Scrutinizing Views and the Vote
Workshop looks at influences on political behavior
On May 11, more than 100 social scientists and graduate students gathered at the sixth annual Chicago Area Political and Social Behavior Workshop (CAB) to examine research on how race, personality, affluence, scientific literacy, and social groupings can affect voters. IPR co-sponsored the event.
Views on DNA and the Law
In "DNA and Criminal Justice: Public Opinion on a New Policy," Harvard University’s Jennifer Hochschild described a national FBI database of nearly 10 million DNA samples. Collected in all 50 states, these samples come from many different populations—some controversial—including arrestees and people convicted of felonies and, in a few states, misdemeanors. A disproportionate number come from Latinos and African Americans. Yet no national policy governs how samples are collected or retained.
To find out what the public thinks about such databases, Hochschild and her colleague Maya Sen surveyed 4,300 U.S. adults, including similar numbers of whites, blacks, and Hispanics. The two researchers asked how much respondents knew about DNA collection and whether they supported government funding and regulation of such databases. More scientifically literate respondents were more likely to support DNA collection, they show. They also reveal that minorities, especially African Americans, have mixed views: Though they tend to oppose funding, they endorse strong regulation but are less willing to provide their own DNA. As the larger project moves forward, Hochschild expects that if the extremely strong effect of scientific literacy holds up, and the more people learn about legal biobanks, then "the more we expect people to approve of the use of DNA for law enforcement purposes."
Personality and Politics
Jeffery Mondak of the University of Illinois discussed the resurgence of the study of personality in psychology and a wide array of possible applications of it to models of political behavior. He said he was drawn to the subject because in the past, most political scientists assumed a "blank-slat" view of political behavior, in which social and political awareness do not emerge until young adulthood, and this seemed inadequate.
Mondak presented the "Big Five," or the five core clusters of traits in psychology that constitute the bulk of one’s personality—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN). The argument, he underscores, is that to pull together a full account of political behavior, political scientists need to think carefully about how to piece together the various elements, including heritability, environmental, and biological factors. In particular, he pointed to a need for "theory building" on this topic in the field.
Social Groups and Political Behavior
Presenting the results of two randomized experiments, Betsy Sinclair of the University of Chicago discussed how one’s social group might influence political behavior and opinion. In both the field and survey experiment, the treatment groups received a "like-you" message, containing similar characteristics like gender and state. Finding statistically significant effects in both, she also points to the group effect as being distinct from other effects, such as electoral cues, social networks, or information needs. Sinclair likens what might be happening to marketing—or buying a product because "you see someone who you aspire to be." She pondered the implications for voters, who, in an increasingly digital world, can observe others’ political choices in real time, online.
Politics of the Top 1 Percent
What political attitudes do the very wealthy hold? Political scientist and IPR associate Benjamin Page presented findings from a pilot study, which randomly surveyed 104 Chicagoans with a median household wealth of $7.5 million. "As it turns out," Page said, "there are some pretty big differences between what these people want and want average Americans want."
Marked differences were found on questions of tax policy, economic regulation, and social welfare policy. Particularly stark were contrasting attitudes toward federal government programs, with the wealthy tilting toward cutbacks and the public generally preferring their expansion. Page and his colleagues are currently expanding the pilot study into a nationwide surve.
Race and Politics
CAB panelists (from l.) Traci Burch, John Griffin, and Reuel Rogers
prepare to discuss their research on race and politics.
Political scientist and IPR associate Traci Burch discussed the need for greater consideration of the criminal justice system in current research on race politics, particularly regarding its unequal application and unintended effects on minorities, their communities, and voting. John Griffin of the University of Notre Dame pointed to the dearth of research on the specific role executives and the judicial system play in terms of either reducing or perpetuating racial inequalities. Northwestern’s Reuel Rogers considered the emergence of a growing political moderation in black politics over the last two decades, which suggests more ideological convergence between blacks and whites in the future.
Each year the workshop has "exceeded expectations" and has led to countless collaborations and numerous publications, said its organizer, IPR political scientist James Druckman. This year’s workshop took place in a particular climate—an election year and also one in which the House of Representatives recently passed a spending bill that would cut all National Science Foundation funding for political scientists in 2013. "This could have dire consequences for all our work," Druckman warned, encouraging his colleagues to follow up with their representatives.