NEWS 2013

A "Know" Vote

Experts tackle assumptions underlying voter knowledge and beliefs

Druckman and Lupia
IPR political scientist and workshop organizer James Druckman (left)
introduces the keynote speaker, Arthur Lupia.

Each May, IPR political scientist James Druckman brings together social scientists and graduate students to discuss topics related to social and political behavior at the Chicago Area Behavior Workshop. The seventh annual workshop took place on May 10 with five leading scholars presenting their latest research to more than 110 faculty and students. IPR and the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences sponsored the workshop.

Increasing Civic Competence

Surveys abound that purport to describe what voters know—and should know—about politics and civic life, with most showing that a majority of Americans lack requisite “political knowledge.” Yet University of Michigan political scientist Arthur Lupia pointed out that such survey questions led a generation of scholars to draw erroneous conclusions about public competence. The questions, he showed, are based on a mistaken and outmoded understanding of the interplay between information, choice, and outcomes in political contexts. This lack of understanding causes surveys to produce misleading indicators of how well citizens can accomplish key civic tasks such as voting or serving on a jury. He showed that there is a fundamental disconnect between the questions that surveys ask and the things that people need to know to make competent choices. As part of his new book manuscript on theories and practices of civic education, Lupia turned to the “science of knowledge” to outline his “logic of competence.” This logic shows how different kinds of information relate to desirable types of knowledge and competence. When surveys align their questions with this logic, Lupia argued, they can provide scholars and the public with more accurate assessments of citizen competence. Since these assessments can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of civic education he demonstrated the public value of this type of research.

Kathleen Dolan

Detangling Gender Stereotypes and Politics

How might gender stereotypes influence voting behavior in elections with women candidates? Using survey data from more than 3,100 adults before and after the 2010 elections, Kathleen Dolan of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee first examined respondents’ gender stereotypes by asking them if they believed men or women who run for political office to be more likely to display specific traits or be more competent to handle certain policies. In the second round, the respondents were asked to answer similar questions about specific candidates for whom they could vote. She found that gender stereotypes do not appear to significantly influence vote choice. In cases where they do, it is almost always because of political party stereotypes. Dolan identified shared party identification with a candidate, not being of the same sex, as the main determinant of vote choice—for both men and women.

Understanding American Beliefs About Inequality

Leslie McCall

It is widely assumed that Americans care little about income inequality and dislike redistributive policies. Presenting material from her recently published book, The Undeserving Rich, IPR sociologist Leslie McCall argued the opposite, explaining that such assumptions are based on incomplete survey data and prior economic conditions. In reviewing current and past public opinion data, she found that Americans’ concerns about income inequality have increased, in particular during difficult economic times where the rich are perceived as prospering while the rest of America sees itself falling behind with poor jobs, low pay, and restricted educational opportunities. Americans tend to favor policies, such as minimum wage laws, as a way to expand opportunity and equality in the workplace rather than tax-and-spend policies to redistribute income. McCall concluded by discussing research in progress with IPR psychologist Jennifer Richeson that frames these changing views about inequality in an “opportunity model” that incorporates Americans’ worries about the erosion of opportunity and attributes some of the blame for this erosion to rising economic inequality. 

Mobilizing Voters in the 21st Century

David Nickerson

Can volunteers effectively persuade people to vote for a candidate? If so, are some people more responsive to this kind of outreach than others? Research by University of Notre Dame political scientist David Nickerson aimed to answer these questions, which can have strong implications for campaign strategies when funds and manpower are limited. Nickerson and his team conducted a volunteer call experiment in 19 different states early in 2012 before the presidential election. They found that while respondents rarely changed their mind about who to vote for if they were already decided, those were on the fence were slightly persuadable, with the biggest effect among 18 to 35 year olds. The smallest change was seen in the middle-aged group. Who was persuaded also changed as the election came closer. As people made up their minds, they became less persuadable, and other voters who were not very persuadable in January or May became more persuadable by September. 

Research and Policymaking

CAB panelists (from l.) David Nickerson, Daniel Diermeier, and Arthur Lupia
discuss bridging the gap between academia and policy consulting. 

The workshop concluded with roundtable discussion that included Lupia, Nickerson, and business school professor and social scientist Daniel Diermeier, an IPR associate. They discussed making the transition from academia to the world of policymaking. Lupia noted many of the reasons that social science research is vital to policymaking and the implications of recent cuts in research funding. Diermeier and Nickerson both commented on ways to effectively translate academic findings into information that policymakers find compelling and easy to understand. 

James Druckman is Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and an IPR fellow and associate director at Northwestern University. Arthur Lupia is Hal R. Varian Collegiate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. Kathleen Dolan is professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Leslie McCall is professor of sociology and an IPR fellow at Northwestern. David Nickerson is associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, and IPR associate Daniel Diermeier is IBM Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. The next CAB Workshop will be held on May 9, 2014, in Evanston, Ill.