Recent Research: Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy

Political Communication and Issue Frames

Julie Lee Merseth
After the presidential election, IPR experts spoke
at a panel forecasting what to expect in the next
four years, including a presentation by political
scientist and IPR associate Julie Lee Merseth
previewing the Trump administration's
immigration policies.

Minority Political Engagement

Language barriers are often cited as a main reason for low levels of political engagement among Latino and Asian-American voters. In a study with Bernard Fraga of Indiana University, political scientist and IPR associate Julie Lee Merseth examines how language minority provisions in the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which require multilingual election assistance when certain population thresholds are met, affect electoral behavior. The researchers use an individual-level voter file database to study Latino and Asian-American participation in almost 1,500 counties and municipalities across the country. Focusing on the 2012 election, they utilize a regression discontinuity design to compare participation rates in jurisdictions that were just above and just below the threshold for VRA coverage. Their analysis reveals a significant increase in Latino voter registration and Asian-American turnout in places covered by the VRA. The findings point to the positive results of enforcing language minority provisions to bolster political engagement among these fast-growing minority groups.

Group Discussions and Partisan Identity
Politically charged group discussions were seemingly unavoidable in 2016, as the country was swept up in a presidential election. In Research and Politics, IPR political scientist James Druckman digs deeper into how group discussions affect the political attitudes and partisanship of those who engage in them. Along with the University of Pennsylvania’s Matthew Levendusky and Yale University’s Audrey McClain, a former IPR assistant editor, Druckman conducted an experiment where participants discussed current political affairs. They were either part of a group where all members self-identified as being in the same political party, or in a group where members identified with different parties. The researchers then compared these two groups with the control group, which did not participate in any group discussion. While previous research has shown that group discussion can lead to more extreme political attitudes, Druckman and his co-authors also looked at the effects on attitude strength. They find that discussion does, in fact, generate strong attitudes, especially in the politically homogenous groups. These results highlight a tradeoff, as people engaged in group discussions develop stronger political attitudes and are more likely to become politically engaged, but are also more likely to become more partisan. Druckman is Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science.

Improving Scientific Communication
When it comes to climate change, about half of the U.S. public believes that humans are the primary drivers of climate change and the other half believes it is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Druckman is investigating public opinion on climate change to better understand how to effectively communicate information on seemingly controversial scientific topics. In an IPR working paper, he examines how a person’s political party affiliation affects whether they agree with the scientific consensus surrounding climate change. Druckman and Toby Bolsen, a former IPR graduate research assistant now at Georgia State University, asked more than 1,300 randomly selected participants from across the political spectrum to what extent they think humans cause climate change versus it being naturally occurring. One group of participants then received “consensus information” that supported the idea that climate change is primarily due to humans, while another received this same information along with a statement highlighting the political debate over the issue. The consensus information did not lead all participants to higher levels of belief in human-induced climate change. One group in particular—Republicans with higher-than-average political and scientific knowledge—was less likely to believe that human activity fuels climate change after reading the consensus information. The research reveals the difficulty of effectively communicating scientific research surrounding climate change.

Diversity’s Advocacy-Science Split
In the Journal of Social Issues, IPR social psychologist Alice Eagly outlines the “chasm that can develop” between research findings and advocates’ claims on social inequality issues such as racial and gender diversity. Advocates typically claim that having women on corporate boards leads to better firm performance and that more diverse work groups perform better. While policymakers might also believe these generalizations, repeated meta-analyses—which aggregate and statistically integrate a large number of studies—have found little to no correlation between the proportion of women on corporate boards and their firm’s performance or between racial and gender diversity in groups and overall group performance. Eagly underscores the need for research that better identifies the conditions under which diversity helps or hinders performance. She also calls on social scientists to go beyond looking at performance to account for other important effects of diversity, such as promoting social justice. She also stresses that social scientists must be “honest brokers,” who communicate relevant scientific findings rather than distort them to fit specific advocacy or policy goals. Eagly holds the James Padilla Chair of Arts and Sciences.

Public Opinion and Political Participation

Collaboration and Distributive Justice
Psychological theory suggests that humans have an innate concept of distributive justice—the idea that goods should be allocated justly throughout a society—that is rooted in collaboration with others. IPR political scientist Mary McGrath and Alan Gerber of Yale University are exploring how collaboration affects decisions about sharing resources and shapes who we think of as fellow team members. First, they are conducting an experiment to test whether collaboration can alter “distributive preferences,” such as by making people view their collaborators as more worthy of receiving their “fair share.” In fact, the researchers find that people collaborating in groups are more likely to support a fair allocation of resources within the group, mainly because they feel indebted to other group members. In the second part of the project, the researchers are investigating the relationship between group identification and collaboration. Early results suggest that people treat their collaborators differently depending on whether they are of the same race, for instance, and by whether or not they are naturally group-oriented. The results also point to the ways that collaboration can affect general views about redistributive policy, showing how working in a group setting can shape wider policy preferences.

Political Opinion Formation
With a fragmented media environment and the prevalence of so-called “fake news,” many lamented the difficulty of separating fact from fiction in 2016. In an ongoing project, McGrath is investigating how factual information affects political opinions. Her study will rely on a novel treatment that prompts people to take time to process factual information and use facts to inform their opinions. Though still in its early stages, the project could have wide-ranging implications for how encouraging the use of facts in information processing could help shape how people arrive at their political opinions.

Ideologically Extreme Candidates
Republican Barry Goldwater’s landslide loss in the 1964 presidential election and George McGovern’s similar defeat in 1972 seem to suggest that ideologically extreme candidates do not fare well among the American electorate. Yet do these two cases really represent a broader pattern? In The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, McGrath and her colleagues examine whether candidates at the ideological extremes of their parties paid an electoral price in the 17 presidential elections between 1948 and 2012. To gauge ideological extremism, they measure each presidential candidate’s position on a liberal-conservative spectrum, as well as how extreme each candidate was relative to his opponent in the election. They then use electoral outcomes from the 17 presidential races to determine whether more extreme candidates fared worse. Despite the Goldwater and McGovern examples, their results show little evidence of “extremism penalties” for presidential candidates, suggesting that ideologically extreme candidates do not necessarily pay in the form of votes.

Parties, Partisanship, and Cooperation

Laurel Harbridge
IPR political scientist Laurel Harbridge 
Yong's research suggests that there will
not be much bipartisan action in the 115th
Congress with Republicans in control of
both the House and Senate, as well as
the presidency.

Voters’ Views on Legislative Compromise
How do voters view legislative compromise, and under which conditions are policymakers punished for failing to reach compromise? IPR political scientist Laurel Harbridge Yong finds that legislators are generally viewed more positively when they compromise than when they do not, at least when legislative action is at stake, but certain conditions provide “cushions” for legislators to avoid compromise without facing voter backlash. In Political Behavior, she and her colleagues reveal that voters are more willing to overlook a lack of compromise when their legislator belongs to the same party as they do, and when they see the issue at stake as aligning with the legislator’s gender. For example, voters are more forgiving of male legislators who do not compromise on “male-dominated” energy issues and female legislators who do not compromise on the more “female-oriented” issue of early childhood education. Voters are less forgiving, however, of legislators who refuse to compromise on issues considered outside of their expertise. The results emphasize the way in which voter penalties for not compromising can vary across legislators and political contexts.

Blame for Congressional Inaction
Americans’ approval of Congress stood at less than 20 percent for most of 2016, as congressional gridlock persisted. In an IPR working paper, Harbridge Yong and David Doherty of Loyola University Chicago identify one explanation for this continued pattern of gridlock: Legislators, they find, are able to avoid voter penalties for inaction by “passing the buck,” or shifting the blame away from themselves. For instance, when legislators place blame on the opposite party or other actors, voters’ evaluations of these other actors fall. The researchers conducted a content analysis of legislators’ communications with constituents along with a survey experiment to assess how legislators explain gridlock and whether they can avoid voter penalties by “passing the buck.” Their findings reveal that legislators are often able to avoid electoral punishment for inaction by placing the blame on others. More broadly, the research shows how blame-shifting on the part of individual legislators can affect larger party and institutional reputations.

Overcoming Obstacles to Compromise
It is widely assumed that legislative compromise does not happen because legislators lack common ground. In an IPR working paper, Harbridge Yong and her co-authors consider another possibility: Legislators might choose not to support policies even when they reflect commonalities. Along with Sarah Anderson of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Daniel Butler of Washington University in St. Louis, Harbridge Yong examines why electors might refuse to compromise even when they stand to benefit from doing so. The ongoing research project will use national representative samples to test possible solutions for failure to compromise, including voter-based communication solutions and elite-based negotiation processes that might challenge legislators’ unwillingness to accept compromise proposals. The work will also speak to the broader issue of negotiation in politics and what solutions might bring about more successful compromise.

The Origins of Reagan’s 1981 Tax Cut
Tax cuts have been a central element of the rise of “neoliberalism” in America—a free-market philosophy that promotes markets over government intervention, which President Ronald Reagan endorsed during his time in office. Drawing on recently released archives from the Reagan Presidential Library, IPR sociologist Monica Prasad is examining the origins of Reagan’s first major tax cut, part of the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981. Also known as the “Laffer curve” tax because of its relationship to “supply-side” economics—which economist Arthur Laffer theorized in 1974—the 1981 tax cut lowered marginal tax rates across the board and set the tone for the decline of progressive taxation over the ensuing years. Prasad is working on a book about Reagan’s first tax cut, and the effects of the tax-cut movement on inequality and political conservatism today. More broadly, her book will look at the overall role that money plays in American politics, including in the passage of tax-cut policies. This project is supported with funding from Prasad’s National Science Foundation CAREER award.

White Working-Class Voter Preferences
While between one-third and one-half of the white working class in America has voted Republican for the past several decades, scholars disagree as to why this group votes Republican. Is it due to their preferences on economic issues or their cultural and moral ones? While past research has relied solely on survey data, Prasad and her colleagues took a new approach, conducting in-depth interviews with 120 white working-class voters. The researchers uncover that these voters primarily support Republican economic policies—and even associate “conservatism” with avoiding debt and excessive consumption rather than a general respect for tradition. At the same time, they explain why economic preferences might be misunderstood as moral and cultural beliefs: By and large, white working-class voters believe morality and personal responsibility will help them prosper economically—a phenomenon the researchers call “walking the line.” This finding sheds light on how beliefs about morality inform the economic preferences of white working-class voters and adds nuance to the ongoing academic, and political, debate about why this group votes Republican.

Legal Changes and Policy Implications

Sandra Waxman
At a workshop she co-organized,
IPR sociologist Monica Prasad (left)
and Northwestern graduate student
Mariana Borges discuss government
corruption and ways to address it.

Combating Corruption
From bribing an official to issue a birth certificate to political graft, corruption in government affects societies across the globe. Given its ubiquity and many forms, can it be curbed, and if so, how? In ongoing work, Prasad takes an interdisciplinary approach to studying the varied sources of corruption and potential solutions for combating it. Along with political scientist and IPR associate Jordan Gans-Morse, Prasad wrote a report for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) outlining “Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Corruption.” The report emphasizes the need for a wide range of scholarly perspectives in studying corruption. Prasad and Gans-Morse also organized a workshop that brought together scholars from across disciplines to discuss the USAID report along with their own research findings and insights. The presentations, which covered topics ranging from the success of anti-corruption strategies and views of political corruption in Brazil to the challenges of using digital technologies to fight corruption, further highlighted the need for an interdisciplinary approach to studying and combating corruption in its many forms around the world.

Authoritarian Transitions
Why do some regimes move toward authoritarianism while others move away from it? In an ongoing research project, IPR political scientist Rachel Beatty Riedl and her colleagues examine authoritarian transitions, looking at whether regimes that shift away from authoritarianism move toward democracy, as in the cases of Tunisia and Indonesia, or toward political instability, as in Syria and Burundi. The researchers draw on existing theories of democratization and propose their own, in which regime change is determined by strategic management of the incumbent authoritarian party. In 2017, Riedl and her colleagues are set to host a conference on this topic, co-sponsored by IPR and the Buffett Institute for Global Studies, to discuss what leads to democratization versus what triggers democratic breakdown in the wake of authoritarianism. The findings will have implications for international organizations that promote democratization efforts as well as the domestic actors involved in authoritarian transitions across the globe. 

Finding Social Order in Times of Civil War
War zones are often thought of as confusing and chaotic environments. However, in a new book, Rebelocracy: Social Order in the Colombian Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 2016), political scientist and IPR associate Ana Arjona challenges this conception by highlighting wartime social order in Colombia. Arjona advances a theory that emphasizes interactions between fighters and civilians, and how such interactions can have an impact on wartime institutions. The book calls on years of original fieldwork during Colombia’s civil war to test the theory, including qualitative and quantitative data on communities, armed groups, and individuals within conflict zones. The results give teeth to the theoretical framework, highlighting the importance of the civilian-armed group relationship in affecting wartime institutions and social order. As armed groups strive to rule civilians in the territories they occupy, civilians can in turn influence the armed group’s ability to rule through threats of collective resistance. Arjona documents a range of successes on the part of rebel groups, from “rebelocracy”—where the armed group achieves a high degree of governance—to “aliocracy”—in which the armed group has only a minimal ability to rule—and shows how civilian-armed group relationships shape the rebel group’s success or failure. Beyond the context of Colombia, the book speaks to a more complex understanding of social order in times of civil war, and how institutions, local governance, and nonviolent resistance can bring order out of chaos.

Religion and Political Engagement
Across sub-Saharan Africa, religious organizations—with their large numbers of followers and built-in communication and organization networks—seem ripe for political mobilization. Yet religious organizations in this region span a range of political engagement, from total disengagement to nonpartisan positions, and ultimately, direct partisan support. In an ongoing book project, Riedl investigates the different patterns of political engagement by religious organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. First, through a database of newspaper reports, she maps out the political actions of religious groups across 15 African countries. She argues that beyond the political salience of religion in these countries, political factors such as party-system competitiveness are important in understanding political engagement on the part of religious organizations. This focus allows for a better understanding of how religious identities gain and lose salience in the political arena, and what institutional avenues are available for religious groups to mobilize politically. This evidence, combined with surveys of local religious and political leaders in four sub-Saharan African countries, will provide a better picture of religious mobilization in the political sphere. Riedl drew upon ethnographic studies of Islamic, Pentecostal, and mainline Christian political engagement as a Fulbright Scholar in 2015–16 at Les Afriques dans le monde, an interdisciplinary institute of African diaspora studies housed in Sciences Po Bordeaux.

A Historical Approach to Party Politics
Historical institutionalism—an approach to studying politics that emphasizes the role of institutional structures over time—can be used to study myriad political elements. In a chapter of the Oxford Handbook of Historical Institutionalism, Riedl outlines the usefulness of the approach for studying political parties. She argues that the processes of party creation, competition, and adaptation are structured over time, so that understanding contemporary political outcomes requires understanding the timing and sequence of previous events. Riedl highlights how a historical approach to party politics sheds light on instances when long-term political party legacies are shaped and developed versus times when party systems remain resilient to change or reordering. In the context of studying party development and changes over time, Riedl emphasizes the historical institutionalist approach and its emphasis on identifying why certain outcomes persist over time and when and why change occurs.

Urbanization and Political Accountability
Urban and rural voters are often thought of as separate groups with little in common. While theories of modernization suggest that urban voters have distinct policy preferences that promote democratization and development, Riedl digs deeper to understand how urban communities remain tied to rural ones. She posits that in many countries in the global South, urban dwellers have strong family, spiritual, and economic ties to rural environments, and that these ties shape political preferences in urban areas. Focusing on Nairobi, Kenya, Riedl examines how living in urban areas while maintaining rural linkages shapes the political strategies of urbanites. She identifies a tradeoff: Connections to rural areas might limit political engagement and accountability within the city, but urbanites maintain a degree of political power in rural areas by sustaining strong rural ties. The results suggest that urban population growth across sub-Saharan Africa might not translate into typical “urban” policy preferences that promote development. They also highlight how institutional reforms that link urban voters to their urban constituencies might improve political accountability within cities.

Building the Prison State
In a forthcoming book titled “Building the Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration” (University of Chicago Press), IPR sociologist and legal scholar Heather Schoenfeld traces the development of U.S. mass incarceration between 1950 and the present. She draws on a detailed case study of Florida to study the forces that brought the carceral, or prison, state into being. Through the case study, she pinpoints how the United States’ history of racial subordination, partisan politics, and federal crime control policy contributed to expansions in the state’s capacity to arrest, process, and then imprison criminal offenders. This incremental increase in the capacity to imprison individuals, she finds, also allowed “tough on crime” to become a popular 21st-century political stance. By tracing the carceral state’s emergence, she will suggest ways for policymakers to learn from the past as they seek to develop policies to address mass incarceration going forward.

Prison Reform in Red and Blue States
The United States houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population, making it the world’s biggest jailer. But over the last 10 years, a number of states—including characteristically “red” or conservative states like Texas and Georgia—have passed policies aimed at reducing their prison populations. In an ongoing research project, Schoenfeld examines why certain states have passed such decarceration reforms while others have not. Using a series of paired state-level case studies—comparing similar states with different reform trajectories—Schoenfeld seeks to understand how state-level actors and organizations, the resources they deploy, and their norms work to create or prevent decarceration reforms. The project, published in part in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, seeks to combine archival and legislative documents, media content, and interviews with key players to capture a more holistic view of the forces leading to policy change. Not only will the results speak to current theories of penal change, they will also point to the strategies, resources, and processes that might be effective in reducing incarceration within different states.

Protecting Workers Through Policy
Raising the minimum wage continues to be a hot button topic in the United States, with 21 states set to increase their minimum wages in 2017. IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin is diving deep into one under-covered aspect of this debate: wage theft—when employers pay their employees below the minimum wage. While most research has focused on the relatively weak federal regulations meant to deter wage theft, Galvin looks at the effects of state-level policies. Using an original state-by-state analysis of wage-and-hour laws and minimum wage violation rates from 2005–14, he shows that about 16 percent of low-wage workers in the dataset were paid less than the minimum wage and that wage theft is very costly to the worker. According to Galvin’s analysis, victims of minimum wage violations lose about 26 percent of their income on average. Yet state-level policy can make a difference, as workers were significantly less likely to be paid below the minimum wage in states with stricter wage-theft laws. Galvin outlines three necessary conditions for these state policies to be effective: favorable partisan majorities in state government, determined coalitions of workers’ advocates lobbying for change, and the enforcement of stringent new penalties. His findings indicate that while policy is important, the structure and enforcement of wage theft policy matters a great deal. The research, published in Perspective on Politics, received an award for “best paper on public policy” from the American Political Science Association in September.

Employment Law and Worker Activism
In the past, labor laws served as the primary protection for worker rights and against workplace exploitation. More recently, employment law—which deals with the rights and protections of the individual rather than a group of workers—has replaced labor law as the primary legal channel for U.S. workers. Most existing research has argued that this shift reduced incentives for workers to engage in collective action and led to the weakening of the labor movement in general. Galvin challenges this argument by suggesting that existing studies overlook the expansion of state employment laws and their contribution to new forms of worker organization and activism. Through an original state-by-state dataset of all employment laws passed between 1975 and 2010 and a number of case studies, Galvin documents the expansion of employment law at the state level. He also points out how the shift from labor to employment law has not done away with collective action, but rather has changed how workers organize.

Daniel Galvin
IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin's work
suggests that stronger penalties can 
serve as an effective deterrent to wage
theft, although enforcement matters a
great deal.

Enforcement of Wage and Hour Laws
Under the Obama administration, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) increasingly relied on a policy of “strategic enforcement” to enforce the nation’s wage and hour laws. Instead of relying solely on complaints or random inspections, the WHD targeted specific industries where violations were greatest and where workers were least likely to complain. Galvin and his collaborators are studying the effectiveness of California’s deployment of this type of strategic enforcement policy after it was adopted in 2012. Under California State Labor Commissioner Julie Su, the state enforced its wage and hour laws by relying on cooperation with community-based workers’ groups in specific industries. In examining California’s strategy, Galvin’s study will be one of the few to test the effectiveness of strategic enforcement. He will also examine what “effectiveness” means in the context of wage and hour law enforcement and which indicators of enforcement are most reliable. The results will inform the wider conversation surrounding government enforcement of wage and hour laws.

Government Old-Age Support
As more and more baby boomers enter retirement, the strain on Social Security and other old-age support programs continues to increase. In an IPR working paper, economist and IPR associate Lee Lockwood and his co-author, Daniel Fetter of Wellesley College, analyze how the Old Age Assistance Program (OAA), created under the 1935 Social Security Act, affected employment. In 1940, OAA was bigger than Social Security, giving out benefits to 22 percent of Americans aged 65 and older. By capitalizing on state variation in eligibility requirements and benefit levels, Lockwood and Fetter capture how this large-scale program affected employment by providing incentives for not working. The researchers find that OAA reduced the employment of men aged 65–74 by 5.7 percentage points, accounting for almost half of this group’s employment decline between 1930 and 1940. Looking at Social Security, they determine that the program could account for 50–70 percent of the large decline in late-life work between 1940 and 1960. As the country grapples with an increasingly aging population today, the results emphasize the large labor-supply effects of government programs that provide work disincentives for older Americans.

‘Cash for Clunkers’ and Liquidity
The federal government’s 2009 Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) allowed people who traded in old, fuel-inefficient cars and trucks to receive up to $4,500 in credit to purchase or lease a new, more fuel-efficient vehicle. The trade-ins were scrapped. In nearly 680,000 transactions over two months, CARS provided $2.85 billion in credits. Using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, Environmental Protection Agency,, and R.L. Polk, economist and IPR associate Brian Melzer and his colleagues compared purchases by owners of CARS-eligible vehicles with those of ineligible vehicles just above program cutoffs. They find that the large response to the CARS credits was amplified by the liquidity it provided; with the credit in hand, people could meet the down payment for a car loan. For future programs, the authors suggest that immediate credits, rather than year-end tax incentives, are important to maximize take-up of durable goods subsidies.

News, Technology, and Online Behavior

Engagement with Mobile Media in Qatar
In 2014, a report from Qatar’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology revealed stark differences in mobile media use between Qataris and expatriates in Qatar. Working with scholars on Northwestern’s Doha campus, IPR mass media scholar Rachel Davis Mersey is diving deeper into how the public in Qatar engages with mobile media content. Specifically, Mersey and her colleagues in Doha are comparing mobile media engagement of Qatari nationals with that of members of expatriate communities. This comparison is the first of three phases to collect time-series data, which will provide snapshots of media engagement over time. The use of time-series data will also allow the researchers to capture changes in mobile media innovation, as well as consumer adoption of mobile media over the period of study. The work builds on Mersey’s body of research on mobile media use in the Arab world, and in Qatar specifically.

Rachel Davis Mersey
IPR mass communication scholar Rachel Davis
Mersey examines the use of media across different
populations, including whether the top earners in
the United States consume media differently than
the other 99 percent.

The Media Habits of the One Percent
As the wealth gap between the highest- and lowest-earning Americans continues to grow, a large body of research has focused on how America’s top earners differ from the rest of the population. Yet little research exists on how the top one percent stand out in terms of media consumption. In an in-progress book project, tentatively titled, “Well-Off, Well-Read: Media Habits of America’s One Percent,” Mersey is investigating whether the top U.S. earners consume media differently than the other 99 percent. The project will examine how the wealthiest Americans’ media environment differs from everyone else’s and how these differences might affect political agenda setting. While an abundance of research points to the outsized political influence of the wealthy, Mersey’s research will seek to fill the gap on what informs their perspectives and policy orientations.

Facebook Use During Elections
On Election Day in 2016, more than 10 million Facebook users shared that they had voted on their pages. For the weeks and months before that, Facebook served as a common avenue for people to like, share, and comment on millions of political posts. A study by media scholar and IPR associate Stephanie Edgerly, published in the Journal of Information Technology and Politics, examines political expression on Facebook four years earlier, during the 2012 presidential debates. She and her University of Southern California co-authors emphasize how the 2012 debates represented a shift in communication surrounding political events, as debate viewers, and the campaigns, could react in real-time on social media sites like Facebook. Looking closely at how individuals and organizations crafted social media responses to the debates, the researchers emphasize the “appropriation” of existing media content, such as images, campaign links, and news stories. In fact, 99 percent of the most popular posts, those that “went viral,” included a link to outside content or video. The results emphasize Facebook’s role as an avenue for news-sharing during the 2012 election, and how the influence of organizations producing shareable content can be passed on through the online activity of individual Facebook users.

Reputation and Anticorporate Activism
From Pepsi to Amazon to L.L. Bean, a number of high-profile companies were caught in the crossfires of corporate boycotts in 2016. IPR associate Brayden King, Max McGraw Chair in Management and the Environment, examines how anticorporate social movements affect corporate outcomes in a chapter in The Consequences of Social Movements (Cambridge University Press, 2016). While bringing about corporate change is often an aim of anticorporate movements, King considers an important question: Why do corporations bend to activists who are less powerful and who lack decision-making authority within the organization? Examining recent instances of anticorporate activism, King outlines the way activists have relied on new tools, such as web-based boycotts, to influence firms’ behavior. Yet this still does not explain why today’s anticorporate activism—which often does not entail mass mobilization—creates certain types of corporate outcomes. King offers two mechanisms that might account for the success of these movements: reputational threat, which includes drawing media attention to a corporation’s practices, and the creation of risk perceptions, which can occur when shareholders take up activist aims to recommend corporate changes. He emphasizes that while reputational threat is sometimes met with more symbolic action, shareholder activism has the potential to bring about more concrete action on the part of the corporation.

Influence of Business in Politics
In an ongoing research project, IPR sociologist Anthony Chen is examining the influence of organized business in American politics, policymaking, and the law. In one paper, he explores the existing literature to assess what is known about the impact of business influence on the quality of democratic representation in the United States. In a second project, Chen and IPR graduate research assistant Joshua Basseches are looking at changes in bankruptcy law, corporate taxation, and the regulation of medical devices to develop a new perspective on the structural sources of business power. Through a series of case studies, Chen and Basseches hope to show the value of their theoretical framework for understanding the political influence of organized business.

Improving the Organ Transplant Process
As policymakers work to convince more living people to donate organs, finding ways to reduce errors in transplantation is critical. In ongoing research, pediatrician and IPR associate Jane Holl applies a common manufacturing technique—a Failure Mode Effects and Criticality Analysis (FMECA)—to identify opportunities for improvement in the organ transplantation process, which involves procuring organs and transplanting them from donor to recipient. Holl and her co-authors identified the two most commonly reported errors: issues with data entry and organ labeling. To address these issues, the researchers created an app and wireless label printer to standardize the procurement process and reduce human errors. Using lab-based simulations, they find that the app and printer system addressed about 65 percent of the high-risk failures, namely by reducing the number of donor-recipient matching errors.

Race and College Athletics
Recent debates over whether college athletes should be paid to play or allowed to unionize—including an attempt by some Northwestern University football players to unionize—have gained national attention. Looking at public opinion surrounding these contentious issues, Druckman, with graduate students Adam Howat, an IPR research assistant, and Andrew Rodheim, unearths a sharp racial divide. Using a nationally representative survey experiment, they discover that African-Americans are much more supportive of “pay for play” and athletes unionizing than respondents from other races and ethnicities. Their research suggests that African-Americans view these as a form of affirmative action that might enhance educational experiences. Respondents of other races and ethnicities, on the other hand, focus more on the enjoyment of consuming college athletics. While these respondents can be convinced to view “pay for play” and unionization through a race-based lens—as African-Americans do—this reframing does not eliminate the race gap in attitudes.

School Shootings and Unemployment
Many researchers have tried to understand why school shootings are a uniquely American phenomenon, but past studies have presented fragmented and even contradictory findings. A new study takes a novel approach to the data and reveals a surprising predictor of increases in U.S. school shootings—times of economic hardship. For the study in Nature Human Behavior, sociologist and IPR associate John Hagan and his colleagues gathered statistics from six datasets on 535 shootings at K–12 schools and universities and colleges from 1990–2013. The researchers discover that there have been two periods of elevated gun violence at schools: 1992–94 and 2007–13. These periods are significantly correlated with periods of economic insecurity, measured by greater unemployment, higher foreclosure rates, and lower consumer confidence. The researchers explain the findings highlight the importance of strengthening linkages between educational programming and employment opportunities in times of economic insecurity. Hagan is John D. MacArthur Professor of Sociology and Law.