Recent Research: Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy
- Public Opinion, Political Deliberation, and Political Communication
- Decision Making in the Policy Process
- Congress—Budgets and Bipartisanship
- Income Inequality
- Gender in Attitudes and Social Policies
- News, Technologies, and Online Behavior
- Aspects of Government Behavior and Politics
Class and Public Opinion Research
IPR sociologist Leslie McCall and New York University sociologist Jeff Manza examine the “vexing” thesis of class in public opinion research, in which political and social attitudes are said to vary based on whether one is rich or poor. Such attitudes are thought to persist even in periods of rising affluence and to strengthen in those of widening inequality. In reviewing classical and current theoretical debates, the two ask, “Are ‘classes dying,’ as some have suggested, or does class remain a robust force in contemporary public opinion?” The studies that the two exhume never fully prove one side or the other. McCall and Manza suggest a need to approach such questions with multiple measures of class and across a range of social, economic, and political issues. They do, however, point to one all-important argument emerging from both past and recent research: Socioeconomic differences matter in the formation of public opinion, but their impact varies across issue areas, becoming more salient in the expected ways when electoral and economic preferences are on the line. Their chapter was published in The Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and the Media.
Public Opinion and Energy Policy
Over the year, policymakers dealt with several controversial events related to energy policy, including the bankruptcy of solar panel maker Solyndra and controversy over the Keystone Pipeline. Do the views of the general public align with what policymakers and energy scientists generally think about energy sources, technologies, and policies? IPR political scientists James Druckman, Fay Lomax Cook, and Toby Bolsen of Georgia State University are working on a series of papers based on their analysis of survey data from three surveys conducted in summer 2010 to gauge knowledge and attitudes about traditional and alternative energy sources, as well as how Americans support various energy policies and programs. The surveys are the first to compare views between citizens, scientists, and policymakers and to consider the amount of agreement between them, which is particularly important since these groups collectively help determine the course of energy policy. Using an online survey experiment, the researchers also investigate how individuals go about conserving energy, finding that rhetoric plays a crucial role in shaping behavior. The researchers received funding for the project from the Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern. Druckman is Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science.
Public Opinion on Social Security
Americans’ support for Social Security remains stalwart. Yet the nation’s polarized political environment has spilled over into calls to privatize it—and in some cases, to deliberately misinform the public about the program. For example, Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, famously called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” during a Republican presidential primary debate. Despite such attacks, Fay Lomax Cook pointed to strong and stable public support for Social Security, devoid of polarization by party, ideology, and age. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they considered it an “extremely important” program in the 2010 General Social Survey, and that support has grown by 15 percent since the early 1990s. Americans, however, are concerned about the future viability of the program, which is scheduled to stop paying full benefits in 2037 (after which time it will only pay 75 percent). Cook is working on a project with Rachel Moskowitz to examine how opinions about Social Security have changed over the last 30 years, including knowledge of, confidence in, and support for changes to the program.
How Presidents Use Public Opinion
With Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota, James Druckman is completing a book manuscript on the impact of public opinion on the policy responsiveness of three presidents—Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. The researchers rely on public statements, memoranda, and other archival materials, including private polls run from the White House. Scrutinizing private polls from the Reagan White House, Druckman and Jacobs show that certain issue positions taken by Reagan were responding to the concerns of the wealthy, political independents, Baptists, born-again Protestants, and conservative Republicans. The finding points to a more nuanced understanding of how public opinion can be collected and used at the highest levels of policymaking. It also demonstrates how some economic and political interest groups can sway government policy from the overall interests of the country.
James Druckman and fellow political scientist Dennis Chong, an IPR affiliate, continue their work into further developing their theory of how citizens form political opinions and how political and media elites might affect these views. In particular they have been testing their theories about which frames are more likely to win when in competition and how long their effects last. One of their latest papers looks at how electoral campaigns and policy debates are dynamic processes that unfold over time. In the contest for public opinion, each side tries to frame issues to its advantage, but success also depends on developing effective responses to opposition frames. In this research, Druckman and Chong explore how the timing and repetition of counter-frames affect their success. Using an over-time experiment, they test several hypotheses about whether the best counter-framing strategy depends on the target audience. Their results show that, among individuals who initially form strong opinions, a counter-frame has more impact when it is not repeated and when more time elapses between the initial frame and the counter-frame. But for those people whose opinions are susceptible to change, the exact opposite is true: Counter-frames generally are effective, and repetition can strengthen those effects. Given the differences in how individuals react, a single communication strategy might be impossible to implement as the tactics that work on those with weak viewpoints might backfire with those who hold stronger ones. Chong is John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Political Science.
Voters Overrate Favorite Candidates
A study using data from the American Life Panel suggests that people tend to believe that their preferred candidate will win an election, no matter what the polls predict. Calling it one of the strongest empirical regularities he has ever seen, IPR economist Charles F. Manski and his co-author Adeline Delavande of the University of Essex find that people thought their preferred candidate had a 20 to 30 percent better chance of winning over the others, in every election, no matter in which state they lived, no matter who was running, no matter which political party. The effect was consistently strong even after controlling for gender, education, and race. Also, when individuals changed their candidate preferences over time, their expectations of election outcomes changed similarly. Survey data came from the nonprofit RAND Corporation’s American Life Panel, an online survey of several thousand adult Americans. Responses were collected around the 2008 U.S. presidential election and the 2010 senatorial and gubernatorial state elections. Since the survey allowed respondents to flexibly express uncertainty, it provides new empirical evidence that the “false consensus effect”—a psychological phenomenon in which people project their own preferences onto others—could influence voting behavior. Manski is Board of Trustees Professor in Economics. The study received funding from the National Institute on Aging.
The Politics of Motivation
In their widely cited 2006 paper, “Motivated Skepticism in the Evaluation of Political Beliefs,” political scientists Charles Taber and Milton Lodge of Stony Brook University offer a powerful case for the prevalence of directional reasoning that aims not at truth, but at vindicating prior opinions. Taber and Lodge’s results have far-reaching implications for empirical scholarship and normative theory. Indeed, the very citizens often seen as performing “best” on tests of political knowledge, sophistication, and ideological constraint appear to be those who are the most susceptible to directional reasoning. However, in a Critical Review article, James Druckman points out that while Taber and Lodge’s study could be considered methodologically beyond reproach, it could also substantially overstate the presence of motivated reasoning in political settings. That said, the focus on accuracy motivation has the potential to bring together two models of opinion formation that many treat as competitors and to offer a basis for assessing citizen competence.
Experiments in Political Science
James Druckman is co-editor of the first comprehensive overview of how experimental research is transforming political science. Published by Cambridge University Press, the Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science (2011) offers methodological insights and groundbreaking research from 30 of the discipline’s leading experimentalists, including Druckman, Shanto Iyengar and Paul Sniderman of Stanford University, Alan Gerber and Donald Green of Columbia University, and Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania. The handbook aims to ensure that political science experiments are conducted with the highest level of intellectual rigor, thereby enabling political scientists to provide policymakers with significant data and conclusions. The volume came together after a May 2009 conference at Northwestern University and also features contributions from IPR associates Daniel Diermeier and Dennis Chong.
Since the 1970s, left-leaning parties around the world have been under pressure to adapt to changing economic and political conditions. With globalization and deindustrialization shrinking organized labor’s membership base and undermining the credibility of traditional social-democratic policy agendas, these parties have faced incentives to develop new policy initiatives and court new electoral constituencies. The Democratic Party in the United States is usually thought to have responded to these incentives slowly, poorly, or not at all, and this is presumed to help explain their electoral difficulties since the Reagan presidency. But is this narrative correct? And if Democrats did have trouble adapting, then why?
To investigate the question, IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin turns to the Rust Belt—the region hit hardest by globalization-related trends—and finds surprising variation in the adaptive capacities of Democratic parties in the four heaviest manufacturing states of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Drawing upon extensive primary-source research, Galvin finds that these parties’ historical ties to organized labor, urban machines, and liberal interest groups (in different proportions in each state) had important consequences for their downstream activities. Modifying prominent theories of party adaptation and refining our understanding of party networks, Galvin argues that a party’s organizational arrangements and historical alliances can strongly influence its capacities to undertake programmatic and coalitional change. Challenging standard characterizations of the Democratic Party as in decline, Galvin contends that the party’s development has not been all of a piece: Different sub-national units have adapted in different ways, at different rates, and with different degrees of success.
This project has already turned up some surprising findings. For example, in Michigan, Galvin has found that the relationship between the Michigan Democratic Party and the UAW remained unusually strong between 1970 and 2010, yet Democratic politicians frequently promoted “third-way” policies that contradicted labor’s longstanding priorities. Deep party-union integration over many years, he argues, led union officials to internalize the party’s strategic considerations and support adaptation, while magnifying the party’s organizational capacities and providing base stability. The case suggests that past a certain point of integration, strong party-union linkages might not be a hindrance—but can generate synergies that help foster electoral resilience.
Party Nomination Rules and Campaigns
IPR political scientist Georgia Kernell examines the effect of intraparty candidate selection rules on active participation in electoral campaigns. Parties with decentralized candidate selection allow individual members to participate in nominating candidates to the party ticket, while those with centralized selection maintain control in the hands of the national executive. Kernell argues that individuals who vote for decentralized parties should be more informed about party processes than those who vote for centralized parties. She presents two countervailing arguments—one states that political information mobilizes party support and the other contends that information exposes internal party divisions and consequently reduces participation. She tests the arguments using original data on candidate selection and surveys from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. Her results suggest that voters are more likely to participate where nominations are centralized in a party’s national leadership than where local party organizations select candidates.
Party Heterogeneity in Candidates
Georgia Kernell is examining the conditions under which parties benefit from fielding more or less heterogeneous candidate teams. While most spatial voting models assume or imply that homogeneous candidate teams offer parties the best prospect for winning elections—in reality, candidates from the same political party often adopt divergent policy positions. She reconciles theory and reality by identifying a strategic rationale for political parties to recruit a diverse pool of candidates. Kernell develops a spatial model in which two parties each select a distribution of candidates to compete in an upcoming election. The model demonstrates that parties positioned close to the median voter should field a more homogeneous set of candidates than parties with platforms that are more distant. Kernell tests this prediction using data on the policy positions of Democratic and Republican candidates for congressional and state legislative elections since 1990. In line with the model’s predictions, she finds that minority parties—presumably more distant from the median voter—are more heterogeneous than majority parties.
Political Identity and Ideology
More than 80 social scientists and graduate students gathered to discuss the formation of political identity and ideology at the fifth Chicago Area Political and Social Behavior (CAB) Workshop at Northwestern on May 6. It was organized by IPR political scientist James Druckman and co-sponsored by the Institute. The workshop welcomed top political scientists who examined the roles of geography, ideology, political elites, and misinformation within the U.S. political landscape.
Indiana University’s Edward Carmines unpacked the role of citizens in the political polarization of elites. Cara Wong of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign examined how people understand their environments as a map-based measure of context. In her talk on the “geography of power,” the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Katherine Cramer Walsh explored rural perspectives of political inequality. MIT’s Adam Berinsky talked about his research analyzing the factors behind whether people believe or reject political misinformation. The workshop concluded with a roundtable on political polarization, with Carmines, IPR political scientists Daniel Galvin and Laurel Harbridge, and the University of Notre Dame’s Geoff Layman.
Uncertainty in Policy Analysis
Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), reported to Congress in March 2010 that enactment of the proposed healthcare legislation would lower the deficit by $138 billion between 2010 and 2019. In his 25-page letter, Elmendorf expressed no uncertainty about the figure, which the media subsequently reported without question. Yet Charles F. Manski underscores that given the complicated nature of the legislation, the CBO figure of $138 billion is at best a very rough estimate. In contrast, he cited a former CBO director who predicted that the same bill would instead increase the deficit by $562 billion. In an article for The Economic Journal, Manski used this $700 billion difference to underscore why policy analysts should be upfront about the amount of uncertainty in their predictions. Transparency is key in creating more credible policy analysis, he said. Manski points to the United Kingdom, where agencies must state upper and lower bounds in assessing the budgetary impact of a legislative proposal. He also suggests that policy analysts and researchers use a layered analysis, to move from weak, highly credible assumptions to stronger, less credible ones, determining the conclusions that follow in each case. This would help resolve the tension between the credibility and power of assumptions and also improve the transparency of policy discussions. The research project received funding from the National Science Foundation.
IPR political scientist Laurel Harbridge is working on a book manuscript on how bipartisanship has changed over the last 40 years in Congress that will include a systematic empirical analysis of coalitions on House bills, as well as interviews with congressional staff members and former members. Looking back, she starts from the premise that there has been an increase in polarization in Congress since the 1970s but little to none in public attitudes. One might assume that these two patterns of polarization indicate that congressional members have become less responsive to their constituents. Harbridge, however, takes a broader view of bipartisan cooperation, looking at House roll call votes and bill co-sponsorship coalitions. She finds that while roll call votes have become more partisan, bill co-sponsorship coalitions have not. This suggests that responsiveness has declined for roll call voting, but increased for co-sponsorship coalitions. She reconciles these divergent patterns with how parties control the content of the congressional agenda. In effect, she argues that political parties are contributing to a rise in party polarization by selecting which bills face roll call votes—thus calling the public’s attention to an increased upswing in congressional polarization and declining bipartisanship.
Institutions, Partisan Biases, and the Federal Budget
Debt-ceiling debates and a looming government shutdown repeatedly strained federal budget negotiations between congressional Republicans, Democrats, and President Obama in 2011. Laurel Harbridge and Sarah Anderson of the University of California, Santa Barbara are using a unique budgetary database to explore interaction between three factors: congressional turnover, party control, and budgetary constraints on spending outcomes, including ending or creating programs and changes in funding levels. A new working paper examines how parties change the budget when they sweep to power in the House, Senate, or White House. Do these partisan changes lead to spending cuts or increases? And if cuts or increases are made, are they large or small? The two argue that motivated reasoning among partisans—even among elected officials—leads to ignoring signals to move spending in ways that run counter to partisan predispositions. Empirically, they show that while Republicans generally tend to cut spending more—while Democrats tend to increase it more—motivated reasoning and disproportionate information processing is seen when the parties act counter to these predispositions. When Democrats cut spending, they tend to make large cuts. If spending is set to increase, Republican gains in control lead to bigger increases. Their findings highlight how partisan biases translate into policy outcomes.
Polarization in Congress
Why does congressional polarization persist if the public claims to want less of it? Does partisan conflict damage citizens’ perceptions of Congress? In the American Journal of Political Science, Laurel Harbridge and Neil Malhotra of Stanford University explain that part of the answer might lie with differences in how voters evaluate Congress as a whole versus individual lawmakers. While all voters might like to see Congress acting in a more bipartisan manner, some groups prefer the opposite when it comes to judging their own representatives. In a survey, the researchers find Independents and weak partisans are most supportive of bipartisan behavior, but strong Democrats and strong Republicans (who are most likely to be party activists, volunteers, and financial contributors) express greater disapproval of individual members who voted with the opposing party, despite desiring bipartisanship from Congress as a whole. Harbridge, Malhotra, and Northwestern graduate student Brian Harrison are currently working on a follow-up project to examine the limitations of public support for bipartisanship in Congress. In a series of three experiments, they find that despite abstract support for bipartisan compromise, voters do not express any special preference for bipartisan coalitions, preferring them as much as coalitions dominated by their own party. Consequently, members of Congress do not have electoral incentives to reach across the aisle to build costly bipartisan coalitions.
Implications of Midterm Elections
More than 65 people crowded into an IPR forum to hear three faculty experts discuss some potential policy implications of the 2010 midterm elections in January 2011. Laurel Harbridge explained that she found little reason to hope for more bipartisanship in Congress, because even though most Americans say they want more bipartisan cooperation, this is less true for more partisan voters, with Republicans currently more resolute. Healthcare economist and IPR associate David Dranove correctly called the shot that House Republicans would vote to repeal healthcare reform legislation, also asserting, however, that certain parts of the law were popular with Democrats and Independents—and they were here to stay. Professor emeritus Kenneth Janda closed with a discussion of the Tea Party movement, which he argued was not a movement that is naturally cohesive. James Druckman organized and moderated the forum.
The Politics of America’s One Percent
What political attitudes do the very wealthy hold? A new study led by IPR associate and political scientist Benjamin Page, and colleagues, including IPR social policy professor Fay Lomax Cook and IPR graduate research assistant Rachel Moskowitz, sheds light on how the wealthiest 1 percent think about social and economic issues and engage in politics. The pilot study, which randomly surveyed 104 Chicagoans with a median household wealth of $7.5 million, discovered some large differences between the wealthy and average Americans. 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, Gordon S. Fulcher Professor of Decision Making, and his colleagues are currently expanding the pilot study into a nationwide survey. Several working papers have been written that examine methods for interviewing wealthy Americans about their philanthropy and their political attitudes and behaviors. The pilot study received support from the Russell Sage Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation is supporting ongoing work.
American Abundance and the Paradox of Poverty
IPR sociologist Monica Prasad’s book, The Land of Too Much: American Abundance and the Paradox of Poverty (Harvard University Press, 2012), centers around three key questions: Why does the United States have more poverty than any other developed country? Why did it experience an attack on state intervention starting in the 1980s, known today as the neoliberal revolution? And why did it recently suffer the greatest economic meltdown in 75 years? Prasad explores the puzzle of why the United States has the most progressive tax system of the advanced industrial world, yet one of the world’s smallest public welfare states. She traces how U.S. economic development grew from a model based on consumption while European states focused on an economic model driven by exports and investment. Fueled by a tradition of sweeping government interventions, U.S. economic growth and strict financial regulation increased private credit, which became the means for meeting citizens’ needs—a stark contrast to the cradle-to-grave social policies of a more protectionist Europe. In turn, the U.S. economic path eventually wound its way to more poverty, the “mortgage Keynesianism” that created the housing bubble, and an anti-tax and anti-regulation sentiment embodied by the recent rise of the Tea Party.
The Occupy Wall Street movement ignited an ongoing conversation about income inequality in America, the topic of IPR sociologist Leslie McCall’s book, The Undeserving Rich: American Beliefs About Inequality, Opportunity, and Redistribution (Cambridge University Press, 2013). In a March 23 New York Times piece, she drew from some of the themes of her book: “National polls show that since the late 1980s, a majority agrees that U.S. income differences are too large and executives are overpaid. So even though Americans might not realize how much inequality there is, they still want less of it. Moreover, far from believing naively in the American dream, Americans are well aware of barriers to opportunity, such as the decline in good paying jobs and in affordable college access for the lower and middle classes. Americans’ perceived lack of viable alternatives is what leads them to desire educational attainment and economic growth as the best means to restoring greater equality and opportunity.” In her book, McCall also examines views about redistributive policies in the labor market and by government, views about both the deserving and undeserving rich, and the development of American norms of equality throughout history.
Race, Poverty, and “Choice” Policies
“Choice” has become a buzzword across the policy spectrum, especially in housing, schools, and healthcare. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, makes a case for “nudging” people toward choices that are in their best interest, but the authors do not address inequalities that inevitably arise when relying on a choice framework. Sociologist and African American studies researcher Mary Pattillo, Harold Washington Professor and an IPR associate, questions the assumptions, ideology, and philosophy that undergirds “choice.” She has conducted two small qualitative studies—one on parents choosing high schools for their children and the other on individuals using a housing choice voucher to search for an apartment. Preliminary results suggest that many on the receiving end of these policies are not even aware that they have a choice, that there are socioeconomic differences in who chooses, and that there is a misalignment in what policymakers and the targets of these policies deem important.
Evolutionary psychologists and feminist psychologists are locked in fierce debate over widely different interpretations of the causes of sex differences and similarities. IPR social psychologist Alice Eagly, James Padilla Chair of Arts and Sciences, and her colleague Wendy Wood of the University of Southern California continue their investigation into this topic. In a special issue of Sex Roles devoted to the debate, the co-authors trace the source of the mutual distrust of feminist and evolutionary psychologists and suggest that the two sides of the debate might be “mired in an old-fashioned nature versus nurture dynamic.” Eagly and Wood urge their colleagues to consider research by evolutionary scientists in a wider range of scientific domains—beyond the realm of psychology. As an example, they explain how they came to develop their “biosocial constructionist” evolutionary theory, which integrates human culture in both ultimate and proximal causes of female and male behavior. Adequate theorizing requires that feminists acknowledge the distant evolutionary origins, as well as more immediate causes, of sex differences and similarities, and the evolutionists would have to recognize and incorporate the dynamic cultural processes that shape female and male behavior. To support such a transformative integration, Eagly and Wood call for standardized metrics to describe the results of male/female comparisons, more diverse research methods for measuring biological and psychological processes, and greater acceptance of divergent findings. They also point to the necessity of theoretical growth in the field.
Stereotypes of Male/Female Leaders
Despite women’s advances in the workplace since the 1960s, a meta-analysis by Alice Eagly and her colleagues shows that even today, leadership continues to be viewed as culturally masculine. Published in Psychological Bulletin, the research shows that women are viewed as less qualified than men for most leadership roles because of cultural stereotypes about men, women, and leadership. Previous research on gender stereotypes thus found that predominantly “communal” qualities, such as being nice or compassionate, are associated with women, and predominantly “agentic” qualities, such as being assertive or competitive, are associated with men. Because agentic qualities are seen as essential to successful leadership, men fit the cultural stereotype of leadership better than women, thus adding barriers to women in assuming important leadership roles. One of the challenges for women is that their enactment of culturally masculine behaviors often required by leadership roles can be viewed as inappropriate or presumptuous. However, the meta-analysis also reveals that the masculine understanding of leadership has weakened in recent decades because the cultural concept of good leadership has gradually included more social skills associated with women.
Feminism and the Science of Psychology
For the past three years, Alice Eagly has chaired the Feminist Transformations Task Force of the Society of the Psychology of Women. Its members are evaluating the influence of feminism on the field. Starting in the 1960s, feminists mounted a far-reaching critique of the discipline of psychology, claiming that researchers had neglected the study of women and gender and misrepresented women in the meager efforts they put forth. To evaluate whether this situation has changed, the task force published an article in American Psychologist tracing and cataloging the incorporation of research on women and gender into psychological science. The task force analyzed the content of journal articles cataloged by PsycINFO between 1960 and 2009, as well as current introductory psychology course textbooks. Overall, they find that feminism has catalyzed research on women and gender, which now encompasses a large array of theories, methods, and topics. This work has been disseminated beyond gender-specialty books and journals into mainstream psychology journals, especially in developmental, social, and personality psychology. With Stephanie Riger of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Eagly is working on a second paper evaluating psychological science in relation to feminists’ methodological and epistemological critiques.
Some research exists on documenting how the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media affect citizen deliberation, news consumption, and participation. Yet little exists to explain how these new communication technologies shape electoral campaigns. James Druckman and two former students, Michael Parkin of Oberlin College and Martin Kifer of High Point University, are filling this gap with their ongoing, award-winning study of how U.S. congressional candidates use the web to run their campaigns. Their unique data set covers more than 1,300 Senate and House candidates’ websites between 2002 and 2010 and will include 2012 data. They have also started to collect data on incumbents’ websites. In addition to being able to track the evolution of political campaigns over time, this data collection permits them to test campaign theories on a representative sample—not just the best-funded and/or most well-known ones—as almost all candidates now have campaign websites. Examples of theories they test include issue ownership, negative campaigning, issue engagement, image ownership, and position taking. The researchers also compare strategies across different media, such as websites, advertisements, and direct mail. They can study if a candidate’s campaign promises are fulfilled after taking office. They also continue their large-scale experiment, launched in 2010, to test the effectiveness of congressional campaign websites. The National Science Foundation provides funding for the research.
Young Adults and Political Engagement
Popular narratives of the 2008 presidential election have assumed that digital media played a central role in mobilizing voters, especially young adults. Less is known about the extent to which various people embraced online political activities and their links to voting and other forms of political participation. Communication and technology researcher Eszter Hargittai, an IPR associate, and IPR associate Aaron Shaw examine unique, post-election survey data from a diverse sample of young adults, whose voting mirrors that of their age group in the general population. The researchers consider various types of activities—from visiting political websites to volunteering for campaigns—while taking into account more traditional measures, such as demographics, political knowledge, and political ideology. Their findings suggest that though Internet usage alone is unlikely to transform existing patterns in political participation radically, it might facilitate the creation of new pathways for engagement.
News Industry and the Demos
For 60 years, the three pillars of journalism’s social responsibility theory have guided the news industry: to serve as a forum for discussion and debate, to provide information to the public, and to function as a watchdog. In today’s seemingly worsening journalistic landscape, scholars are calling attention to the press’s inability to meet its social responsibility. They argue that new producers, new media, and new delivery systems lack the Fourth Estate’s best qualities (such as objectivity, accuracy, etc.), and they also find newspapers, in particular, are mortally wounded. Yet IPR media scholar Rachel Davis Mersey shows that newspapers hold a potential competitive advantage as “community assets,” and they should position themselves accordingly. She establishes that current measures of circulation and penetration are weak indicators of community service. Mersey’s alternative measure of community service is based on the “echo effect” that focuses on the power over the dissemination of viewpoints, the sense of community, and different types of civic knowledge. This new instrument opens up a critical discussion of the diversity of voices in the public sphere.
Age-Based Online Privacy Laws
A major nationwide study, co-authored by Eszter Hargittai, shows that many parents know that their underage children are on Facebook in violation of the site’s minimum age of 13. These data call into question whether the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, is doing what it should to protect young children online. More than 1,000 parents with children 10 to 14 years old living at home participated in the survey. It found that more than one-third of them knew that their children joined the site before the age of 13, with nearly two-thirds of these parents participating in the creation of a Facebook account for their underage child. Four out of five surveyed parents gave various reasons for why it was acceptable for their child to violate the minimum age restrictions for online services. Carried out in July when Congress was reviewing COPPA, the survey points to many of the act’s unintended consequences, including privacy and safety issues stemming from the prevalent subterfuge of lying about one’s age online, frequently with parental knowledge and help.
Racial Differences in Media Use
The major finding of a widely covered study by communication studies researcher Ellen Wartella, an IPR associate, and her colleagues was that minority youth between 8 and 18 years old consume an average of 13 hours of media content a day—about four and a half hours more than their white peers. The first national study to focus exclusively on children’s media use by race and ethnicity, it details how daily media use doubled for blacks and quadrupled for Hispanics over the usage for whites in the past decade. The researchers analyzed a nationally representative sample by race of 1,858 students between 8 and 18 years old who had taken part in the Kaiser Family Foundation 2010 media use survey, in addition to nearly 1,000 parents of children under the age of 6. Minority children spend more time watching TV and videos, listening to music, using computers, and playing video games than white children. Reading print materials for pleasure 30 to 40 minutes a day is the only finding that is the same for all children. After controlling for a variety of factors such as parental education and family composition, the researchers found the results remained robust. A longtime Sesame Workshop trustee and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor of Communication, Wartella noted that the point of the study was not to blame parents but to “help parents, educators, and policymakers better understand how children’s media use might influence health and educational disparities.”
Community Information Gaps
Some have argued that society has left the information age for the attention age, the justification being that the total, and seemingly unending, amount of information available has led to the commoditization of attention in a way previously unobserved. While evidence of such a shift exists, an overemphasis on attention neglects real concerns about differences between the “information rich and poor.” In a report for the Chicago Community Trust, Rachel Davis Mersey identified several problems in information availability, accessibility, and quality in the Chicago area. Half of the survey respondents felt that newspapers’ political information and media coverage and watchdogging were inadequate, and two-thirds said they did have not enough opportunity to get the views of others. She also points to significant disparities: Those who were most unhappy and had more difficulty with their news consumption tended to have less education and income and live on the city’s south and west sides.
The Regulatory State Since Nixon
Looking at variation in the trajectory and character of economic regulation across selected sectors of the economy since the 1970s, IPR sociologist Anthony Chen is exploring changes in the way that economic risks are distributed between taxpayers and the private sector. Chen is interested in understanding whether and how any observed changes might be linked to the political and legal mobilization of organized business.
Political Lawyers and Networks
Research by IPR legal scholar John Heinz and his co-authors examined the organizational and professional ties for 1,149 lawyers in 119 organizations between 2004 and 2005. The lawyers occupied prominent posts in the organizations and were involved in legislation or litigation on 14 national policy issues ranging from guns and judicial nominations to abortion and gay rights. The analysis revealed a “donut-shaped” network sharply divided by party, with the conservatives packed together on one side and the liberals spread out on the other. Also notable is the big hole in the middle of the network. Their research indicates that networks and organizations matter: Lawyers active in conservative politics are better organized to seek legislative goals than are liberal lawyers. The article was published in Law & Social Inquiry.
Liberalism and the Academy
Why are business people generally considered more conservative and academics more liberal? In a working paper, Ethan Fosse of Harvard, Neil Gross of the University of British Columbia, and IPR sociologist Jeremy Freese set out to answer some long-standing claims about self-selection, cognitive ability, and the influence of the academy on those who pursue a PhD. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), they tracked nearly 1,000 seventh-to-twelfth graders who go on to pursue PhDs. The researchers find support for claims about “self-selection”—that young Americans who consider themselves liberal are more likely to enroll in graduate programs to obtain a PhD. They do not, however, find support for claims that PhD programs lead people to become substantially more liberal, thus rejecting the idea that increase in doctoral programs over the last decade has pushed America further to the left. Nonetheless, their findings on self-selection lead the researchers to suspect a growing consolidation among the nation’s most educated: Nearly 15 percent of Americans who call themselves liberal hold advanced degrees, twice as many as in the 1970s, representing a major constituency of the Democratic Party. They call for further research on the role that a person’s political affiliation might play in choosing an occupation and in influencing one’s social identity, worldview, and lifestyle.
Jury Deliberations and Damage Anchors
As part of her ongoing analysis of live jury deliberations in the Arizona Jury Project, law professor and psychologist Shari Seidman Diamond and her colleagues recently assessed how juries arrive at a dollar amount in awarding damages. Jurors often cite determining the amount as one of the hardest aspects of the jury process. Many hard-to-predict values such as future medical expenses or injuries that lack market values, such as pain and suffering, are difficult to translate into reasonable compensation. Attorneys are generally permitted to offer recommendations for damage amounts, presenting potentially powerful cognitive anchors for jurors in reaching their decisions on damages. Although these recommendations are likely to be influenced by the evidence presented at trial, no formal constraints limit the amounts attorneys might suggest. One worry is that the recommendations can mislead jurors. Studying the deliberations of jurors in 31 cases involving 33 plaintiffs in which the jury awarded damages, Diamond and her colleagues found that jurors often perceive plaintiff ad damnums not only as irrelevant but also as outrageous, and they view defense damage suggestions as more legitimate estimates than plaintiff ad damnums. Together, these findings suggest that extreme plaintiff ad damnums might exert less unwarranted influence than critics fear. The article appeared in Empirical Legal Studies. Diamond is an IPR associate and Howard J. Trienens Professor of Law.
Statistical Theories for Census Data
A new project led by IPR statistician Bruce Spencer with IPR neweconomist Charles F. Manski will address fundamental problems for government statistical agencies: how to understand the value of the statistics they produce, how to compare value to cost to guide rational setting of statistical priorities, and how to increase value for a given cost. Because data use is so complicated and difficult to study, Spencer argues that new theory is needed so that case studies for use of data in policymaking and research in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences can be developed, analyzed, and interpreted. The practical implications of research findings are important for statistical agencies, both in the long term and the short term, to understand and communicate the value of data programs the agencies might seek to carry out. Supported by a grant from the U.S. Census Bureau, the researchers propose to extend and apply statistical decision theory, including cost-benefit analysis, to attack such basic questions of the statistical agencies. The research will focus on data use, data quality, data cost, and optimization, and the findings will be applied to problems of the U.S. Census Bureau with the goal of carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of the 2020 census, which is facing severe cost constraints.
School Finance Reform
In a working paper, public finance economist and IPR associate Therese McGuire and Nathan Anderson of the University of Illinois at Chicago examine the important episode of school finance reform in the 1970s and 1980s to shed light on sub-national government revenue-setting behavior and the prevailing theories of subnational government behavior. The early wave of court-ordered school finance reforms of these decades is noteworthy because state spending became perceptibly more progressive in those states subject to the court orders. Existing analyses of this period in state and local public finance have not focused on the implications for state revenues. In their paper, McGuire and Anderson examine how states respond on the revenue side to an arguably exogenous progressive shock on the spending side, finding that the individual income tax became more progressive in states subject to court-ordered school finance reform.