Ideology for the Future
American Political Science Review, forthcoming
Political parties sometimes adopt unpopular positions that condemn them to electoral defeat. This phenomenon is usually ascribed to expressive motives -- namely, parties’ desire to maintain their ideological purity. Could ideological parties instead have strategic incentives to lose? To answer this question, I present a model of repeated spatial elections in which voters face uncertainty about their preferred policy and learn via experience. The amount of voter learning, I show, depends on the location of the implemented policy: a more radical policy generates more information. For a party whose ideological stance is unpopular with the electorate, this creates a trade-off between winning the upcoming election so as to secure policy influence and changing voters’ preferences so as to win with a better platform in the future. Under some conditions the party gambles on the future. It chooses to lose today to possibly change voters’ views and win big tomorrow.
The Puzzle of Misinformation: Exposure to Unreliable Content is Higher among the Better Informed
Alvin Zhou, Tian Yang & Sandra González-Bailón
University of Pennsylvania Working Paper, September 2022
Most research on misinformation has focused on its prevalence and individual correlates of engagement. However, we know less about broader patterns of news-seeking behavior and whether people exposed consume unreliable content at the expense of reliable sources. This question is important because the effects of misinformation are likely to differ if unreliable content is the main source of news rather than part of a diverse news diet. We address this question using an observational panel tracking the browsing behavior of N ~ 140,000 individuals in the US for a period of twelve months (January to December of 2018). We show that about 1% of all panelists (N ~ 1,400) visit at least 100 unreliable news pages during our observation period. We also show that panelists exposed to misinformation consume more reliable news and have news diets with higher ideological diversity. We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings.
The Mainstreaming of Marx: Measuring the Effect of the Russian Revolution on Karl Marx’s Influence
Phil Magness & Michael Makovi
Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming
Karl Marx’s high academic stature outside of economics diverges sharply from his peripheral influence within the discipline, particularly after nineteenth century developments rendered the labor theory of value obsolete. We hypothesize that the 1917 Russian Revolution is responsible for elevating Marx into the academic mainstream. Using the synthetic control method, we construct a counterfactual for Marx’s citation patterns in Google Ngram data. This allows us to predict how often Marx would have been cited if the Russian Revolution had not happened. We find a significant treatment effect, meaning that Marx’s academic stature today owes a substantial debt to political happenstance.
Selling Violent Extremism
University of California Working Paper, October 2022
The Oath Keepers' national organization is unusual among groups conducting political violence in that they seem to behave as a business. Using leaked membership data, internal chat forums and publicly available articles posted to their website, I show that, unlike other far-right organizations, such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers do not organize as a club. Rather, its behavior is better explained as a firm that adjusts the price of membership over time to maximize profit. I then estimate the Oath Keepers' price elasticity of demand for new membership using five membership sales between 2014 and 2018. I find the organization's demand is highly sensitive to changes in price. These results imply that political violence can be motivated by nonideological entrepreneurs maximizing profits under current legal institutions -- a chilling conclusion.
Making an impression: The effects of sharing conspiracy theories
Ricky Green et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming
Conspiracy theories are widely viewed as stigmatized beliefs, and it is often assumed that sharing them will therefore have negative reputational consequences for individuals. In six experiments (two pre-registered), we examined how sharing conspiracy theories can have important consequences for both impression-management and impression-formation. Experiment 1 (N = 354) highlighted people's awareness of an impression-management strategy in sharing conspiracy theories. Participants perceived that others would share conspiracy theories when aiming to create unfavorable impressions, and would avoid sharing them to create favorable impressions. Experiments 2 and 3 (Ns = 137 and 150) examined participants' own impression-management motives for sharing conspiracy theories and demonstrated that these motives depended on their own conspiracy beliefs. Specifically, participants with weaker conspiracy beliefs perceived that they would share conspiracy theories mainly to portray themselves negatively, and as radical, unstable, and unique people, whereas those with stronger conspiracy beliefs perceived that they would share conspiracy theories mainly to appear stable and honest. Experiments 4a, 4b and 5 (Ns = 248, 250 and 417) focused on impression-formation. Participants evaluated fictitious politicians who shared (vs. refuted) conspiracy theories as less predictable and competent, but also as a “rogue” political outsider who is likely to effect change. Moderation analyses indicated that these differences were less pronounced or even reversed among participants with right-wing attitudes (Experiments 4a, Experiment 5) and those with strong conspiracy beliefs (Experiment 5). We discuss the importance of examining conspiracy theories from this communicative perspective.
Attitudes toward civil liberties and rights among politically charged online groups
Angelo Fasce & Diego Avendaño
Social Psychology, Fall 2022, Pages 233–243
Civil liberties and rights such as freedom of expression, press, thought, religion, association, lifestyle, and equality against the law are being subjected to controversies in Western countries. We developed two hypotheses aimed at explaining divergent attitudes toward civil liberties among politically charged online communities on each side of the political spectrum. A study using a cross-sectional sample of social media users (N = 902) suggests that, as expected by our hypotheses, support for civil liberties tend to be higher among online groups of rightists – with economic conservatism being the only direct positive predictor and left-wing authoritarianism being a strong negative predictor. These results are discussed in relation to polarization over civil liberties and perceived power imbalances between online groups.
Does Political Participation Contribute to Polarization in the United States?
Lisa Argyle & Jeremy Pope
Public Opinion Quarterly, Fall 2022, Pages 697–707
Polarization and participation are often connected in the political science literature, though sometimes the causality runs participation to polarization and sometimes the causality runs in the reverse direction. In some accounts there is an expectation that increasing participation and increasing polarization generate an ongoing spiral effect. In this paper we evaluate the over-time relationships between polarization and participation by assessing evidence in existing panel and aggregate data. We find that people with more extreme attitudes are more likely to participate in politics. However, only one particular form of participation — persuading others — appears to predict later levels of polarization. Therefore, only persuasion has the necessary correlation and temporal ordering for a feedback loop with more extreme ideology. The implication is that the discipline should pay more attention to interpersonal persuasion as a form of participation in American politics.
Political identity biases Americans' judgments of outgroup emotion
Ruby Basyouni et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, November 2022
Social group identity plays a central role in political polarization and inter-party conflict. Here, we use ambiguously valenced faces to measure bias in the processing of political ingroup and outgroup faces, while also accounting for inter-party differences in judgments of emotion at baseline. Participants identifying as Democrats and Republicans judged happy, angry, and surprised faces as positive or negative. Whereas happy and angry faces convey positive and negative valence respectively, surprised faces are ambiguous in that they readily convey positive and negative valence. Thus, surprise is a useful tool for characterizing valence bias (i.e., the tendency to judge ambiguous stimuli as negative). Face stimuli were assigned to the participants' political ingroup or outgroup, or a third group with an unspecified affiliation (baseline). We found a significant interaction of facial expression and group membership, such that outgroup faces were judged more negatively than ingroup and baseline, but only for surprise. There was also an interaction of facial expression and political affiliation, with Republicans judging surprise more negatively than Democrats across all group conditions. However, we did not find evidence for party differences in outgroup negativity. Our findings demonstrate the utility of judgments of surprised faces as a measure of intergroup bias, and reinforce the importance of outgroup negativity (relative to ingroup positivity) for explaining inter-party biases.
US liberals and conservatives live in different (linguistic) worlds: Ideological differences when interpreting business conversations
Thomas Holtgraves & Ky Bray
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, forthcoming
When people use language to communicate, their intended meanings are not always conveyed by words alone. Instead, speakers sometimes convey their meaning in a relatively subtle, or indirect, fashion, and this requires some interpretation on the part of the receiver. In this study we investigated differences between US liberals and conservatives in their interpretation of conversation utterances that have these types of potential indirect meanings. Past research demonstrating cognitive differences between conservatives and liberals suggests liberals should be more likely than conservatives to engage in cognitive processes designed to uncover potential indirect meanings. To test this, we created a conversation between two businessmen that contained five types of indirect utterances that were chosen from the pragmatics literature. Participants were asked to rate the likelihood of an indirect interpretation of each of these utterances, as well as two control utterances that did not convey an indirect meaning. In three studies (Total N = 664) liberals were significantly more likely to endorse the indirect interpretations of these utterances (but not the control utterances) than were conservatives. Several possible cognitive mediators (Empathy Quotient, Need for Cognition, and Cognitive Flexibility) were examined but did not account for the effect. The results demonstrate an important interactional implication of the cognitive processing differences between liberals and conservatives. Future research should attempt to extend these findings by using different utterances and contexts, as well as examining other potential mediators.
Institutional design and polarization. Do consensus democracies fare better in fighting polarization than majoritarian democracies?
Kamil Bernaerts, Benjamin Blanckaert & Didier Caluwaerts
It is often claimed that we are living in an age of increasing polarization. Political views, opinions, and worldviews become increasingly irreconcilable (idea-based polarization), while at the same time society appears to be getting fractured in antagonistic, opposing camps (identity-based polarization). However, a closer look at international datasets reveals that these forms of polarization do not affect all democracies to the same extent. Levels of identity-based and idea-based polarization strongly vary across countries. The question then becomes what can explain these diverging levels of polarization. In this paper, we hypothesize that the institutional design of a country impacts polarization, and that consensus democracies would display lower levels of polarization. Based on a quantitative analysis of the Comparative Political Dataset and Varieties of Democracy data in 36 countries over time (2000–2019), our results show that institutions did matter to a great extent, and in the hypothesized direction. Countries with consensus institutions, and more in particular PR electoral systems, multiparty coalitions, and federalism did exhibit lower levels of both issue-based and identity-based polarization, thereby confirming our expectations. Moreover, we found that consensus democracies tend to be better at coping with identity-based polarization, while the effect on idea-based polarization is smaller.
Partisanship and the trolley problem: Partisan willingness to sacrifice members of the other party
Michael Barber & Ryan Davis
Research & Politics, October 2022
Do partisans view members of the other party as having lower moral status? While research shows that partisans view the out-group quite poorly, we show that affective polarization extends to expressing a willingness to sacrifice an out-partisan’s life. We report the first study to consider partisanship in the classic “trolley problem” in which respondents are asked whether they would sacrifice an individual’s life in order to save the life of five individuals. We explore this issue with a nationally representative survey experiment in the United States, inquiring about politicized variants of the trolley problem case. First, we vary the political affiliations of both the group of five (to be saved by turning the trolley) and the single individual (to be sacrificed by turning the trolley). We find that individuals are less willing to sacrifice a co-partisan for the sake of a group of out-partisans. These findings go beyond earlier work by suggesting that partisans not only hold negative attitudes and judgments toward political out-groups but also they will at least signal approval of differing moral treatment. We take stock of how these results bear on normative questions in democratic theory.
Journal of Theoretical Politics, forthcoming
This paper presents a model in which people sort between two districts based on economic and ideological preferences. People are either ideologues who prefer redistribution over a public good or non-ideologues who prefer a public good that benefits everyone equally. Individuals differ in their productivity with the distribution of productivities the same for both ideologues and non-ideologues. Ideologues back their ideology by working harder when there is redistribution even when not recipients, and non-ideologues work harder when the public good is provided. The tax rate in each district is chosen by majority rule with the median voter theorem identifying the winner. In the focal equilibrium, high productivity ideologues and non-ideologues locate together in a low tax district, and low productivity non-ideologues and ideologues locate together in a high tax district to benefit from redistribution. Middle-income individuals separate with non-ideologues locating in the low tax district and ideologues locating in the high tax district. Ideology thus results in a polarization interval in the middle of the income distribution. If ideology leads to partisanship and a strong party government that chooses the tax rate based on the party median, partisanship widens the polarization interval.