Recent Research: Politics, Institutions, and Public Policy

Political Communication and Issue Frames

Rachel Beatty Riedl
IPR political scientist Rachel Beatty Riedl served
as an independent election observer in Liberia
in October. Her research has explored
democracies in Africa.

(In)civility and Partisan Media
Over the past 25 years, the rise of partisan media outlets has dominated the landscape. While scholars have researched the effects of partisan media on political attitudes and behaviors, existing research has not successfully separated out the direct consequences of incivility versus other aspects of partisan media. In an IPR working paper, IPR political scientist James Druckman and his colleagues, including IPR graduate research assistant Samuel Gubitz, use a population-based survey experiment to show that civility can polarize or depolarize audiences depending on the audience and the source. They surveyed a nationally representative sample of more than 5,000 participants by randomly assigning respondents to one of four conditions that varied two factors: partisan source—either Fox News or MSNBC—and level of civility—either civil or uncivil. Interestingly, they find that when partisan media comes from the same party as the audience, such as when a Republican watches Fox News or a Democrat watches MSNBC, partisans feel less trusting of their party and move away from the positions advocated by the same-party source. While this finding might suggest a silver lining to rising incivility in partisan media, the researchers suggest that the costs of incivility, such as decreasing trust in the government and potential demobilization of partisans, could outweigh its depolarizing effects. Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science.

Government and Authoritarianism
When and why do governments become less authoritarian? Why have some countries, such as Syria, moved from authoritarianism toward instability, while others, such as Nigeria, have become more democratic? Are democracies in the United States and Western Europe headed for breakdown? These were some of the overarching questions discussed at “The Democratic Change Research Initiative: Global Trajectories and Policy Analysis,” an April 12 workshop led by IPR political scientist Rachel Beatty Riedl and co-sponsored by IPR and the Buffett Institute for Global Studies. Throughout the day, speakers from Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Gothenburg, in addition to Northwestern and other universities, debated various topics, including autocratic practices in democracy and democratic breakdown in the West. Northwestern political scientist Jason Seawright discussed how populist movements, like that of Hugo Chavez, can erode democracy. IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin chaired a panel in which Harvard’s Daniel Ziblatt suggested that authoritarianism could resurge in the “consolidated democracies” in the United States and Western Europe. IPR sociologist Anthony Chen also discussed how the election of President Donald Trump and populist movements in the United States could be a part of a wider global trend.

Security and Governance in the Sahel
Following the regime change in Libya and the territorial takeover in northern Mali by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in 2012, as well as international intervention to push back the militants and restore electoral democracy in the Malian capital of Bamako, the Sahel region has undergone dramatic changes. An ongoing research project from Riedl addresses the implications of this regional recalibration in collaboration with partners at Sciences Po. The period of military conflict created new dynamics for state and civil society, in terms of military strategies, state governmentality, and associational organizations. The Sahel’s changes also unleashed certain pre-existing forces that were more marginal in the region and provided opportunities for transformation of well-established currents in the state, civil society, and the military. Riedl seeks to shed light on the implications of this regional recalibration, including how state and political actors are utilizing the resources and security situation to shape the domestic political environment.

The Urban-Rural Connection
Who is an urban citizen? Africa’s rapid urbanization has raised many questions about the nature of demographic change and its political consequences. Another project by Riedl studies the nature of urban-rural connections in sub-Saharan Africa. This research project goes beyond existing notions of urbanization and circular migration, or when migrant workers move between their home and place of work, to explore the multiple dimensions of linkage that continue to connect urban residents with their rural homes. Citizens vary dramatically in the ways in which they maintain ties with their rural home and the forms of adaptation and replacement they pursue. Riedl demonstrates that the depth and duration of one’s urban experience is strongly related to the specific dimensions of the urban-rural linkage pursued, and that policy reforms in electoral procedures, judicial administration, and decentralized public services must account for urban citizens’ continued rural engagement. Citizens’ socioeconomic status, religion, and ethnicity also condition the dimensions of the linkage pursued and the extent of replacement available through new forms of urban connection.

Business, Politics, and Policy
How politically powerful is American organized business? Does its political power distort democratic representation? A working paper by Chen examines how these questions are answered in the existing social science literature. Chen finds that the answers in the literature are inconsistent and uncertain, partly because of the way previous studies have been typically designed. Chen’s working paper points toward a new way of conceptualizing business power and measuring its outcomes. He argues that future studies should take a more granular approach, focusing on outcomes at the industry level and involving smaller units of political association. At the same time, he suggests that policy outcomes should be conceptualized as interrelated sets of policy choices that span levels and branches of government. His working paper was initially presented at a meeting of a working group associated with the Anxieties of Democracy program of the Social Science Research Council. It will appear as a chapter in Can America Govern Itself? (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press).

Public Opinion and Political Participation

Title IX and Sex-Equity Perceptions
More than 40 years after its passage, how do college student-athletes view Title IX? In an IPR working paper, Druckman, IPR graduate research assistant Jacob Rothschild, and Elizabeth Sharrow of the University of Massachusetts Amherst study how the policy, which prevents colleges and universities from discriminating based on sex, has affected college athletes’ views on sex discrimination. In a survey of 1,615 NCAA student-athletes, almost all respondents supported the spirit of the policy. While the vast majority of respondents said that resources and opportunities should be distributed equally between male and female athletes, most respondents—especially women and those who believe sex discrimination in society persists—said that male athletes are given more resources and that redistribution is needed to promote greater equity in college athletics. The survey results suggest that from the perspective of college student-athletes, Title IX has not yet achieved its intended goal of eliminating sex-based discrimination. According to the researchers, the findings highlight the political nature of college athletics and raise the question: To whom are policymakers and leaders in college athletics responding with such policies?

State of Political Behavior Research
In an IPR working paper, Druckman and his colleagues explore the landscape of political behavior research, analyzing the most important concepts in the literature and whether experimental data sources have supplanted surveys. They focus particularly on the usefulness of the American National Election Studies (ANES), which have been a central provider of electoral data since 1980 and have received millions of dollars in federal funding. Based on an analysis of more than 1,000 published articles, the researchers make several observations about the evolution of political behavior research. They find that the existing literature focuses heavily on understanding voting, rather than examining specific policy attitudes and other relevant topics, and that this agenda has remained relatively unchanged since 1980. They also note that political behavior research increasingly relies on experiments, though surveys are still important in the field. Finally, they highlight the enduring importance of the ANES, especially its time-series component. Druckman and his co-authors conclude that ANES is the main driver of political behavior research and a worthwhile, critical investment for the scientific community.

Democracy in America
In their book,
Democracy in America? What Has Gone Wrong and What We Can Do About It (University of Chicago Press, 2017), political scientist and IPR associate Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens of Princeton University present an indictment of today’s politics, pointing specifically to how the American public has little say in policy decisions. After analyzing approximately 2,000 federal policy decisions over 20 years, Page and Gilens found that affluent Americans, corporations, and organized interest groups have been much more successful than regular Americans at getting their preferred policies passed. To improve U.S. democracy, Page and Gilens call for giving citizens more opportunities to shape what their government does, asserting that the United States must reform governing institutions, curb the power of money in politics, and change the way it chooses candidates and conducts elections. They suggest public funding of elections through “democracy vouchers” to curtail the power of money in politics. To encourage democratic participation, they call for universal voter registration, Election Day holidays, and reforms that would yield more attractive candidates. Page is the Gordon Scott Fulcher Professor of Decision Making.

John Bullock and James Druckman
IPR political scientist John Bullock (left)
seeks advice on his research measuring
the intensity of political attitudes from
fellow political scientist James Druckman.

Intensity of Political Attitudes
The most common way to gauge the intensity of political attitudes is through survey questions that simply ask respondents how important an issue is to them. But there has been little discussion as to whether this is an effective way of capturing the actual intensity of feeling around specific issues. In a project with Greg Huber of Yale University and Erik Snowberg of the University of British Columbia, IPR political scientist John Bullock is working to devise measures of intensity that better capture the strength of political attitudes. The researchers note that current measures have issues, such as the fact that current survey methods do not provide meaningful insight into people’s votes or into their attitudes toward candidates. They also recognize that conventional methods of measuring political attitudes might confound concerns about an issue with concerns dependent on the status quo. For instance, a question that asks if an issue is important to a respondent fails to separate out whether the issue itself is important or whether the respondent says the issue is important because the current status of the policy is far from their preferred policy. In this ongoing project, Bullock and his co-authors work to develop measures that will overcome these specific challenges and provide more meaningful insight into the intensity of political attitudes.

Attitudes Toward Redistribution
Though scholars have studied education’s effects on many different outcomes, relatively little attention has been paid to its effects on adults’ economic views. In new research, Bullock is examining those effects. Within-state changes in the strictness of attendance laws help to account for endogeneity, or those variables arising from schooling decisions. It presents results based on longitudinal data that suggest secondary education has a little-appreciated consequence: It makes Americans more opposed to redistribution. Placebo tests and other analyses confirm this finding. Further investigation suggests that these conservative effects of education operate partly by changing the way that self-interest shapes people’s ideas about redistribution.

Partisans' Economic Perceptions
IPR political scientist Mary McGrath re-examines a 2009 study that looks at whether partisans “put their money where their mouth is” after a presidential election by altering their consumption according to whether their party wins the White House. The original study, by Yale University’s Alan Gerber and Gregory Huber, reported signs of such a relationship between partisanship and economic behavior. McGrath’s analysis, which added the 2008 and 2012 elections, shows that the data do not support the finding that partisans change their consumption behavior based on whether their party wins. Her Quarterly Journal of Political Science study suggests that economic perceptions are not being filtered through partisanship, although more research is needed. To that end, McGrath is now extending this study to other countries to determine if they exhibit any evidence of partisanship affecting economic decision making.

Group ID and the Collaboration Effect
How do we decide who deserves our help? In an IPR working paper, McGrath studies how members of a perceived group treat each other versus those outside the group in regards to wealth redistribution. To do so, McGrath uses an experiment with two groups: In one group, respondents are put in pairs to collaborate on an online task, while in the second group, respondents are informed they have a partner but work on their tasks separately. Once the task is complete, all respondents are informed they have won a bonus and are offered the option to share some of their bonus payment with their partner. McGrath finds that respondents who worked on a task collaboratively were more likely to share some of their bonus. In an additional round of the experiment, McGrath measures whether respondents are more likely to share with in-group or out-group partners by varying the partners’ demographic characteristics, such as race, political party, and gender. She finds that collaboration diminishes among different-race partners: Respondents who are of the same race as their partners are more likely to share their bonus than respondents who are of a different race than their collaborator. Interestingly, the experiment does not show the same difference for out-group status by gender or political party. The results suggest that the collaboration effect goes beyond the context of immediate collaboration and could alter reported policy preferences for federal redistribution and welfare spending.

Parties, Partisanship, and Cooperation

Chloe Thurston
Political scientist and IPR associate Chloe Thurston
is investigating how homeownership has become
synonymous with U.S. economic security and
middle-class status.

Congressional Web Campaigning
How has the digital age affected congressional campaigns? In an IPR working paper, Druckman, Martin Kifer of High Point University, and Oberlin College’s Michael Parkin explore how an increased reliance on the internet has affected the way candidates craft their online websites. Analyzing data from elections in 2008, 2014, and 2016, the researchers find that candidate websites have played a similar role in campaigning over time. These websites continue to function as digital hubs, with a wealth of information about each candidate’s stances and beliefs. The researchers note that the historic circumstances of the 2016 presidential election, including the first female candidate from a major party, Hillary Clinton, and Washington-outsider Donald Trump, did not have much of an effect on website usage for congressional candidates. Most of these candidates steered clear of the presidential election and used their websites to focus on their own stances. Overall, the researchers conclude that, even given the unusual nature of the 2016 race, internet use in congressional campaigning remains much the same as it has for the past decade, with little to no change in how online messaging is used to connect with voters.

Limits of Policy Feedback
A number of major policy achievements during President Obama’s administration, such as the Affordable Care Act, did not translate to electoral victories for the Democratic Party in 2016. In
The Forum, IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin and political scientist and IPR associate Chloe Thurston challenge the widely held view that policy wins generate feedback effects that lead to electoral benefits. Specifically, they propose that the Democratic party’s faith in policy feedback is “misplaced.” They outline three main arguments: First, policies do not necessarily, and often do not, generate their own political supports. Second, even when policies generate political support, there is little evidence that they cement partisan loyalties among the electorate. Finally, Galvin and Thurston argue that policymaking and party-building are mutually dependent but serve very different functions. They conclude that although the Obama administration achieved a number of major policy wins, its failure to build the Democratic party organization could lead to the rollback of much of his policy legacy under the current administration.

Why Do Lawmakers Reject Compromise?
Complaints about gridlock often focus on a lack of common ground between legislators, but elected officials often fail to accept compromises even when common ground can be found. In a survey of state legislators, IPR political scientist
Laurel Harbridge-Yong uncovers a puzzling finding: Almost one-quarter of the legislators said they would reject a compromise that would move a given policy halfway to their preferred position. Now, Harbridge-Yong is collaborating with Sarah Anderson of the University California, Santa Barbara, and Daniel Butler of the University of California, San Diego, on a book that will seek to explain why legislators reject compromise. Looking at several possible explanations, they identify fear of voter retribution as a driving cause of opposing compromise. They uncover that when legislators talk about a fear of voter retribution at the polls, they are usually referring to primary voters, while they recognize that general election voters might value agreement more. In discussing how to address this unwillingness to compromise, the researchers assess solutions proposed by No Labels—a group that emphasizes shared end goals to promote compromise—as well as a 2013 American Political Science Association report that emphasizes how private negotiations can encourage compromise. The project not only highlights voters as one of the reasons for continued gridlock, but also seeks to outline solutions that increase legislators’ willingness to compromise.

Passing the Buck in Congress
When something goes wrong in one of America’s key governing bodies, everyone wants someone to blame. Gridlocked legislature, unpassable policies, and general inaction are just a few of the problems Americans identify within Congress. However, it seems that some politicians have found a way to turn these problems into benefits by blaming them on the other side. As
Harbridge-Yong and David Doherty of Loyola University Chicago note in an IPR working paper, “passing the buck” through blaming rhetoric is a potentially effective political strategy for avoiding the consequences of inaction. In very polarized, partisan environments such as the House and Senate, placing blame on the opposing party is effective in many ways, with the party or institution that bears the brunt of the blame often facing a damaged reputation and general distrust from the public. However, legislators risk some backlash for blaming the opposing party, both among Independents and those aligned with the opposing party. Harbridge-Yong and Doherty are continuing with work in this vein, seeking to understand both the public response to passing the buck and how frequently this occurs in members’ constituent communication.

Partisanship and Political Opinion
How does partisanship affect political opinions? Cues about partisanship, such as the stance usually held by the political party one identifies with, can change how people respond to questions about political opinion. But little is known about why this is the case. In an ongoing project, McGrath considers the different mechanisms that might explain the connection between partisanship and opinion on political issues. One possible mechanism is that people shift their opinions to maintain a sense of group belonging. In other words, if a political party shifts stances on a political issue, individuals who identify with the party might also shift stances to remain aligned with the group. Another possible explanation is that people shift their positions based on a new understanding of the issue, such as by inferring new information from the stance held by their political party. McGrath is conducting a series of experiments to test the extent to which these two mechanisms play a role in different contexts. The results will have significant implications for understanding democracy, specifically the ways in which identifying with a political party affects opinions on a variety of political issues.

Legal Changes and Policy Implications

Daniel Galvin and Anthony Chen
IPR political scientist Daniel Galvin (left)
discusses his work on wage theft with
IPR sociologist Anthony Chen.

Employment Law Key to Workers' Rights
For decades, labor laws have been the primary institutional channel for advocates to protect workers’ rights. In the Labor Studies Journal, Galvin explains how, in recent years, employment law, which deals with the rights of individual workers rather than groups of workers, has come to displace labor law as the primary vehicle to challenge threats to workers’ rights. While existing research has documented the rise of employment law at the federal level, Galvin conducts an analysis of state laws, finding that employment law has expanded dramatically both in terms of the types and numbers of laws passed. He applies a historical-institutional perspective to document how the rise of employment law has coincided with the decline of unions: As unions have become less powerful in the United States, he argues, workers have had no choice but to turn to employment law instead. Galvin concludes his analysis with a discussion of the tradeoffs created by the shift from labor law to employment law and observes that employment law is likely to remain central to the labor movement going forward.

Debate Over Confederate Symbols
The United States is facing renewed debate around Southern symbols such as the Confederate flag, with citizens arguing whether such symbols represent harmless Southern pride or prejudice against African Americans. In an effort to assess these competing claims, political scientist and IPR associate Thomas Ogorzalek examines the historical reintroduction of the Confederate flag in the South in the middle of the 20th century. He outlines how the reintroduction of Southern symbolism is tied to the desegregation movement, and he uses three survey datasets to investigate the racial motivations of such symbols. Ogorzalek notes that the data do little to substantiate claims that white support for Confederate symbols stems from Southern pride. In fact, knowledge of the Civil War is negatively correlated with support for the Confederate flag, while racial resentment is positively associated with support for the flag. In addition, prejudice against African Americans is linked with warm feelings toward white Southerners. The findings, published in Du Bois Review, clarify the role Confederate symbols play in public debate and the attitudes typically held by those who rally round this particular flag.

The Origins of Reagan's 1981 Tax Cut
Tax cuts have been a central element of the rise of a free-market philosophy in the United States that promotes markets over government intervention, which President Ronald Reagan endorsed during his time in office, 1980–88. 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, 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.

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 argues that approaches to corruption reform that focus on punishing, rewarding, or monitoring individuals are not likely to succeed in the long term, because they depend on those doing the punishing, rewarding, or monitoring being themselves incorruptible. Instead, the report elaborates on potentially more promising organizational-level strategies of change. 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.

NSF Initiative on 'Future of Work'
IPR social policy professor
Fay Lomax Cook continues her work at the National Science Foundation (NSF), serving as assistant director and head of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences (SBE) Directorate. Under Cook’s leadership, the directorate recently provided $1.9 million for 11 awards to foster robust and reliable research on reproducibility and replicability. The directorate also provided support to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine for a workshop on the future of graduate education in the social and behavioral sciences. The workshop addressed how to change graduate training to meet future workforce needs. Along this same theme, the SBE is leading an initiative on how technologies and human-technology interactions are transforming the world of work and lives of workers. The NSF will support research to identify the benefits and risks of new technologies, create technologies that will enrich lives in the workplaces of the future, and inform education and lifelong learning for tomorrow’s workforce.

The Vital Role of Government Data
The U.S. government plays a vital role in providing data about the country, the state of the economy, and the effects of public policy. Today, everyone from businesses to policymakers to families rely on government data to make informed decisions. In collaboration with Ryan Nunn of the Brookings Institution and Nicholas Eberstadt and Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute, economist and IPR Director
Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, the Margaret Walker Alexander Professor, released a report highlighting the importance of government-collected data for a range of organizations. Through the three main sections of the report—highlighting the uses to businesses, policymakers, and families—the researchers stress the importance of public data and outline steps forward to make government-collected data even more useful moving ahead. First, they call on federal agencies to continue to address limits in existing government-collected data, such as by collecting more and better data on nontraditional jobs—such as driving for ridesharing companies—that are underrepresented in current government statistics. Second, they stress the potential for continuing to link survey data with administrative data. Finally, Schanzenbach and her co-authors call for increased synchronization across federal agencies, such as breaking down barriers that keep statistics separate from the government agencies that collect them.

Nonstate Armed Groups and Civilians
Existing research on nonstate armed groups, from organized crime units to insurgents in civil wars, holds that civilian support is critical to their success or failure. But this research rarely defines what it means for civilians to support or cooperate with these non-state actors. According to political scientist and IPR associate
Ana Arjona, the existing literature also often fails to acknowledge that the relationship between nonstate armed groups and civilians is a relationship between ruler and ruled, making civilian obedience and resistance central. In Small Wars & Insurgencies, Arjona conceptualizes the relationship between nonstate armed groups and civilians. She suggests using the terms cooperation and noncooperation to describe civilian support, or the lack thereof, for nonstate armed groups. She then outlines three types of cooperation—obedience, spontaneous support, and enlistment—and three types of noncooperation—disobedience, resistance, and defection. She also discusses the possibility of civilian neutrality in the face of nonstate armed groups. In outlining a clear conceptualization of civilian support, Arjona argues that understanding what leads civilians to obey can lead to new understandings of how nonstate armed groups behave and how civilians respond.

Tabitha Bonilla, Mary McGrath, Heather Schoenfeld, and David Figlio
From left: IPR research assistant professor
Tabitha Bonilla, IPR political scientist Mary
McGrath, and IPR sociologist and legal scholar
Heather Schoenfeld speak with IPR education
economist David Figlio, now dean of the School
of Education and Social Policy.

Understanding Human Trafficking
For most, human trafficking is sex trafficking, including forced prostitution. However, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act—the cornerstone of federal human trafficking legislation passed in 2000—also covers labor trafficking, including debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor. IPR research assistant professor Tabitha Bonilla, together with Cecilia Mo of Vanderbilt University, is investigating whether media and public opinion reflect this broader definition. Bonilla and Mo discover that labor trafficking is one of the least discussed topics in newspaper articles on human trafficking, while sex trafficking is one of the most discussed. Meanwhile, a lab experiment with 436 students showed that most thought people coerced to work in the sex industry were victims of traffickers. When told these individuals were forced into menial labor, though, only about 50 percent of participants said the individuals were trafficking victims, with another 40 percent describing them as illegal immigrants.

The State, Firms, and Property Rights
Research on property rights usually focuses on states and how they approach property protection, often overlooking if, and how, private-sector actors use state institutions. In
American Political Science Review, Gans-Morse argues that the existence of formal state legal institutions, or the supply of legal institutions, does not guarantee that firms will rely on the state to protect their property. Rather, private-sector firms often turn to illegal means, such as violence or corruption, to protect their property. In his research, Gans-Morse outlines a theory for whether and when private firms pursue legal strategies to protect their property rights. Focusing on post-Soviet Russia as a case study, Gans-Morse conducted interviews with private firms, lawyers, and private security agencies, and also conducted a survey of Russian firms. Given Russia’s history of state-led development, Gans-Morse explains the expectation that firms would increasingly use legal institutions as the state increasingly supplied them. Instead, he argues that Russian firms’ adoption of legal strategies came from the demand side, such as when illegal methods became less effective. The results push back on the argument that studies of property rights and the rule of law should focus predominantly on the effectiveness of state institutions. Instead, Gans-Morse suggests that looking at private-sector strategies is essential to understanding property rights in states with limited legal capacity, or states where some level of legal capacity exists but is not sufficient to ensure that all private firms use legal strategies.

Democracy in Post-Communist Europe
Since the collapse of communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, researchers have produced an abundance of assessments and theories on the fate of democracy in post-communist Europe. In a chapter of
Democracy and Democratization in Post-Communist Europe (Routledge, 2017), political scientist and IPR associate Andrew Roberts traces the path of this research and highlights the most influential theories on the collapse of communism, regime outcomes, and the shift to democracy. Roberts highlights 1989 as an inflection point and takes a nuanced look at the diversity of regime outcomes that took hold in post-communist Europe, from complete democratization in countries such as the Czech Republic to places such as Russia, which seemed to be democratizing but quickly reverted to non-democratic systems. Seeking to account for the rapid shift from communism to post-communism in 1989, Roberts acknowledges the standard account, which broadly focuses on civil opposition and a loss of legitimacy. He then outlines more complete theories that emphasize cascading effects and tipping points, both at the individual level, such as more and more people gathering in the streets in protest, to the international cascading effects of one country’s communist regime falling and others following soon after.

The Prudent Investor Rule and Market Risk
The prudent-investor rule emphasizes risk management rather than risk avoidance, directing trustees to implement investment strategies where risk and returns match a trust’s size. Legal scholar and IPR associate
Max Schanzenbach and Harvard University’s Robert Sitkoff study how the prudent-investor rule enacted in every state over the past 30 years affected how banks allocate assets and manage market risk. They examined reports of bank trust holdings and fiduciary tax returns from before and after the rule change. The researchers first looked at whether trustees were sensitive to risk tolerance when allocating assets. They find that stock holdings increased following the rule’s enactment, but not among banks with average trust account sizes in the lowest 25th percentile, suggesting a sensitivity to risk. Next, the researchers looked at responses to increased stock holdings and determined that trustees increasingly rebalanced their portfolios—or realigned the weight of the portfolio between stocks and bonds—to manage the additional risk exposure brought about by increased stock holdings. Taken together, these findings suggest a coherent response to introduction of the prudent-investor rule in trust investment law. The researchers argue that recent concerns over failed risk management by trustees, which have led to calls to repeal or reform the rule, are not borne out by the evidence of risk tolerance seen in the study. The results are published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. Schanzenbach is the Seigle Family Professor of Law. 

News, Technology, and Online Behavior

Mobile Media in Qatar
How do people interact with mobile media in Qatar and the Arabian Gulf region? IPR mass communication scholar
Rachel Davis Mersey examines the less-studied region in her book, Mobile Disruptions: Lessons from Qatar and the Arabian Gulf Region in Mobile Media Content Innovation (Routledge, 2018). Mersey and her co-authors, including Everette Dennis, the dean of Northwestern’s Qatar campus, analyze public engagement with mobile media content, including news. They also investigate how media organizations are adapting to the use of mobile media—in particular, how they are developing content uniquely designed for mobile delivery and consumption. Finally, they explore possible future directions in mobile media content strategies, as wearables and other emerging media forms enter the marketplace.

Media Habits of the Top 1 Percent
The wealthiest people in the United States are more likely to vote, donate to political and nonprofit causes, and contact public officials. How are these individuals shaped by the media they consume? In a forthcoming book, tentatively titled “Well-Off, Well-Read: Media Habits of America’s 1 Percent,”
Mersey is investigating whether the top U.S. earners consume media differently than the other 99 percent. She argues that the media play essential roles in shaping people’s worldviews, which are particularly important for the wealthy, given their outsized political influence. The book is not about what makes people rich, but what shapes their perspectives and how their perspectives shape our country and its priorities.

Government vs. Media in Argentina
Under the administration of President Cristina Fernández from 2008–15, the Argentine government took a confrontational stance toward what it deemed the “opposition media.” In the
International Journal of Communication, communication scholar and IPR associate Pablo Boczkowski and Eugenia Mitchelstein of the Universidad de San Andrés in Argentina examine the Argentine government’s confrontational tactics toward the media. First, Fernández’s administration and its allies launched public relations attacks and placed economic and regulatory restrictions on the media perceived to be against it. The government also created public advertisements to support small, pro-government news outlets. Boczkowski and Mitchelstein set out to understand how these attacks affected the agendas of the opposition media outlets as well as their audiences’ news preferences. The researchers conducted content analyses of the media agendas and preferences of audiences at three news sites in Argentina in 2010–11, as well as a survey of news consumers and 50 in-depth citizen interviews. The researchers find that the media outlets and their audiences, though all targeted by the government, did not react uniformly. Instead, their results suggest that during a government-media confrontation, different ideologies and commercial orientations of the targeted news outlets can lead to differing effects.

Integrated Media Effects in China
Communications research often focuses on one medium—such as looking at either social media use or online news consumption. But people in today’s digital media environment use and are influenced by multiple systems simultaneously, argue communications researcher and IPR associate Michelle Shumate and Northwestern colleague Jiawei Sophia Fu in The Information Society. Building on existing research on media environments, Shumate and Fu introduce the concept of integrated media effects to capture how media systems are connected to one another. They then test these integrated media effects by studying the relationships between news media visibility, social media visibility, and hyperlinking patterns among over 400 nongovernmental organization (NGO) websites in China. They determine that NGOs with greater news media visibility and more social media followers are linked to significantly more than other NGOs. They also find that NGOs with a similar number of social media followers are more likely to link to each other. The researchers’ findings suggest that news media systems and social media systems are related to the formation of hyperlink networks—when organizations and individuals link to one another. The results provide support for Fu and Shumate’s concept of integrated media effects that challenge the status-quo research that often focuses on just one medium at a time.

Digital Civic Engagement
With the rise of the internet, interactions between individuals and communities have changed, and researchers have argued that civic engagement has eroded. In
Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, social policy professor and IPR associate Dan Lewis, along with Northwestern colleague Jacob Nelson and Ryan Lei of New York University, argue that the internet has not brought about the decline of civic engagement, but rather has created new forms of civic engagement. To test this, Lewis and his colleagues conducted a multiwave survey of students at a private university in the Midwest, with 288 participants completing all three waves of the survey. Their analysis reveals that today’s students are much more civically engaged online than offline. They also find that civic education matters: Students who take classes involving political issues—what the authors call “civic learning courses”—are more civically engaged online than those who do not. These students are also more likely to continue participating in offline civic engagement over time, such as by calling or writing to an elected official, than students who do not take civic learning courses. The authors ultimately suggest that, though younger people today are more likely to be engaged through social media than by writing a letter, they are far more civically engaged than many have suggested. They also stress the role of education, as civically minded curricula have the power to increase students’ civic engagement during college and beyond.