et al.
American Political Science Review, February 2011, Pages 135-150

We report the results of the first large-scale experiment involving paid political advertising. During the opening months of a 2006 gubernatorial campaign, approximately $2 million of television and radio advertising on behalf of the incumbent candidate was deployed experimentally. In each experimental media market, the launch date and volume of television advertising were randomly assigned. In order to gauge movement in public opinion, a tracking poll conducted brief telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 registered voters each day and a brief follow-up one month after the conclusion of the television campaign. Results indicate that televised ads have strong but short-lived effects on voting preferences. The ephemeral nature of these effects is more consistent with psychological models of priming than with models of on-line processing.


A Spatial Theory of Media Slant and Voter Choice

J. Duggan & C. Martinelli
Review of Economic Studies, April 2011, Pages 640-666

We develop a theory of media slant as a systematic filtering of political news that reduces multidimensional politics to the one-dimensional space perceived by voters. Economic and political choices are interdependent in our theory: expected electoral results influence economic choices, and economic choices in turn influence voting behaviour. In a two-candidate election, we show that media favouring the front-runner will focus on issues unlikely to deliver a surprise, while media favouring the underdog will gamble for resurrection. We characterize the socially optimal slant and show that it coincides with the one favoured by the underdog under a variety of circumstances. Balanced media, giving each issue equal coverage, may be worse for voters than partisan media.


The Mainstream Is Not Electable: When Vision Triumphs Over Representativeness in Leader Emergence and Effectiveness

Nir Halevy, Yair Berson & Adam Galinsky
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Theories of visionary leadership propose that groups bestow leadership on exceptional group members. In contrast, social identity perspectives claim that leadership arises, in part, from a person's ability to be seen as representative of the group. Integrating these perspectives, the authors propose that effective leaders often share group members' perspectives concerning the present, yet offer a unique and compelling vision for the group's future. In addition, although intergroup contexts may increase the value of representativeness, the authors predict that vision dominates representativeness in single-group situations characterized by high levels of collective stress (e.g., a natural disaster). Five studies demonstrated that visionary leaders (those who offer novel solutions to their group's predicament) attract more followers, promote group identification and intrinsic motivation, mobilize collective action, and effectively regulate group members' emotions and reactions to crises compared to representative leaders. The authors discuss when, why, and how vision triumphs over representativeness in leader emergence and effectiveness.


Serving Two Masters: Using Referenda to Assess Partisan versus Dyadic Legislative Representation

Seth Masket & Hans Noel
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming

Studies comparing the ideological leanings of voters and elected officials are often hampered by the lack of a common measure. The authors use legislative referenda - on which state legislators and voters both vote on the same issue - as bridging observations to develop a common measure for both. They use this measure to help assess two theories of legislative representation, the well-known dyadic model and a partisan model that assumes legislators are also accountable to a collective party agenda. Examining referenda votes during several sessions of the California Assembly, the authors report several findings that are consistent with the partisan model. They find that legislators are significantly more ideologically extreme than the median voter in their districts. They also find that members of the majority party are considerably more extreme relative to their districts than members of the minority party are and that the majority party becomes even more extreme the longer it maintains control of the chamber.


Selective Media Exposure and Partisan Differences about Sarah Palin's Candidacy

David Jones, Kathleen Ferraiolo & Jennifer Byrne
Politics & Policy, April 2011, Pages 195-221

In today's fragmented media environment, citizens have an enhanced ability to select information outlets that match their preexisting political beliefs and avoid information sources that clash. This modern version of "selective exposure" means that citizens can more easily isolate themselves from perspectives unlike their own. In this article, we employed a quasi-experimental design to test (1) the extent to which subjects selectively exposed themselves to opinion articles that were congenial to their presumed predispositions about Sarah Palin and (2) whether selective exposure reinforced these predispositions, thereby magnifying differences between Republicans and Democrats. We found that subjects did indeed tend to engage in selective exposure. And among those who did, there was evidence of reinforcement. Interestingly, there was evidence of persuasion among the relatively few subjects who exposed themselves to sources that ran counter to their predispositions.


Social Influence in Televised Election Debates: A Potential Distortion of Democracy

Colin Davis, Jeffrey Bowers & Amina Memon
PLoS ONE, March 2011, e18154

A recent innovation in televised election debates is a continuous response measure (commonly referred to as the "worm") that allows viewers to track the response of a sample of undecided voters in real-time. A potential danger of presenting such data is that it may prevent people from making independent evaluations. We report an experiment with 150 participants in which we manipulated the worm and superimposed it on a live broadcast of a UK election debate. The majority of viewers were unaware that the worm had been manipulated, and yet we were able to influence their perception of who won the debate, their choice of preferred prime minister, and their voting intentions. We argue that there is an urgent need to reconsider the simultaneous broadcast of average response data with televised election debates.


How presidents push, when presidents win: A model of positive presidential power in US lawmaking

Matthew Beckmann & Vimal Kumar
Journal of Theoretical Politics, January 2011, Pages 3-20

Presidents' positive role in US lawmaking is as ubiquitous as it is unclear. While a rich literature has identified many macro-level factors that constrain presidents' policymaking potential, still unanswered is Richard Neustadt's micro-level question: how can presidents influence legislation given the context and Congress they happen to inherit? Developing a game theoretic model in which the president allocates scarce 'political capital' to induce changes in legislators' behavior, we deduce two lobbying strategies that White House officials may execute and, in turn, examine their impact on the laws that result. Comparative statics analysis not only shows how presidents can best target their persuasive arsenal, but further specifies the factors that condition those efforts' effectiveness. Interestingly, results show that standard roll-call-based tests likely underestimate presidents' legislative impact. We thus conclude by reconsidering the practice and potential of presidential leadership in national policymaking.


Network Television's Coverage of the 2008 Presidential Election

Stephen Farnsworth & Robert Lichter
American Behavioral Scientist, April 2011, Pages 354-370

Content analysis of network evening news coverage of the 2008 presidential election revealed a slight increase in the amount of coverage and a decline in the coverage of policy matters compared to 4 years earlier. Barack Obama received the most positive coverage recorded for any major party nominee on network television since the Center for Media and Public Affairs started analyzing election news content in 1988. The tonal gap between the Democratic and Republican nominees was also the largest recorded over the past six presidential elections. The one-sided coverage on ABC, CBS, and NBC was in sharp contrast to the more uniformly negative coverage of the two candidates during the evening newscasts on Fox News.


The Long-Term Dynamics of Partisanship and Issue Orientations

Benjamin Highton & Cindy Kam
Journal of Politics, January 2011, Pages 202-215

Partisanship and issue orientations are among the foundational concepts for behavioral researchers. We seek to understand their causal relationship. One view suggests that party identification, as a central and long-standing affective orientation, influences citizens' issue positions. Another view claims that issue orientations influence party identification. We take both theories into account in this article and argue that the direction of causality may depend upon the political context. Using the Political Socialization Panel Study, we analyze the long-term dynamic relationship between partisanship and issue orientations. The results from our cross-lagged structural equation models are inconsistent with a single, time-invariant, unidirectional causal story. The causal relationship between partisanship and issue orientations appears to depend upon the larger political context. In the early period from 1973 to 1982, partisanship causes issue orientations. In the later period, from 1982 to 1997, the causal arrow is reversed, and issue orientations significantly shape partisanship.


Explaining the Unpopularity of Public Funding for Congressional Elections

Raymond La Raja & Brian Schaffner
Electoral Studies, forthcoming

This article uses data from the 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Study to explain weak support for public financing of congressional campaigns. Previous studies lack theory to explain variation in support and use a flawed measure of the dependent variable. We argue that low support reflects a failure resulting from a collective action dilemma. Citizens desire a campaign finance system that weans politicians from private donors, but are unwilling to pay a small amount in taxes to support public financing. In contrast to conventional wisdom, we show that support for public financing is highest among those perceived to benefit the most from the current system. Our results suggest that most Americans would rather not pay for politics, and that reform proposals must avoid incurring transparent costs on individual citizens to pay for reform.


Policy Attention in State and Nation: Is Anyone Listening to the Laboratories of Democracy?

David Lowery, Virginia Gray & Frank Baumgartner
Publius, Spring 2011, Pages 286-310

Do patterns of policy attention at the state level influence agenda setting in Washington over the short term? We examine this question by first developing a series of hypotheses about such linkages. We test these conjectures with a data set pooling measures of policy attention at the national and state levels for several years and several policy areas. We find little evidence that changes in state policy agendas in the aggregate influence national patterns of policy attention.


Effects of Political Advertising in the 2008 Presidential Campaign

Lynda Lee Kaid, Juliana Fernandes & David Painter
American Behavioral Scientist, April 2011, Pages 437-456

Political advertising remains the communication format that dominates presidential campaign budgets. In 2008 Obama's success in fund-raising resulted in record expenditures on political television advertising. This experimental study tested the effects of viewing a sample of Obama and McCain ads with 1,165 young citizens at 19 locations throughout the United States. Results indicated young citizens learned significantly more about the issue positions of both McCain and Obama than they learned about their personal qualities when viewing the ads. Whereas viewing the ads also resulted in a significant increase in the evaluation of Obama, evaluations of McCain significantly decreased after viewing. Viewing the ads significantly increased levels of political information efficacy, making young citizens more confident that they possessed the information and knowledge necessary to participate in the political system. The experiments also isolated gender differences that suggested young female citizens learned more about the candidates' issues and personal qualities than did males.


Preelection Selective Exposure: Confirmation Bias Versus Informational Utility

Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick & Steven Kleinman
Communication Research, forthcoming

The glut of media coverage prior to a presidential election requires individuals to selectively expose themselves to some messages and not others. The study involves a two-session online quasi-experiment with 205 participants that was conducted before the 2008 presidential election. Hypotheses on confirmation bias and information utility driving selective exposure prior to an election are tested. Results confirm that information utility can override a confirmation bias and motivate exposure if a government change is likely and the favored party is likely to lose the election. Moreover, participants with frequent habitual online news use do not exhibit a confirmation bias. However, participants whose favored party was likely to win the election and participants with infrequent online news consumption show a significant confirmation bias.


Comparing the views of superdelegates and Democratic voters in the 2008 Democratic nomination campaign

Kim Fridkin, Patrick Kenney & Sarah Gershon
Party Politics, forthcoming

The struggle for the power to nominate candidates for office between party elites and rank-and-file partisans surfaced in the late 1700s. The battle endures today and superdelegates in the Democratic Party represent the contemporary political elites in the nomination process. Indeed, superdelegates played a decisive role in determining the outcome of the 2008 Democratic nomination campaign. In this paper, we examine the attitudes and decisions of superdelegates towards the candidates and their own role in the nomination process. We also examine the attitudes of rank-and-file Democrats towards the delegates and the nomination process. To study these two groups, we rely on survey data collected immediately following the 2008 primary season. Results from the surveys indicate that voters and superdelegates differ greatly in their perceptions of superdelegates, their roles and decisions, as well as the legitimacy of the nomination process in the Democratic Party. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings.


Racialized Media Coverage of Minority Candidates in the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary

Charlton McIlwain
American Behavioral Scientist, April 2011, Pages 371-389

This article investigates the prominence of racial content in newspaper stories about Barack Obama and three other candidates running in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primary. Content analyses of stories appearing in six national newspapers sought to ascertain how frequent racial references appeared in news accounts of the presidential contest, how salient the racial content was, and what factors explained race-related coverage. Consistent with previous studies, the presence of one or more racial minorities in the stories increased the likelihood and presence of racial references found in the story. However, results challenge the conventional wisdom that racial content is salient enough to serve as a prominent racial cue activating readers' or voters' negative racial prejudices. This study finds that more than any other factor, journalists' desire to heighten the election's competitiveness influenced the presence and degree of racial content present in stories.


Who is Making the Decisions? A Study of Television Journalists, Their Bosses, and Consultant-Based Market Research

Kate West
Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, January 2011, Pages 19-35

A controlled experiment studied the effects of decision-makers in the newsroom by studying television journalists from across the country. Participants were presented with three hypothetical stories in one of two conditions; one in which a consultant's market research was relied upon to make news judgments, and another in which a news director's judgments were used to make decisions. The experiment was designed to determine if the newsroom condition motivated participants to choose the consultant or manager as the one in control of story selection. When participants were placed in a situation in which the consultant ruled, they were more likely to agree with consultant decisions versus managerial ones.


Claiming Credit in the U.S. Federal System: Testing a Model of Competitive Federalism

Sean Nicholson-Crotty & Nick Theobald
Publius, Spring 2011, Pages 232-256

Based on the assumption that lawmakers can only claim credit for public goods they produce, models of intergovernmental political competition predict that states with less ability to pay for public goods will respond more favorably to the price effect of federal grants. We offer the alternative assumption that confusion over proper credit assignment allows state lawmakers to claim credit for federal production. This produces the expectation that lawmakers in states with low ability to pay will be more likely to let federal money supplant own source spending, assuming that they will be able to continue claiming credit even as their share of production decreases. We test these competing assertions in data on transportation production in the American states between 1971 and 1996.


Is Anybody Listening? Evidence That Voters Do Not Respond to European Parties' Policy Statements During Elections

James Adams, Lawrence Ezrow & Zeynep Somer-Topcu
American Journal of Political Science, April 2011, Pages 370-382

Although extensive research analyzes the factors that motivate European parties to shift their policy positions, there is little cross-national research that analyzes how voters respond to parties' policy shifts. We report pooled, time-series analyses of election survey data from several European polities, which suggest that voters do not systematically adjust their perceptions of parties' positions in response to shifts in parties' policy statements during election campaigns. We also find no evidence that voters adjust their Left-Right positions or their partisan loyalties in response to shifts in parties' campaign-based policy statements. By contrast, we find that voters do respond to their subjective perceptions of the parties' positions. Our findings have important implications for party policy strategies and for political representation.


Broadcast and Cable News Network Differences in the Way Reporters Used Women and Minority Group Sources to Cover the 2004 Presidential Race

Geri Alumit Zeldes & Frederick Fico
Mass Communication and Society, November 2010, Pages 512-515

Our content analysis of 2,075 campaign stories aired by 3 broadcast and 3 cable networks during the 2004 presidential campaign revealed that female and non-White reporters at broadcast networks were generally more aggressive in their source use when compared to their male and White colleagues, using a greater number of sources and in most cases also allotting the sources more time. Female and non-White reporters at cable networks also tended, although less consistently and to a lesser extent, to use and give more time to female and non-White sources.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.