Author Archives: Katie Brown

How the local environment shapes the way people vote in ethnically diverse new democracies

Post developed by Katie Brown and Nahomi Ichino.

In many new democracies in developing countries, political parties are identified with particular ethnic groups, and voters tend to vote for the parties identified the same ethnicity as themselves – but not always.

Assistant Professor of Political Science and faculty associate of the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Nahomi Ichino addresses this issue in a recent article with Noah Nathan published in American Political Science Review.

Voters tend to believe that politicians will reward their co-ethnic supporters by building schools and health facilities and providing other services that benefit a limited local area. For voters who live among mostly people of their own ethnic group, it makes sense to vote for the party of their own group.

But voters sometimes find themselves living in an area dominated by another group or in a mixed area, and the calculation is more difficult. Take for example the first visualization (a) offered by the authors. A voter (circle) is surrounded by others of a different ethnicity (triangles). That voter might do better if a party of the other group (triangles) won the election and directed more benefits like schools to this area than if the party of her own group (circles) won the area and directed benefits to a different area with many of her own group (circles). If that same voter were in (b), where she is surrounded by more members of her own group (circles), then she becomes more likely to vote for the party of her own group than if she were in (a).

Voter Ethnicity Illustration

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Ichino and Nathan tested these predictions Ghana. First, the authors mapped ethnic concentration and diversity with data from the 2000 Ghana Population and Housing Census. Then, they geocoded polling stations results to look at how elections results vary with local ethnic composition in rural areas.

Ichino and Nathan first focused on the 2008 presidential election results in Ghana’s Brong Ahafo, a region that is both rural and ethnically diverse and find support for their ideas. Polling stations in areas surrounded by more Akans had higher vote shares for the political party associated with the Akan. The authors also tested their hypothesis with survey results from the Afrobarometer. They similarly find that Ghanaians were more likely to intend to vote for a political party associated with an ethnic group when they were surrounded by more members of that group.

The authors believe their findings nuance the generally accepted idea that people in new democracies simply vote for candidates who share their ethnicity. Ichino and Nathan conclude that their study “demonstrates how local community and geographic contexts can modify the information conveyed by ethnicity and influence voter behavior.”

Can negativity be a good thing?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Stuart Soroka.

51udIBKzNKL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_News content is dominated by negativity. Does this have negative consequences for political attitudes, or interest, or policymaking? Professor of Communication Studies and Center for Political Studies (CPS) researcher Stuart Soroka considers these questions in his book Negativity in Democratic Politics.

Drawing on a combination of survey data, lab experiments, and large-scale content analyses, Soroka finds strong evidence for both the predominance of negative information in political news, and the increased impact this negative information has on public attitudes (in contrast with positive information). He finds, for instance, that negative information has a stronger impact than positive information on individuals’ assessments of political candidates. He finds that individuals are more physiologically activated by negative news. At the aggregate level, Soroka also finds that negative magazine covers sell more copies than positive versions; and that negative shifts in the economy have a bigger impact on public opinion than do positive shifts. Interestingly, this holds true across many different countries, as Soroka’s analyses include most OECD countries. Negativity biases are not just an American peculiarity, then – they are evident around the world.

What are the consequences of all this negativity? Soroka suggests that a negativity bias may well be an efficient way of dealing with very complex information environments. There is just too much information about politics for us to keep track of it all, and selecting information based on negativity might be one useful way of focusing on the information that matters most. As a consequence, humans focus on negative information; and we seem to have designed institutions that focus on the negative as well. That said, there may be long-term consequences of a political information environment that is predominantly negative. So while assessing the long-term impact of negativity is difficult, it is probably an important step in both understanding political behavior and in developing objectives for the design of mass media and political institutions.

Does Presidential Party Impact Inflation Estimates?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Cassandra Grafström.

113690314So-called “inflation truthers” have made recent news waves with claims that inflation is actually much higher than reported. Mainstream financial news organizations have debunked the inflation truthers charges with the simple math of averages. But what if the truthers are just looking in the wrong place? That is, is there systematic bias not in reported inflation but projected inflation?

Enter the work of Cassandra Grafström, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science and affiliate of the Center for Political Studies (CPS) at the University of Michigan. Grafström, along with Christopher Gandrud of the Hertie School of Governance, conducted research to trace potential partisan biases of inflation estimates.

Grafström and Gandrud began with the widely accepted notion that under more liberal governments, the United States Federal Reserve tends to predict higher inflation. But why? Democratic administrations tend to try to lower unemployment, which causes higher inflation. Under more conservative governments, on the other hand, the Federal Reserve predicts lower inflation. Yet there exists little empirical support for these ideas. Instead, most work on inflation comes from the field of economics, with a focus on comparing Federal predictions with money market predictions.

To test these commonly held ideas, Grafström and Gandrud looked at the Federal Reserve’s predictions across time. The authors took Presidential party and actual monetary and fiscal policies into account. They found that, regardless of actual monetary and fiscal policies, under more liberal presidents, the Federal Reserve over-estimates inflation while under more conservative presidents, the Federal Reserve under-estimates inflation.

In the graph below, perfect predictions would create an error of 0. Points above the line correspond to over-estimation and points below the line correspond to under-estimation. As we can see, when a Democrat is president, estimate errors tend to be above the line, while the average of Republican errors falls below the line.

 Errors in Inflation Forecasts Across Time by Presidential Party

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Grafström and Gandrud also wondered if control of Congress plays a role. To test this, they considered the joint influence of presidential party and the majority party in Congress. As the graph below shows, presidential party drives the trend. Interestingly, a Republican controlled Congress makes the original results stronger. That is, with a Democratic president and Republican congress, there is greater over-estimation of inflation. Likewise, with a Republican president and Republican congress, there is greater under-estimation of inflation. The graph below illustrates these findings (0 would again represent a match between predicted and actual inflation)

Errors in Inflation Forecasts Across Time by Presidential and Congress Majority Parties

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Given the clear links between presidential partisanship and inflation forecasts, the authors worry that this likely translates into biased monetary and fiscal policies. That is, over-estimated inflation under Democratic presidents may lead to more restrictive monetary and fiscal policies. On the other hand, under-estimated inflation under Republican presidents may lead to more expansive monetary and fiscal policies. In both cases, the policy changes would be based on forecasts biased by flawed but accepted rules of thumb about inflation under Democrat vs. Republican presidents.

How accurate is marketing data?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Josh Pasek.

Photo credit: ThinkStock

Photo credit: ThinkStock

Have you noticed how the products you look at online seem to follow you from site to site and the coupons you receive in the mail sometimes seem a little too targeted? This happens because a set of companies are gathering information about Americans and merging them together into vast marketing databases. In addition to creating awkwardly personal advertisements, these data might be useful for researchers who want to know about the kinds of people who are and are not responding to public opinion surveys.

But before marketing data are incorporated into social science analyses, it is important to know how accurate the information actually is. Indeed, there are many concerns about consumer data. It could be out of date, incomplete, linked to the wrong person, or simply false for a variety of reasons. If we don’t know when marketing data are accurate, it is going to be difficult to figure out how these data can be used.

This is where the work of Josh Pasek, Center for Political Studies (CPS) Faculty Associate and Assistant Professor of Communication, comes in. Pasek, along with S. Mo Jang, Curtiss L. Cobb, J. Michael Dennis, and Charles DiSogra, have a forthcoming paper in Public Opinion Quarterly about the utility of marketing data. With Gfk Custom Research, 25,000 random addresses were selected, with about 10% of those joining the study. The marketing data available on these individuals was then matched against data collected as part of the study.

Interestingly, many variables showed large discrepancies between the two sources. Incomes mismatched by more than $10,000 for 43% of participants, while education level differed in at least two measures for 25%. Even the number of people living at the address differed by two or more in 35% of cases. Pasek and colleagues also investigate missing data with three different analyses. Ultimately, they find that the amount of data missing from consumer data is vast.

But at the same time, the consumer data performed better than chance in predicting actual data for all variables. This may make them useful for marketing purposes, but Pasek cautions that social scientific applications could be problematic. As Pasek says, “The bottom line is that these data are not consistently accurate. Although they may be great for targeting people who are more likely to buy a particular brand of shoes, our results suggest that marketing databases don’t have the precision for many research purposes.”

Significant moments throughout the history of ANES

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Darrell Donakowski.


This is the last in a series of posts celebrating the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES). The posts have sought to highlight some of the many ways in which the ANES has benefited scholarship, the public, and the advancement of science.


As part of the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES), the ANES team created an interactive timeline. The timeline charts the history of the project with annotated notable dates and historic photographs. Here, we highlight three of the many entries.
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1948 – The Very Beginning

The timeline begins with the inception of ANES. In 1948, social psychologists Angus Campbell and Robert Kahn and the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center (SRC) surveyed the national electorate. The 1948 survey served as a pilot study for, and many consider to be the first implementation of, the ANES.

1964 – The Feeling Thermometer

The 1964 wave of the study pioneered the feeling thermometer. This unique question format asks respondents to gauge their feelings on a scale from “cold” to “warm”. Feeling thermometers have since been included in all ANES waves, with their use spreading globally and to all academic fields

1996 – Comparative Study of Electoral Systems

The independent Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) project coordinates the inclusion of common sets of questions in post-election surveys around the world.  ANES first incorporated CSES questions in its 1996 wave, moving from national barometer to global participant in the process.

Please consider further exploring the interactive timeline to be reminded of some of the many significant moments throughout the history of this important scientific resource.  And if you have ideas for additions to the ANES timeline, the study team would welcome your suggestions by email to:


The American Voter – A Seminal Text in Political Science

Post developed by Katie Brown.


This post is part of a series celebrating the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES). The posts will seek to highlight some of the many ways in which the ANES has benefited scholarship, the public, and the advancement of science.


University of Michigan political scientists Angus Campbell, Philip E. Converse, Warren E. Miller, and Donald E. Stokes published The American Voter in 1960. The American Voter takes root in a time of changing notions about individuals and decision-making. In the 1940s, Paul Lazarsfeld and the Columbia school placed a new emphasis on demographic factors in responses to media and support for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

220px-Angus_Campbell_-_The_American_Voter_(1960)In The American Voter, Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes became part of this behavioral revolution as they considered audience traits in the context of politics. The main argument of the book holds that most American voters cast their ballots on the basis of party identification. Specifically, voter decisions pass through a funnel. At the opening of the funnel is party identification. With this lens, voters process issue agenda. They then narrow down to evaluate candidate traits. Finally, at the small end of the funnel is vote choice. This understanding of voters encompasses the “Michigan Model.”

In time, the Michigan Model was revised. The original Michigan Model held party identification as king. This thesis maps onto the strong post-World War II Democratic party, strengthened by Roosevelt. In the next few decades, party identification weakened. More recently, party identification reemerged stronger than ever due to a variety of factors, including changing campaign strategy and polarization.

So while these new generations of scholars find different balances between party identification and other factors influencing vote choice, The American Voter provided a bar against which this change could be measured.

The American Voter also enabled the tools of measurement with ANES. The American Voter utilized early waves of what would become the American National Election Studies (ANES), which Miller himself facilitated. The ANES developed into a multi-wave, decade-spanning project offering continuous data on the American electorate since 1948.

Cited over 6,500 times to date, the book remains a seminal text in political science.

Visiting Scholar Profile: Khalil Shikaki

Post developed by Katie Brown.

Growing up in Palestine during a period of political tension, Khalil Shikaki became fascinated with politics. After completing a BA in Political Science at the American University of Beirut, Shikaki pursued these questions with a PhD in Political Science from Columbia University. Two core questions drive his research: What direction is Palestinian society taking? How do Palestinians view the relationship with Israel?

After finishing in 1985, he began teaching at An-Najah National University in the Northern part of the West Bank. Shikaki designed and taught his first course (the same course he is teaching here this semester): Palestinian Politics & Society. At that time, he realized there were no data to support and test theories. Even politicians relied on word of mouth to gauge public opinion.

So Shikaki set out to collect this data with Palestine’s first survey. But he faced a major roadblock. At the time, Palestine was under Israel occupation, and the Israeli military forbid the proposed survey. After the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, things started to calm, which created an opening for data collection. In 1992, Shikaki started training survey administers and opened the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in Nablus (PCPSR moved to Ramallah in 2000). And the first survey ran in 1993. Results of the survey, which explored public attitudes toward the Oslo agreement, were published in the same day the agreement was officially signed in Washington DC.

If the first challenge to data collection was Israeli occupation, the second was building trust with Palestinians. In particular, Shikaki and his team had to convince citizens that they could trust the interviewers enough to speak their mind. The initial response rate to a pilot study came in at just 50%. The team underwent additional training over the course of a year to project and inspire confidence and did not enter the field officially until this dropped to 10%. Once out in the field they found the opposite of their initial fear: if anything, people wanted to talk too much.

The surveys rolled out in both the West Bank and Gaza. When Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, the researchers faced some new issues as Hamas now wanted to control the data. But the survey continued. And while some field workers have faced arrest, they are usually released the same day.

Data collection also becomes difficult when battles rage with Israel. This past summer, the survey stopped in areas under bomb and rocket attack. But the day before the ceasefire, interviewers tackled the embattled regions. Aside from timing, the researchers also had to adjust for areas now decimated by war, citizens displaced. This allowed for timely and valuable data on opinions about how the latest fighting impacted Palestinian views.

With more than 20 years experience investigating his driving questions — What direction is Palestinian society taking? How do Palestinians feel about the relationship with Israel? – Shikaki sees a few trends. Over the first ten years, the Palestinian public was moving in a politically moderate direction with greater support for diplomacy and compromise with Israel. The most recent decade, though, has witnessed greater support for Islamists and violence with Israel. The fate embodied in these questions are linked. Shikaki remains hopeful, as a change in either would enact change in the other.

We are extremely pleased to have Khalil Shikaki in residence at the Center for Political Studies (CPS). During his time at CPS, he has also been continuing his collaborations with the Arab Barometer, the Aggression Research Program, and Scott Atran.

Measuring Political Polarization

Post developed by Katie Brown and Shanto Iyengar.

The inaugural Michigan Political Communication Workshop welcomed renowned political science and communication scholar Shanto Iyengar from Stanford University. Iyengar presented a talk entitled “Fear and Loathing across Party Lines.”

Iyengar began by considering the current polarized state of American politics. Both parties moving toward ideological poles has resulted in policy gridlock (see: government shutdown, debt ceiling negotiations). But does this polarization extend to the public in general? To answer this question, Iyengar measured individual resentment with both explicit and implicit measures.


2008 ANES: Party vs Other Divisions


For an explicit measure, Iyengar turned to survey evidence. The American National Election Studies (ANES) indeed illustrates a significant decline in ratings of the other party based on feeling thermometer questions. Likewise, social distance between parties has increased over time, as measured by stereotypes of party supporters and marriage across party lines. In fact, this out-group animosity marks a deeper divide than other considerations, even race (see graph below).

But these surveys gauge animosity at the conscious level. Iyengar also believes mental operations concerning out-party evaluations occur outside of conscious awareness. So, along with Sean J. Westwood, Iyengar pioneered implicit measures of out-party animosity. Specifically, Iyengar and Westwood adapted the Implicit Association Test— originally used to capture racism – to political parties. Interestingly, the IAT also captured this animosity, although the polarization was more pronounced with the explicit survey measures. The chart on the left shows the starker divide between Democrats and Republicans using the feeling thermometer; the chart on the right shows the difference with the IAT.


Comparing Implicit with Explicit Affect

Iyengar also adapted classic economic games to test implicit out-party animosity. Both games allow the participant to share a proportion of money provided by the researchers. Interestingly, participants gave less to out-party opponents. Iyengar cites this as evidence of implicit out-party bias.


Economic Game Results by Party

Together, these results suggest marked party polarization. The hostility is so strong that politicians running on a bipartisan platform are likely to be out of step with public opinion.

The ANES, the CSES, and the future of survey research

Post developed by  John H. Aldrich (Duke University).

This post is part of a series celebrANES65thating the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES). The posts will seek to highlight some of the many ways in which the ANES has benefited scholarship, the public, and the advancement of science.

My contact with the ANES began in 1966, or maybe it was in 1967, in John Kessel’s class at Allegheny College, when we read that relatively new book, The American Voter. It was presented to us then as revolutionary and that assessment stands today. Since then, it has become my good fortune to be able to be involved in the ANES, on which that book was based, in a wide variety of ways. Let me mention two dimensions of the ANES, the CSES and the future.

The Comparative Studies of Electoral Systems (CSES), led into being by Steve Rosenstone from the ANES among others, is the extension of the aspirations of the ANES into a truly comparative context. That set of aspirations was to demand the highest quality research design and data collection to enable the strongest inferences possible about how elections work. CSES is primarily the comparative study of differing democratic institutions and cultures, and the idea is to have as close to “gold standard” data collected on exactly the same topics in as many electoral democracies as possible, so we can learn just what is special to particular nations or electoral systems and what is general. The notion, that is, is to make possible the strongest science of democracy we can. We are now entering the fifth round of such studies, and the advances are becoming quite remarkable (see for what is nearly 20 years of research). The point is that not only was the ANES the original model, an important source of leadership, and indeed, was the justification for NSF support for the project, but all that continues to this day.

The ANES (and indeed the CSES) is entering a critical period. There are two kinds of threats, and hence two kinds of opportunities. One threat is external. The cost of the maintaining the gold standard is very high, possibly unsustainably so, and funding in the U.S., as in many nations, is under threat. In the U.S., it is under political threat, as Congress seriously considers limiting the scope of the science it will support through the NSF. The internal threat is, of course, related to cost, but it is also that maintaining the gold standard of excellence in design faces new and ever stronger challenges. While the ANES has over time maintained a position at the head of the class in terms of response rates, its current response rates, like everyone else’s, are much lower than desired and also lower than they were not so long ago. And new technologies present new challenges as to how best to meet standards of excellence in research design and survey implementation. The need for both new science and its engineering counterparts in the face of declining interest in participating in surveys and other challenges is acute – but it is also something that the scientific community surrounding and supporting the ANES ought to be especially attuned to and especially good at creating. So, this is a challenge to the community to step up, as Campbell, Converse, Miller and Stokes and as Kish did 65 years ago.

What can statebuilding tell us about ISIL?

Post developed by Katie Brown and David A. Lake.

ISIL (a.k.a. ISIS, a.k.a. Da’ish) in Syria and Iraq. Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Boko Haram in Nigeria. Al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan. All of these insurgent groups have risen to power in failed states, or “ungoverned spaces.” Can we fix these failed spaces?

DSC_0013David A. Lake, Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of California San Diego and Director of the Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research, addressed this question in a talk titled “The Statebuilder’s Dilemma: Legitimacy, Loyalty, and the Limits of External Intervention” at the annual Harold Jacobson Lecture in International Law which was held on October 23rd, 2014.

Statebuilding seeks to bring stability to unstable regions. Typically, an outside political power, e.g., the United States, will create a new government in a volatile region. In doing so, they attempt to bring a monopoly to legitimate violence. Usually this means supporting a political leader who can build a political coalition to overcome the conflicts. Often, the statebuilder marches in, plants a stake in the ground, and declares a new order. They guarantee this order as long as the different factions honor the new regime.

Statebuilding presents challenges. First, it is very expensive, with the bulk of the cost falling on the failed state. The key to success is balancing legitimacy and loyalty, which proves to be a delicate balance. That is, the new leader must remain loyal to the statebuilder but also seem legitimate to the local population. The more interest the statebuilder has in the region, the more they will require loyalty. Statebuilding fails when the new leader balks at the loyalty. Instead, money meant to be invested in building infrastructure is diverted into building his political coalition.

With the exception of Japan and Germany post-World War II, statebuilding tends to fail. The opening examples exemplify this. So Lake poses the important question: What can be done?

Lake facetiously suggests not engaging in statebuilding as the best solution. Recognizing abstention to be unlikely, he offers a few other guidelines. First, better strategy and implementation is needed, especially around election timing and monitoring. Second, an international coalition should monitor statebuilding and the process of transferring power completely to the new state.