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The Political Relevance of Irrelevant Events (WP-15-14)

Ethan Busby, James Druckman, and Alexandria Fredendall

Do events irrelevant to politics affect citizens’ political opinions? A growing literature suggests that such events (e.g., athletic competitions, shark attacks) shape political preferences, raising concerns about citizen competence. The researchers offer a framework for studying these kinds of effects on preferences. Additionally, they present an experimental test of irrelevant event effects in a real world setting by exploring the impact of the 2015 College Football Playoff National Championship game. They study the game’s impact on multiple attitudes, mood, and the likelihood of public declarations. They also investigate the durability of irrelevant event effects. The researchers find that irrelevant events can influence attitudes, mood, and public declarations. However, they also find that, when it comes to political attitudes, the irrelevant event effects appear to be short-lived. They conclude that, despite their demonstration of irrelevant event effects, it is premature to conclude such events play a substantial role in affecting citizens’ political opinions.

Ethan Busby, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science, Associate Director and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Alexandria Fredendall, Undergraduate Research Assistant, Department of Political Science, Northwestern University

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