Kevin Lewis

June 09, 2023

Talk Local to Me: Assessing the Heterogenous Effects of Localistic Appeals
Kal Munis & Richard Burke
American Politics Research, forthcoming 


Contemporary public opinion in the United States has been characterized by affective polarization and the nationalization of political behavior. In this paper, we examine whether local framing can decrease voters’ reliance on national partisan identities when evaluating their representatives in the United States Congress. Relying on both an experimental study and observational data from senators’ Facebook posts, we find evidence that “talking local” is an effective means for representatives to bypass the “perceptual screen” of partisanship. Candidates who “go local” in their communication style are able to expand their electoral coalition by appealing to independents and outpartisans alike. Observational findings suggest that many politicians, especially those representing competitive districts, are aware of this and “go local” strategically.

Why voters who value democracy participate in democratic backsliding
Alia Braley et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming 


Around the world, citizens are voting away the democracies they claim to cherish. Here we present evidence that this behaviour is driven in part by the belief that their opponents will undermine democracy first. In an observational study (N = 1,973), we find that US partisans are willing to subvert democratic norms to the extent that they believe opposing partisans are willing to do the same. In experimental studies (N = 2,543, N = 1,848), we revealed to partisans that their opponents are more committed to democratic norms than they think. As a result, the partisans became more committed to upholding democratic norms themselves and less willing to vote for candidates who break these norms. These findings suggest that aspiring autocrats may instigate democratic backsliding by accusing their opponents of subverting democracy and that we can foster democratic stability by informing partisans about the other side’s commitment to democracy.

The Effects of Polarized Evaluations on Political Participation: Does Hating the Other Side Motivate Voters?
Chloe Ahn & Diana Mutz
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming 


This study examines whether rising polarization in Americans’ partisan judgments has positive implications for political participation. Drawing on cross-sectional and panel survey data, we find evidence that polarized judgments are related to pre-election intent to vote, as well as to post-election self-reported voter turnout. Polarized evaluations also predict greater reporting of participation in campaign activities beyond voting. Polarization in candidate evaluations consistently has more of an impact than affective polarization. However, our results suggest that polarization in evaluations of both parties and candidates includes an expressive component that does not necessarily translate into political action. Roughly one-quarter to one-third of the actual change in turnout can potentially be attributed to polarization in evaluations of Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

Either with Us or Against Us: Business Power and Campaign Contributions in an Age of Hyper-Partisanship
Niels Selling
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming 


Political scientists have repeatedly failed to establish a relationship between the money companies funnel into political campaigns and how members of Congress vote. Notably, studies have mainly examined how campaign contributions affect the voting of their direct recipients. However, considering the partisan divide and intense power struggle between the two major American parties, this paper proposes that the influence of campaign contributions operates at the party level. That means a member of Congress is more likely to side with a firm whose donations favor her party, even if the firm has not given to the member’s own campaign. Correspondingly, legislators should be less likely to vote in line with the policy preferences of firms whose donations predominately go to the other party. A quantitative analysis of campaign contributions, corporate policy positions, and roll-call votes in Congress bears out these propositions. While the paper also uncovers a recipient effect, the party effect is more substantial.

Overperception of moral outrage in online social networks inflates beliefs about intergroup hostility
William Brady et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming 


As individuals and political leaders increasingly interact in online social networks, it is important to understand the dynamics of emotion perception online. Here, we propose that social media users overperceive levels of moral outrage felt by individuals and groups, inflating beliefs about intergroup hostility. Using a Twitter field survey, we measured authors’ moral outrage in real time and compared authors’ reports to observers’ judgements of the authors’ moral outrage. We find that observers systematically overperceive moral outrage in authors, inferring more intense moral outrage experiences from messages than the authors of those messages actually reported. This effect was stronger in participants who spent more time on social media to learn about politics. Preregistered confirmatory behavioural experiments found that overperception of individuals’ moral outrage causes overperception of collective moral outrage and inflates beliefs about hostile communication norms, group affective polarization and ideological extremity. Together, these results highlight how individual-level overperceptions of online moral outrage produce collective overperceptions that have the potential to warp our social knowledge of moral and political attitudes.

Users choose to engage with more partisan news than they are exposed to on Google Search
Ronald Robertson et al.
Nature, 8 June 2023, Pages 342–348 


If popular online platforms systematically expose their users to partisan and unreliable news, they could potentially contribute to societal issues such as rising political polarization. This concern is central to the ‘echo chamber’ and ‘filter bubble’ debates, which critique the roles that user choice and algorithmic curation play in guiding users to different online information sources. These roles can be measured as exposure, defined as the URLs shown to users by online platforms, and engagement, defined as the URLs selected by users. However, owing to the challenges of obtaining ecologically valid exposure data -- what real users were shown during their typical platform use -- research in this vein typically relies on engagement data or estimates of hypothetical exposure. Studies involving ecological exposure have therefore been rare, and largely limited to social media platforms, leaving open questions about web search engines. To address these gaps, we conducted a two-wave study pairing surveys with ecologically valid measures of both exposure and engagement on Google Search during the 2018 and 2020 US elections. In both waves, we found more identity-congruent and unreliable news sources in participants’ engagement choices, both within Google Search and overall, than they were exposed to in their Google Search results. These results indicate that exposure to and engagement with partisan or unreliable news on Google Search are driven not primarily by algorithmic curation but by users’ own choices.

Truth and Bias, Left and Right: Testing Ideological Asymmetries with a Realistic News Supply
Bernhard Clemm von Hohenberg
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming 


The debate around “fake news” has raised the question of whether liberals and conservatives differ, first, in their ability to discern true from false information, and second, in their tendency to give more credit to information that is ideologically congruent. Typical designs to measure these asymmetries select, often arbitrarily, a small set of news items as experimental stimuli without clear reference to a “population of information.” This pre-registered study takes an alternative approach by, first, conceptualizing estimands in relation to all political news. Second, to represent this target population, it uses a set of 80 randomly sampled items from a large collection of articles from Google News and three fact-checking sites. In a subsequent survey, a quota sample of US participants (n = 1,393) indicate whether they believe the news items to be true. Conservatives are less truth-discerning than liberals, but also less affected by the congruence of news.

Tribalism in American Politics: Are Partisans Guilty of Double-Standards?
Michael Bernstein et al.
Journal of Open Inquiry in the Behavioral Sciences, February 2023 


Political tribalism has increased dramatically in recent years. We explored partisan double-standards of Democratic and Republican voters across both hypothetical and real-world scenarios. In Study 1, participants rated the perceived legitimacy of election outcomes in response to hypothetical and ambiguous results from the 2020 presidential election. In Study 2 Part 1, college students and Amazon Turk volunteers rated their support of real-world presidential policies and actions. All policies/actions were attributed to Trump or Obama though they actually occurred under both presidents. In Study 2 Part 2, participants rated how bigoted various statements were; we manipulated who the utterances were attributed to (Trump v. Bill Clinton or Trump v. Martin Luther King [MLK]). Generally, Republican ratings were more favorable when statements were attributed to Trump vs. Democratic leaders while the opposite is true of Democrats. Crucially, these biases exist when evaluating identical information. Republicans and Democrats had a very small and very large tendency, respectively, to view statements as more bigoted under Trump vs. MLK. To the degree that this study can answer the question about which side is more guilty of double-standards, our results provide tentative evidence that this occurs under Democrats more than Republicans, though this overall difference may obscure important moderators. Our data provide evidence for tribal loyalty which may have significant social and political ramifications.

Universalism and Political Representation: Evidence from the Field
Benjamin Enke et al.
NBER Working Paper, May 2023 


This paper provides field evidence on the link between morals and political behavior. We develop a theory-guided real-stakes measure of each U.S. district's values on the universalism-particularism continuum, which reflects the degree to which charitable giving decreases as a function of social distance. District universalism is strongly predictive of local Democratic vote shares, legislators' roll-call voting, and the moral content of Congressional speeches. These results hold in both across- and within-party analyses. Overall, spatial heterogeneity in universalism is a substantially stronger predictor of geographic variation in political outcomes than traditional economic variables such as income or education.

The Politics of Academic Research
Matthew Ringgenberg, Chong Shu & Ingrid Werner
Ohio State University Working Paper, May 2023


We develop a novel measure of political slant in research to examine whether political ideology influences the content and use of academic research. Our measure examines the frequency of citations from think tanks with different political ideologies and allows us to examine both the supply and demand for research. We find that research in Economics and Political Science displays a liberal slant, while Finance and Accounting research exhibits a conservative slant, and these differences cannot be accounted for by variations in research topics. We also find that the ideological slant of researchers is positively correlated with that of their Ph.D. institution and research conducted outside universities appears to cater more to the political party of the current President. Finally, political donations data confirms that the ideological slant we measure based on think tank citations aligns with the political values of researchers. Our findings have important implications for the structure of research funding.


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