2011-2012 Winter

Stefaan Walgrave, Professor of Political Science, University of Antwerp in Belgium

January 23, 2012

Information-processing by Individual Political Actors in a Comparative Perspective: A Research Proposal

ABSTRACT: How do individual political actors get informed about society, about the problems they are supposed to solve and to attend to? The research project (proposal) tackles this question by assessing how individual politicians are exposed to, attend to, and act upon incoming information from various sources. The basic idea is that politicians are as boundedly rational as ordinary citizens are. Yet, the context in which they deal with information is very different (e.g. their re-election depends on it) and their information-processing behavior is heavily affected by the institutional context in which they operate. The project consists of empirically observing (or at least trying to) a selection of 50 individual politicians’ (both MPs, ministers, party leaders and staffers) information-processing behavior (exposure, attention and action) in three different countries (Belgium, Canada, Israel).

Samara Klar, PhD Candidate, Political Science, Northwestern University

January 30, 2012

Political Identity and Engagement Among Political Independents

ABSTRACT: Political behavior among independents has been documented for decades, yet we are left with limited insight into their political engagement.  The extent to which they engage with politics and, moreover, why they are motivated to do so at all are questions for which few answers can be provided. I use two recent national datasets to, first, compare political engagement among independents and party identifiers. I then pursue my principal research question: what determines variance in engagement among these different political identity groups? I find that, although levels of political engagement are similarly distributed across independent and partisan voters, predictors of engagement differ substantially between them. Ideological strength strongly predicts engagement among partisans, yet it has no significant association with engagement among independents. To explain the variation we see in engagement among independents, I introduce a new construct: political identity importance. My data show that, for both pure and leaning independents, engagement is best predicted by the importance they place on their political identity. This study suggests that independence is, in and of itself, a meaningful political identity and that identity importance is a key to engaging the growing segment of the electorate who identify as independent.

Samara Klar
Mike Tomz, Professor of Political Science, Stanford University

February 6, 2012

An Experimental Investigation of the Democratic Peace

ABSTRACT:  One of the most prominent debates in the international relations literature concerns the relationship between democracy and peace. Some researchers argue that shared democracy causes peace, whereas others maintain that the apparent correlation between democracy and peace is spurious. Three problems — endogeneity, multicollinearity, and aggregation — have prevented previous researchers from resolving the controversy satisfactorily. In this paper, we use experiments to overcome all three obstacles and thereby shed new light on the democratic peace hypothesis. Our experiments, administered to nationally representative samples of adults in the U.K. and the U.S., reveal that voters are substantially less supportive of military strikes against democracies than against otherwise identical autocracies. The effect exists across a wide range of situations and is most pronounced among the politically active segments of the electorate. In addition to estimating the overall effect of democracy, we found support for three broad categories of causal mechanisms: threat perception, deterrence, and morality. Individuals who faced democratic rather than autocratic countries were less fearful of the consequences of the country’s nuclear program, were less optimistic that a preventive strike would succeed, and harbored greater moral reservations about attacking. These perceptions, in turn, were strongly correlated with preferences about the use of force. Surprisingly, though, participants did not think that attacking a democracy would entail higher costs than attacking an autocracy. Thus, our data support some theories of the democratic peace while casting doubt on others. These findings help advance a debate of central importance for both theory and policy.

Michael Tomz
Lindsay Owens, PhD Candidate, Sociology, Stanford University

Febuary 13, 2012

Confidence in banks, financial institutions, and Wall Street, 1971–2011

ABSTRACT: Animosity toward banks, financial institutions, and Wall Street has been an important part of the public discourse since the bank bailouts of 2008. Indeed, Americans confidence in all three institutions has plummeted accordingly in the years since. This article places these declines in confidence in historical perspective. I examine trends in confidence in commercial banks, local banks, savings and loan associations, Wall Street, and Wall Street executives over the past 40 years, as well as perceptions of the moral and ethical practices of bankers and stock-brokers. I pay particular attention to how confidence shifts in response to both economic contractions and major scandals. My findings suggest that while changes in the business cycle have an effect on public opinion in this domain, it is the economic contractions that correspond to major scandals in the financial sector that motivate the largest shifts in confidence and provoke the most public outrage.

Lindsay Owens
Philip Garland, Vice President of Methodology, Survey Monkey

February 27, 2012

A New Way to Detect Unwanted Respondents

ABSTRACT: Survey research has been plagued by satisficing since its inception. While it is agreed that the phenomenon occurs, the ability to detect precisely when it occurs has been elusive. This presentation focuses on a new way to identify a group of people that may be satisficing. The method relies on the application of Bayesian inference and “machine learning.” Several tests of the process using actual panel respondents from commercial sources have yielded substantial shifts in means to attitudinal and behavioral questions.

Bo MacInnis, Visiting Scholar, Communication, Stanford University

March 5, 2012

The Impacts of Fox News and Not-Fox Television News on Americans’ Judgments about Global Warming

ABSTRACT: Decades of research claimed “minimal effects” of news media on individual attitudes. We found the appearance of “minimal effects” due to news exposure on global warming attitudes and beliefs when using a traditional analytic approach that treats news content as homogenous. But when distinguishing Fox News on television from not-Fox television news using an instrumental variable approach to account for the endogeneity of media consumption by a nationally representative sample, we found that more exposure to Fox News raised skepticism about, while more exposure to not-Fox television news increased acceptance of, global warming. Impacts were large and increased with amount of exposure. Meditational analyses showed that, in line with the Attitude-Certainty-Evaluation model, more exposure to Fox News and not-Fox television news influenced perceived scientific consensus and trust in scientists, which in turn affected causes and consequences of judgments of the seriousness of national problems.

Bo MacInnis
Stefaan Walgrave, Professor of Political Science, University of Antwerp in Belgium

March 12, 2012

Parties, Issues and Voters. Disentangling and Measuring Issue Ownership

ABSTRACT: Issue ownership is increasingly used in electoral research to explain voting behavior. When voters think a party is the best to deal with an issue they care about, chances increase that they will vote for that party. Our claim is that the relationship between issue, parties and voters is more complex and that the ‘best at’ measurement of issue ownership (measuring ‘competence’ issue ownership) is not the best way to conceptualize and measure issue ownership (it is endogenous with the vote). We propose an alternative measure–called ‘associative’ issue ownership—and show that it performs better empirically while being analytically clearer. Other potential dimensions of issue ownership can be explored drawing on a variety of possible measures.