2019-2019 Winter

Cecilia Mo, Department of Political Science at U.C. Berkeley

January 7, 2019

The Impact of Incidental Environmental Factors on Vote Choice: How Wind Speed Leads to More Prevention-Focused Voting


Many theories of democracy propose that individuals deliberate their voting decisions. The current research challenges this notion by exploring how incidental environmental factors infiltrate voting decisions. We present a causal model for how wind speed on Election Day affects voting: Higher wind speed prompts a psychological prevention focus that sways voters more to select prevention-focused (e.g., reflecting a concern to avoid loss) over promotion-focused (e.g., reflecting a motivation to make gains) options when such a choice exists. Using a mixed-method approach—archival analyses (the “Brexit” vote, the Scotland independence referendum, 10 years of Swiss referendums, and 100 years of U.S. presidential elections), one field study, and one experiment—we find that individuals exposed to higher wind speed become more prevention-focused and more likely to support prevention-focused electoral options. The findings highlight the importance of incidental environmental factors for voting decisions, and speak to the benefit of non-voting day voting administration.

Cecilia Mo

Markus Prior, Department of Political Science at Princeton University

January 14, 2019

Development of Political Interest: Meaning, Measurement and the Effects of Events


Political interest is the predisposition to reengage with political content. In this presentation, I will review the measurement of political interest, examine its dimensionality, and compare different question wordings. I will pay special attention to difference and similarities between political interest and a preference for news. I then describe the relationship between age and political interest, differentiating aging, cohort differences and the impact of an interesting environment. How early in life do people “have” political interest? How does interest develop over the life course? Examining election-year and long-term trend, I assess the impact of elections and salient events on political interest.

Markus Prior

Phil Petrov, Department of Political Science at Stanford University

January 28, 2019

Preference Bundles in the Explanation of Political Preferences


One way to explain the formation of citizens’ policy preferences is in terms of the concept of a “preference bundle.” A preference bundle is a group of two or more policy preferences that the informed public perceives as constituting a discrete political identity. For example, the bundle {–abortion, +execution, +gun rights, –redistribution} is perceived by the informed public as a typical “conservative” bundle (“+” = support; “-” = oppose).

This paper describes several psychological mechanisms by which preference bundles affect the political preferences of ordinary citizens. The paper also describes different ways in which a preference bundle can be formed in the first place. A preference bundle can arise through historical contingency (as when a political party bundles together two unrelated preferences in order to win votes from two different groups) or through psychological affinity (as when, for psychological reasons, the types of voters who hold one preference also hold another preference). In general, political scientists have shown much interest in the first process (historical contingency) but little interest in the second (psychological affinity).

Clarifying the concept of a preference bundle can help to sharpen analysis in political psychology. For example, it is not useful, generally, to index the meaning of the terms “liberal” (“conservative”) to the set of policy preferences that the Democratic (Republican) Party happens to espouse at a given time. A challenge for political psychology is to develop tools for distinguishing between (1) policy preferences that are constitutive of a given political identity and (2) policy preferences that are associated with a political identity due mainly to historical accident.

Phil Petrov

Deen Freelon, Department of Media and Journalism at University of North Carolina

February 4, 2019

Sockpuppets of disinformation: An analysis of the Internet Research Agency’s fake identities


The recent rise of black propaganda and information warfare on social media has attracted strong interest from political communication scholars. Of particular concern is the practice of disinformational sockpuppetry, in which agents of foreign governments (including Russia and Iran) disguise themselves as American citizens on social media and attempt to participate in everyday political conversations. Their goal appears to be to inject turmoil into these conversations and increase polarization between politically attentive citizens. This study contributes to the growing literature on contemporary digital disinformation in two ways. First, we document the efficacy of disinformational sockpuppetry by analyzing 4.5 million tweets produced by a Kremlin-funded disinformation outlet called the Internet Research Agency (IRA). We measure the prevalence and activity of various types of sockpuppet identities and show that some receive disproportionately more attention than others. Second, we demonstrate a method of de-anonymizing social media datasets in which formerly public screen names are obscured. We defend our use of this method in this case on public interest and national security grounds.

Deen Freelon

Adam Bonica, Department of Political Science at Stanford University

February 11, 2019

A Data-Driven Voter Guide for U.S. Elections: Adapting Quantitative Measures of the Preferences and Priorities of Political Elites to Help Voters Learn About Candidates


Internet-based voter advice applications have experienced tremendous growth across Europe in recent years but have yet to be widely adopted in the United States. By comparison, the candidate-centered U.S. electoral system, which routinely requires voters to consider dozens of candidates across a dizzying array of local, state, and federal offices each time they cast a ballot, introduces challenges of scale to the systematic provision of information. Only recently have methodological advances combined with the rapid growth in publicly available data on candidates and their supporters to bring a comprehensive data-driven voter guide within reach. This paper introduces a set of newly developed software tools for collecting, disambiguating, and merging large amounts of data on candidates and other political elites. It then demonstrates how statistical methods developed by political scientists to measure the preferences and expressed priorities of politicians can be adapted to help voters learn about candidates.

Adam Bonica

Nuri Kim, School of Communication at Nanyang Technological University Singapore

February 25, 2019

Encountering Difference: Applying Intergroup Contact Theory in Communication Contexts ‘Big’ and ‘Small’


Conflict between groups of different ethnic, religious, or ideological backgrounds continues to be one of the most difficult challenges of our time (Amichai- Hamburger, Hasler, & Shani-Sherman, 2015). Deep-seated distrust and conflict between groups often lead to prejudice or discrimination against some groups, particularly those that occupy a lower social status in society. Intergroup contact theory suggests that encounters with people who are on the other side of these divides could improve outgroup attitudes (Allport,1954). Yet, all too often the divergent groups are segregated residentially, educationally, and occupationally (Dovidio, Eller, & Hewstone, 2011), and many people actively avoid intergroup interactions. This talk presents a series of studies that locates intergroup contact in various communication contexts (e.g., Kim, Fishkin, & Luskin, 2018; Kim & Wojcieszak, 2018; Igartua et al., 2018). From highly structured face-to-face encounters to fleeting, incidental ones in online spaces, the talk explores the meaning, processes, and effects of intergroup contact in communication.

Jeffrey Lane, Department of Communication at Rutgers University

March 4, 2019

The Digital Street


Rutgers ethnographer Jeffrey Lane will discuss his new book The Digital Street, which addresses the role of communication and technology in the transformation of an urban neighborhood. Based on five years of ethnographic observations, Lane illustrates the online and offline experiences of black teenagers in the shadow of the Harlem Children’s Zone and sweeping gentrification when social media came to permeate all facets of life. The book shows how street life in Harlem plays out on and across the physical and digital streets among youth, neighborhood adults, and the authorities. Lane explains how social media use shapes neighborhood violence and its countervailing forces. This colloquium talk will explore the book’s findings and research method of digital urban ethnography.

Jeffrey Lane

Professor Sarah Anderson, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at U.C. Santa Barbara

March 11, 2019

Rejecting Compromise: Legislators’ Fear of Primary Voters


Legislative solutions to pressing problems like climate change and poverty usually require compromise, but we find that around a quarter of state legislators and many elected city officials reject compromise proposals that move policy in their preferred direction. This is surprising given the prediction of spatial models of proximity voting that they should vote yes. The legislators who reject compromise proposals tend to be those who perceive that their voters – especially their primary voter- are likely to punish them for compromising. And primary voters who oppose a particular compromise do punish legislators who vote for compromise. While this rejection of compromise due to fear of primary voter punishment is likely exacerbating gridlock, we show that negotiating outside of the public spotlight may improve the likelihood of achieving compromise.

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Sarah Anderson