Author Archives: Katherine Pearson

‘13 Reasons Why’ and Young Adults’ Risk of Suicide

By Michael Rozansky. Original post for the Annenberg Public Policy Center.  

One of the most heavily watched and debated fictional portrayals of suicide in recent years was the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which raised outcries about potential contagion stemming from its portrayal of a female high-school student’s suicide.

Google searches about suicide spiked after the release of Season 1, physicians said that several children created lists of “13 reasons why” they wanted to kill themselves, and one hospital saw an increase in admissions of children who exhibited suicidal behavior. But two studies conducted after the series was released found some beneficial effects.

Given the series’ popularity and its potentially harmful effects, researchers at the University of Vienna, the University of Leuven, the University of Michigan, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) conducted a study to more fully understand the effects of the show through a survey of U.S. young adults, ages 18 to 29, before and after the May 2018 release of its second season.

In the study, published today in the journal Social Science & Medicine, researchers found that:

  • Viewers who stopped watching the second season partway through reported greater risk for future suicide and less optimism about the future than those who watched the entire season or didn’t watch it at all;
  • Students – who were nearly 60 percent of the sample – were at an overall higher risk for suicide. Of the viewers who dropped out of watching the series midway, students were at a significantly higher suicide risk than non-students (see Figure 1);
  • The show appeared to have a beneficial effect on students who saw the full second season: They were less likely to report recent self-harm and thoughts of ending their lives than comparable students who didn’t watch the series at all. And viewers in general were more likely to express interest in helping a suicidal person, especially compared with those who stopped watching;
  • Netflix’s warning about the show’s potentially disturbing content that preceded Season 2 mainly appeared to increase viewing but did not appear to prevent vulnerable viewers from watching the season.

“Although there’s some good news about the effects of ‘13 Reasons Why,’ our findings confirm concerns about the show’s potential for adverse effects on vulnerable viewers,” said Dan Romer, APPC’s research director and the study’s senior author. “It would have been helpful had the producers done more to enable vulnerable viewers to watch the entire second season, which is when the show had its more beneficial effects.”

Fig. 1: Predicted suicide risk

Background on the study

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds. Media portrayals of suicide have been shown to have helpful and harmful effects. Stories of suicide in news and fictional media can elicit suicide – especially when they explicitly show suicide methods – in a phenomenon called the Werther effect, after Goethe’s novel “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” By contrast, news stories about people who have overcome a suicidal crisis have had a positive impact, a more recently documented phenomenon that is known as the Papageno effect, after the character in Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute.”

For this study the researchers surveyed 18- to 29-year-olds, who reported having access to Netflix, both shortly before the second season was launched and a month later. A total of 729 respondents completed both the initial internet survey and the follow-up, which used validated scales to measure future suicide risk, hopelessness, recent self-harm, and related outcomes. Women were over represented in this sample (82 percent), perhaps because “13 Reasons Why” involved a female protagonist.

An indicator of distress

“13 Reasons Why” seemed to be particularly upsetting for young people who were already at a higher risk of suicide and who empathized with the main character, 17-year-old Hannah, who is bullied and sexually assaulted before deciding to end her life. As the researchers wrote, “We hypothesized that watching only some of the series could be an indicator of distress that led those viewers to discontinue exposure to the upsetting content.” The results appeared to support that idea, in that those who watched only some of the second season showed elevated risk of future suicide, an outcome that was stronger for current students.

At the same time, students who watched the entire second season reported less self-harm after watching than those who did not watch at all. Thus the findings suggest that over the course of a month following the second season, the show exerted a beneficial effect on some students.

The researchers added: “One explanation for the beneficial finding is that those at higher risk who persisted to the end were able to empathize with the challenges faced by the main characters and to take away a life-affirming lesson applied to their own lives.” The second season may have conveyed this message with more effectiveness than the first season, which mainly focused on the harm that the suicide inflicted on the victim’s friends and family.

“Given that we know that the Werther effect is a real phenomenon with detrimental consequences, the public outcry about potential contagious effects as a response to the first season is justified,” said the study’s lead author, Florian Arendt of the University of Vienna, Austria. “However, the second season appeared to have more content that could engender a beneficial effect than the first season, and this may have helped those who watched it in its entirety to walk away with more beneficial outcomes.”

Viewers who watched the full second season were also more likely to be sympathetic to a hypothetical friend who appeared to be suicidal. Here again the findings suggest that the show may have succeeded in creating empathy for those in a suicidal crisis.

Evidence the show “can harm some… and may actually help others”

In an accompanying commentary on the study in Social Science & Medicine, Anna S. Mueller of the University of Chicago’s Department of Sociology and Comparative Human Development said the findings “offer the strongest evidence to date that 13RW can harm some youth and the results demonstrate that it may actually help others, which is rarely considered in the media and suicide literature.”

Mueller, who was not connected with the study, said, “It also has important implications for what scholars should do next.” That includes “unpacking how exposure to suicide – whether through media or a personal relationship – transforms an individual’s vulnerability to suicide.”

What should Netflix do?

Romer said, “Producers of shows such as ‘13 Reasons Why’ need to be aware of the potential effects of their shows, particularly on vulnerable audiences. One way to do this would be to make the series less aversive to people who are sensitive to a story about suicide, because they may not get to the parts of the story that have more uplifting effects.”

The researchers noted that the study had limitations, including the one-month time frame for the observed effects. Also, it did not assess respondents’ experiences surrounding sexual assault, an important element in the series in both seasons, which could have influenced reactions.

Romer and Arendt’s co-authors are Patrick E. Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Health and Risk Communication Institute at the Annenberg Public Policy Center; Sebastian Scherr, of the School for Mass Communication Research, University of Leuven, Belgium; and Josh Pasek, of the Department of Communication Studies and Center for Political Studies, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.

The study “Investigating harmful and helpful effects of watching season 2 of 13 Reasons Why: Results of a two-wave U.S. panel survey,” is published in Social Science & Medicine.

 

Winners and Losers:
 The Psychology of Attitudes Toward 
Foreign Trade

Post developed by Katherine Pearson and Diana Mutz

Foreign trade is a complex issue, but the public still has strong opinions about the issue. Diana Mutz demonstrated that social psychology can help to understand attitudes about trade when she delivered the 2019 Miller Converse lecture. A recording of her talk “Winners and Losers: The Psychology of Attitudes Toward Foreign Trade” is available below.

Most people rely on small-scale social experiences to understand large-scale interactions such as international trade. From this understanding, people tend to embrace beliefs about trade that are not necessarily accurate. For example, folk beliefs suggest that impersonal transactions are more dangerous than personal ones, that trade is zero-sum, and that trade “deficits” mean that a country is losing more jobs as a result of imports than it gains due to exports. These beliefs are inaccurate, yet understandable, generalizations from the world of face-to-face social exchange.

Contrary to popular wisdom, trade preferences do not reflect people’s economic self-interest. Mutz demonstrates that, surprisingly, these attitudes are not influenced by a person’s occupation, industry of employment, community job loss, geographic location, or individual job loss. Instead, perceptions of what is in the collective economic interest determine attitudes toward trade. Coverage of trade in the media has a large influence on these perceptions. Media coverage of foreign trade was mostly negative until 2016. As media coverage of trade has become more balanced since 2016, support for trade has also increased.

Politicians from all parties have been unwilling to champion trade when running for office because foreign trade is seen as a political liability in the United States. As the world economy changes, Mutz asserts that leaders will need to advocate for trade and for safeguards against its negative effects. She cautions that it’s unhelpful to leave the public out of that conversation altogether as has been common in the past.

For an additional perspective, Mutz compares attitudes about trade in the United States and Canada. She finds that attitudes about trade in the two countries are different due to differing attitudes toward competition. Americans value competition more, and believe in the fairness of unequal outcomes. In the U.S., nationalism reduces support for foreign trade, but in Canada the opposite is true. Canadians who hold the strongest beliefs about national superiority want to promote more trade and immigration.

Differing perspectives on trade in these countries can be explained by variation in two different types of ingroup favoritism. First, Americans in Mutz’s studies systematically preferred trade agreements in which their fellow Americans benefited more than trading partners. In fact, there was no level of job benefits to foreign countries that would justify the loss of even a single American job. This was not the case among Canadians. In addition, Americans demonstrated their competitive attitudes toward trade by demonstrating greater support for trade agreements that not only benefit their country but also disadvantage the trading partner. Canadians, in contrast, preferred the kind of “win-win” trade agreement that economists suggest benefits all countries involved.

Attitudes about race drive attitudes about trade and Mutz finds that the reverse may also be true. In a study that asked respondents to select which students should be admitted to college, participants who had just watched an ad against foreign trade were less supportive of admitting Asian-American students, as well as students from Asia.

Mutz concludes that, while many of these results are distressing, attitudes remain malleable. Efforts to change opinions toward trade that emphasize similarity and shared values are more effective than efforts emphasizing pocketbook gains. Since 2016, her data shows that there has been an increase in support for foreign trade and a realization that it comes with benefits as well as negative consequences.

Divided by Culture: Partisan Imagery and Political Evaluations

Post developed by Katherine Pearson and Stuart Soroka

When you think of a Prius, what political party comes to mind? What about country music? Increasingly, Americans associate partisan leanings with otherwise non-political objects. Dan Hiaeshutter-Rice, Fabian G. Neuner, and Stuart Soroka examine the consequences of these associations in their paper “Divided by Culture: Partisan Imagery and Political Evaluations”, which they will present at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

The cultural and political divide in America receives considerable media and scholarly attention. Republicans and Democrats have different preferences for everyday things like cars and drinks – most people are familiar with stereotypes of latte-drinking liberals or truck-loving conservatives. These differences even extend to their children’s names, the places they live, and the amount they give to charity.

The authors of this paper took a closer look at the extent to which non-political objects, activities, and places are associated with partisanship and ideology. Participants in the study were first prompted to list objects and activities they associate with either liberalism or conservatism. Following this open-ended question, respondents were asked to rate a list of 26 objects and activities based on ideology or partisanship.

The results of the open-ended question are illustrated in the figure below, which shows the words most strongly associated with Democrats (blue) and Republicans (red).  The figure makes clear the ease which which respondents name objects and activities often associated with the two partisan groups.

Hiaeshutter-Rice, D., Neuner, F., Soroka, S. 2019, “Divided by Culture: Partisan Imagery and Political Evaluations”, paper presented to the 77th Annual MPSA Conference, Chicago, IL, April 4-7, 2019.

In subsequent studies, the authors examined  respondents’ reactions to a series of photos of political candidates standing in front of different backgrounds, including a NASCAR race, an organic food store, and a shooting range. Not all treatments made a difference, but the shooting range (and another image of a gun shop) in particular affected the way that respondents perceived the candidates’ ideology and policy proposal.

As more politicians use social media to share images of their campaigns, it is essential to be aware of the ways in which voters evaluate candidates. Nonverbal political communication conveys information that can help shape public opinion and political behavior. Will voters be manipulated by objects and scenery in political messages? The authors suggest that even as respondents can attach partisanship to wide range of non-political activities, their candidate-photo experiment finds only limited effects of hypothetical press-conference backgrounds. They conclude on a comforting note: “The fact that voters are readily able to attach partisanship to objects and activities, but yet barely take this information into account when rating candidates and policies, may be good news for representative democracy.” 

New Book Examines Ghana’s Political Trap

Post developed by Katherine Pearson

As a country grows and develops economically, most experts expect political behavior to develop as well, becoming more policy-oriented and programmatic and moving away from clientelism that characterizes less developed countries. However, this has not been the case in Ghana. In his new book, Electoral Politics and Africa’s Urban Transition, Noah Nathan traces the unexpected political patterns that are emerging in urban Ghana. Despite a growing middle class and increasing ethnic diversity, clientelism and ethnic voting persist in many urban neighborhoods.

Nathan focuses his research on Accra, Ghana, a diverse and growing metropolis of four million people. Not only is the population of the city growing, but it is becoming wealthier and better educated: data show that the middle class in Accra has tripled in size since Ghana democratized in 1992. The trend toward urbanization has also led to more diversity and contact between members of different ethnic groups in the city. Experts usually expect that higher incomes and levels of education will shift voter preferences away from politicians offering patronage and toward more policy-oriented candidates.

Political practices in Ghana have not transitioned as rapidly as the demographics have. Instead, Nathan shows, Ghanaian politics have become stuck in a trap. The trap is a cycle wherein voters expect goods and favors, which politicians deliver in the form of patronage. As a result,  the government performs poorly and elected officials are seen as less credible. Policy-oriented citizens are left without programmatic candidates, and become more likely to decide to opt out of voting entirely. With those voters increasingly out of play, politicians face strong incentives to continue engaging in clientelism, sometimes creating ethnic competition.

political trap

Nathan, Noah L. Electoral Politics and Africa’s Urban Transition: Class and Ethnicity in Ghana. Cambridge University Press, 2019.

The key to understanding the political trap of clientelism is the neighborhood-level variations within cities. Voters with similar levels of wealth and education do not all vote alike across the city; voting behaviors differ greatly by neighborhood. Voters in poorer neighborhoods still expect favors from politicians, who respond accordingly. Taking this into account, many middle-class voters, those who are most likely to support a programmatic transition, opt out of voting because they view politicians engaging in patronage as lacking credibility.

Certain features of developing cities give further context to explain politicians’ and voters’ incentives. Developing countries have lower capacity to provide services and infrastructure to their citizens as a whole. The rapid pace of growth creates a scarcity of resources to go around. Without the credibility to promise broad improvements, politicians rely instead on promises to select groups. Cities tend to be comprised of neighborhoods that differ widely in their wealth and diversity, often within the same electoral district. Understanding these realities help explain why clientelism prevails, even as the electorate becomes wealthier, better-educated, and more diverse.

Nathan concludes his analysis of the political patterns in Ghana by drawing parallels with political systems seen in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as in Latin American cities. In these cases the shift to more programmatic politics occurred politicians could no longer distribute government resources selectively. The rise of civil service reforms and broad social welfare programs supported the shift to policy-oriented systems. These parallels to similar transitions over time and in other developing countries may point the way to more policy-oriented political systems in the future. 

Faida Zacharia Addresses the Challenges of Fresh Water Access in Tanzania

post developed by Katherine Pearson

Faida Zacharia studies access to energy and water resources for smallholder farmers in Dodoma Region in Tanzania. As a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, she worked closely with Professor Kelly Askew to further her research on “Small-scale Groundwater Irrigated Agriculture and Livelihoods in Drylands Areas: The Case of Dodoma Region, Tanzania.”

Faida Zacharia

Faida Zacharia is an Assistant Lecturer in Development Studies at the University of Dodoma, Tanzania. She came to the University of Michigan as a member of the University of Michigan African Presidential Scholars (UMAPS) 2018-19 cohort.

Addressing groundwater irrigation in Dodoma

Water wars” are on the rise around the world as access to fresh water becomes ever more limited. Countries around the world are facing increased demand for water at a time when fresh water is becoming an ever more scarce resource. Food security and economic development depend on access to water, hence developing countries like Tanzania are seeking new means of increasing access to water for all the needs of its population.

In Dodoma, a semi-arid region in Tanzania, access to fresh water is a challenge. Climate change, industrial activities, and political conflicts all threaten the available water supply. The region has various reservoirs to collect surface water, among them Msalato reservoir, Mkonze dam, Hombolo dam, Bahi dam and Makutupora dam. Mtera dam, the largest dam in Tanzania, is also the primary source of electricity for the national grid. But despite all of these resources, Dodoma faces a shortage of water.

People in Dodoma rely on smallholder farming and livestock keeping for their livelihoods, but the recent rapid growth of this region has put additional pressure on water resources necessary for agriculture. When President John Magufuli was elected in 2015, he declared that Dodoma City would be the political capital of the country, and required all government ministries relocate from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma. People came to Dodoma from other regions of Tanzania, increasing the demand for water for household uses, for industry, and for agriculture beyond what the reservoirs could sustain. Tapping into groundwater resources may provide a solution.

Zacharia is developing new research that will explore how groundwater irrigation in Dodoma region contributes to agriculture and food security, and how it helps poverty reduction in the drylands of central Tanzania. Her research maps the groundwater in the region to establish how much there is and where it is located. This baseline data and knowledge will help to initiate, implement, and sustain groundwater irrigated agriculture in Tanzania.

Zacharia wants to know who benefits and who does not when groundwater irrigation is established in smallholder farming communities. Groundwater irrigated agriculture may prove to have great potential as a strategy that mitigates the impact of climate change on agricultural communities. These findings will inform the policy decision-making process and strategies related to small-scale groundwater irrigated agriculture to enhance the livelihoods of drylands communities.

Zacharia’s research supports sustainable development of infrastructure through an integrated approach to water management to balance the competing needs of agriculture, human consumption, industry, and environmental conservation. In the rush to secure more water, she cautions against a lack of planning that lead to the present water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa and other sites in China, India, and California where groundwater aquifers have been depleted.

Experience of a visiting scholar

Zacharia says that her time at the University of Michigan has been essential to advancing her research. Her fellowship allowed her to work closely with her mentor to receive support and feedback on her research. Zacharia presented research at two conferences during her visit: the Sustainability and Development Conference at the University of Michigan, and the African Studies Association annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. She said that the experience of attending the conferences and presenting work to her peers was one that she is eager to repeat. “It has changed my entire outlook and attitude towards life of academics,” Zacharia said.

Access to the university libraries was another important benefit of her time as a visiting scholar. Zacharia said that the wealth of research resources, and the efficiency of accessing them, was important to conducting her work. She worked closely with experts in geographic information systems (GIS) to map groundwater data. Other visiting scholars, especially those from Uganda, Ghana, and Nigeria, supported Zacharia’s research by reviewing her work and providing new insights. She expects that the relationships she has built during this program, with faculty and other scholars, will extend long into the future. “It’s not easy to find someone to give you the support like I get here,” said Zacharia. “That support makes me more comfortable to start my research.”

Zacharia returns home to Tanzania at the end of February, where she will apply to PhD programs to continue her work. We wish her all the best and look forward to future partnerships with her.

It’s Up to Us – Transparency and the Public Value of Science

post developed by Katherine Pearson

There are people all over the world who need the social sciences to reconcile the problems of their lives. At the Open Social Science Conference in Mannheim, Germany, Arthur Lupia told attendees that this is why social scientists must work to ensure that their work is transparent and credible. Lupia delivered his keynote address “It’s Up to Us – Transparency and the Public Value of Science” on Friday, January 25, 2019. A recording of the talk is available online.

Lupia studies how people make decisions when they don’t have much information. Quantitative researchers, he notes, make scientific claims backed up by proofs. A proof allows others to understand the thought process and produce the same result. It allows researchers to go beyond their own understanding, and bring others along.

It’s not always sufficient to show evidence, however. The scientist must also consider the person who receives the information: what they pay attention to, how they make sense of that information, what they understand. In order to create change, social science research must first reach its audience. The way scientists communicate knowledge makes a difference.

What makes social science research valuable to people who use it?

The mission of social science researchers, according to Lupia, is to offer people a better understanding of the relationship between things they can see and things they can do.

The amount of information available has increased greatly within our lifetimes. An abundance of information is available online. So why should anyone seek out rigorous scientific research? If information can be found for free, why should anyone fund social science?

To answer these questions, Lupia starts by explaining that decisions rely on evaluations of evidence. The essential criteria for evaluating evidence are:

  • Credibility – there is something about the claim that is trustworthy?
  • Legitimacy – is this claim developed in accordance with recognized principles?

Challenges facing scientists

While scientific inquiry fosters greater honesty in evaluations, the incentives that scientists face present challenges, as well. Scientists have a strong incentive to discover novel findings and publish them. The marketplace rewards claims that go viral. On the other hand, the incentives to explain how these discoveries emerge are very weak.

These incentives threaten the meaning and the value of the research. If scientists publish only astonishing results, but ignore more mundane studies that disagree, scientific credibility and legitimacy are eroded. If social scientists want to advance research that improves quality of life in the world, then credibility and legitimacy matter a lot.

Opportunities to improve transparency

Transparency in scientific research can be improved by creating better incentives. Because researchers already have strong incentives to publish, Lupia suggests that it makes sense to focus efforts on academic journals. He gave several examples of incentives that help journals increase transparency.

The Data Access and Research Transparency (DA-RT) Statement increases transparency in social science. The statement was signed by 28 academic journals that promised to “commit to greater data access and research transparency, and to implementing policies requiring authors to make as accessible as possible the empirical foundation and logic of inquiry of evidence-based research.”

The Transparency and Openness Promotion Guidelines are a model for increasing transparency in publishing. Created by the Center for Open Science, over 8,000 journals have committed to these guidelines. CoS badges

The Center for Open Science has created badges to show when a study has preregistered, uses open data, or uses open materials. Research has shown that implementing these badges dramatically increases the rate of data sharing.

The Election Research Preacceptance Competition, led by Lupia and Brendan Nyhan, asked researchers to design a paper using data from the 2016 American National Election Studies (ANES) and submit the design to a participating journal before the data were available for analysis. In return, selected entries were offered an award of $2,000 and placement on a panel at a major political science conference. This challenged researchers to share ideas regardless of whether the analysis yielded the expected results. Lupia noted that they received fewer submissions than they expected. He suspects that it’s difficult for researchers, especially younger ones, to take the risk to publicly share an idea without knowing what the outcome will be.

The value of social science is up to us

When was the golden age of social science? Lupia says it is dawning right now. Scientists must ensure their work has value to those who can use it to make change, and that’s why they need to commit to greater transparency. Increasing transparency requires creating incentives and improving infrastructure for openness. Most people who consume scientific research will never read the evidence that went into the findings. Instead they take the results on faith. Lupia cautions that if researchers don’t uphold standards of transparency, they lose their value as credible sources of knowledge. 

Portrait of a birther: White conservatives with political knowledge more likely to believe Obama conspiracy

Post developed by Morgan Sherburne for Michigan News.

White conservatives who not only have racial animus but are also knowledgeable about politics were the most likely group to believe that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States, according to a University of Michigan Institute for Social Research study.

Michael Traugott and Ashley Jardina

Michael Traugott and Ashley Jardina

The study, published in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, teased out motivations of white voters for believing the so-called birther rumor. It found that white conservatives who ranked as having a high amount of knowledge were most likely to support the idea that Obama was not born in the U.S.

“This is a piece of social science research about biased perceptions in the political world and what their consequences might be,” said the study’s co-author Michael Traugott, a researcher at the Center for Political Studies at ISR. “It’s relevant because the whole concept of fake news is about devaluing information that doesn’t conform to either what you believe or what you want other people to believe, therefore suggesting a basis upon which it can be discounted or thrown away.”

Traugott and co-author Ashley Jardina, a former U-M doctoral student and now an assistant professor of political science at Duke University, say politically knowledgeable conservatives may be more likely to believe the rumor because they may follow what’s called a “motivated reasoning model.”

“One of the most interesting things about the motivated reasoning model is that the more resources the person has—which could be political information—the better they are able to argue against new information that doesn’t fit their worldview,” said Traugott.

Traugott and Jardina explored a portrait of a birther among white Americans using data from the 2012 American National Election Study. The ANES, conducted in person among a nationally representative sample of respondents, asked several questions assessing belief in contemporary conspiracy theories.

As recently as 2017, nearly a third of U.S. adults believed it was possible Obama was born outside the U.S., according to the researchers.

The survey also assessed participants’ knowledge by asking them to identify the office held by several political figures. A respondent’s score on the scale was the proportion of correctly answered questions.

The researchers found that 62 percent of very strong Republicans reported that Obama was born in the U.S. compared to 89 percent of very strong Democrats. Thirty-eight percent of very strong Republicans reported that Obama was probably born in another country, while 11 percent of very strong Democrats reported the same.

To estimate the impact of racial attitudes on the birther rumor, the researchers compared two conspiracy theories detailed in the 2012 ANES survey: the Obama birther rumor and the existence of the Affordable Care Act “death panels,” or, the idea that the ACA authorized government panels to make end-of-life decisions for people on Medicare.

Additionally, the researchers found:

  • Strong Republicans with higher levels of racial animus are more inclined to believe the birther rumor, but not the death panel rumor.
  • Republicans both low on resentment and low on knowledge are also more inclined to believe the birther rumor.
  • Democrats with higher levels of racial resentment are not significantly inclined to adopt either rumor.
  • Democrats low on knowledge and high on resentment are more likely to adopt birther beliefs.
  • High-knowledge Democrats with high levels of racial resentment are less likely to believe the rumor.

“Until recently, the relationship of party identification to things like voting behavior had weakened, but it has strengthened again,” Traugott said. “We expected partisanship would play a role in attitudes about Barack Obama, and because he was an African American, racial attitudes would play a role as well. These things are now increasingly important because of this kind of tribalism that’s infecting contemporary politics.”

 

More information:

Most Popular CPS Blog Posts in 2018

Post developed by Katherine Pearson

Since its establishment in 2013, a total of 146 posts have appeared on the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Blog. As we approach the new year, we look back at 2018’s most-viewed recent posts. Listed below are the recent posts that you found most interesting on the blog this year.


Farris and Eck

Crime in Sweden: What the Data Tell Us 

By Christopher Fariss and Kristine Eck (2017)

Debate persists inside and outside of Sweden regarding the relationship between immigrants and crime in Sweden. But what can the data actually tell us? Shouldn’t it be able to identify the pattern between the number of crimes committed in Sweden and the proportion of those crimes committed by immigrants? The answer is complicated by the manner in which the information about crime is collected and catalogued. This is not just an issue for Sweden but any country interested in providing security to its citizens. Ultimately though, there is no information that supports the claim that Sweden is experiencing an “epidemic.”

Read the full post here.


Negativity in Debate Speeches, By Political Party, 1976-2016Exploring the Tone of the 2016 Campaign

By undergraduate students Megan Bayagich, Laura Cohen, Lauren Farfel, Andrew Krowitz, Emily Kuchman, Sarah Lindenberg, Natalie Sochacki, and Hannah Suh, and their professor Stuart Soroka, all from the University of Michigan. (2017)

The 2016 election campaign seems to many to have been one of the most negative campaigns in recent history. The authors explore negativity in the campaign – focused on debate transcripts and Facebook-distributed news content – and share their observations.

Read the full post here.


Parental LeaveAttitudes Toward Gender Roles Shape Support for Family Leave Policies

By Solmaz Spence (2017)

In almost half of two-parent households in the United States, both parents work full-time. Yet when a baby is born, it is still new moms who take the most time off work. On average, new mothers take 11 weeks off work while new dads take just one week, according to a 2016 survey carried out by the Pew Research Center. In part, that is because many new fathers in the U.S. don’t have access to paid paternity leave. Paid maternity leave is rare, too: in fact, the U.S. is the only developed nation that does not provide a national paid family leave program to new parents.

Read the full post here.


The Spread of Mass SurveillanceThe Spread of Mass Surveillance, 1995 to Present 

By Nadiya Kostyuk and Muzammil M. Hussain (2017)

By closely investigating all known cases of state-backed cross-sector surveillance collaborations, the authors’ findings demonstrate that the deployment of mass surveillance systems by states has been globally increasing throughout the last twenty years. More importantly, from 2006-2010 to present, states have uniformly doubled their surveillance investments compared with the previous decade.

Read the full post here.


gerrymanderingRedrawing the Map: How Jowei Chen is Measuring Partisan Gerrymandering 

By Solmaz Spence (2018)

“Gerrymandering”— when legislative maps are drawn to the advantage of one party over the other during redistricting—received its name in 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed off on a misshapen district that was said to resemble a salamander, which a newspaper dubbed a “gerrymander.”

But although the idea of gerrymandering has been around for a while, proving that a state’s legislature has deliberately skewed district lines to benefit one political party remains challenging.

Read the full post here.


American ElectorateInside the American Electorate: The 2016 ANES Time Series Study 

By Catherine Allen-West, Megan Bayagich, and Ted Brader (2017)

Since 1948, the ANES- a collaborative project between the University of Michigan and Stanford University- has conducted benchmark election surveys on voting, public opinion, and political participation. To learn more about the study, we asked Ted Brader (University of Michigan professor of political science and one of the project’s principal investigators) a few questions about the anticipated release.

Read the full post here.


Party IDUnderstanding the Changing American Electorate 

By Catherine Allen-West (2018)

The American National Election Studies (ANES) has surveyed American citizens before and after every presidential election since 1948.  The survey provides the public with a rigorous, non-partisan scientific basis for studying change over time in American politics.

The interactive graphs in this post illustrate the changing American electorate and some of the factors that may motivate voters’ choices at the ballot box.

Read the full post here.


TwitterUsing Twitter to Observe Election Incidents in the United States 

By Catherine Allen-West (2017)

Election forensics is the field devoted to using statistical methods to determine whether the results of an election accurately reflect the intentions of the electors. Problems in elections that are not due to fraud may stem from legal or administrative decisions. Some examples of concerns that may distort turnout or vote choice data are long wait times, crowded polling place conditions, bad ballot design and location of polling stations relative to population.

Read the full post here.


InequalityInequality is Always in the Room: Language and Power in Deliberative Democracy 

By Catherine Allen-West (2017)

In a paper presented at the 2017 APSA meeting, Arthur Lupia, University of Michigan, and Anne Norton, University of Pennsylvania, explore the effectiveness of deliberative democracy by examining the  foundational communicative acts that take place during deliberation.

Read the full post here.


ElliottMaking Education Work for the Poor: The Potential of Children’s Savings Accounts 

By Katherine Pearson (2018)

Dr. William Elliott contends that we need a revolution in the way we finance college education. His new book Making Education Work for the Poor, written with Melinda Lewis, takes a hard look at the inequalities in access to education, and how these inequalities are threatening the American dream. Elliott and Lewis present data and analyses outlining problems plaguing the system of student loans, while also proposing children’s savings accounts as a robust solution to rising college costs, skyrocketing debt burdens, and growing wealth inequality. In a presentation at the University of Michigan on October 3, 2018, Elliott presented new research supporting the case for children’s savings accounts and rewards card programs.

Read the full post here.

What happened in the 2018 Midterm Elections?

Post written by Katherine Pearson

Elections experts Ken Goldstein, Walter Mebane, and Vincent Hutchings analyzed the results and key lessons of the 2018 Midterm Elections at a round table discussion hosted by the Center for Political Studies on November 13, 2018. A recording of the event is available below.

Ken Goldstein, Professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco

Ken Goldstein began his presentation by noting that there are still races that do not have a clear winner a week after the election, including the Senate and Governor’s races in Florida and the Governor’s race in Georgia.

Leading up to the Midterm Elections, some observers anticipated big wins for the Democratic Party. Goldstein observed that while there was a general lack of exuberance on the part of Democrats on election night, further reflection reveals that there were meaningful shifts in this election. Although the “blue wave” of Democratic wins didn’t materialize, the number of congressional seats changing away from the President’s party was of similar magnitude to past midterm elections.

Goldstein drew attention to the behavior of independent voters. Exit poll data show that independents favored Republican candidates for the House of Representatives in the past two midterm elections, as well as the 2016 General Election. In contrast, independent voters were more likely to vote for Democratic House candidates in 2018 by a margin of 12 percentage points.

US party ID by Vote for House in 2018

Were the polls leading up to the election predictive of the actual outcome? Goldstein said they were fairly accurate, but reminded the audience that many congressional seats were not in play in this election. There are few high-quality state-level polls, which makes forecasting less accurate. More probability-based surveys that weight responses for education and race of the respondent would improve the accuracy of predictions.

Looking at the big picture trends, Goldstein observed that there was a substantial increase in the number of women running for office and winning, as well as large increases in non-white voters. He shared a map showing what the results of the presidential election would look if votes followed the same partisan break-down as the 2018 midterms. However, Goldstein cautioned that presidential campaigns are very different from congressional campaigns, and that a presidential candidate running a nation-wide campaign will face challenges in changing districts, especially in the Midwest.

Electoral College Map

Walter Mebane, Professor of Political Science and Statistics at the University of Michigan

Next, Walter Mebane presented analyses he has conducted using election forensics. Mebane coined the term “election forensics” to describe a set of statistical methods he developed to determine whether the results of an election accurately reflect the intentions of the electors.

Using Twitter data from the 2016 General Election Mebane analyzed reports of election incidents, including wait times and problems with voting. During the 2016 General Election people used Twitter to report different kinds of election incidents depending on their partisan affiliation. These incidents tended to be reported in replies to people with similar partisan affiliations.

Table showing types of elections incidents

Mebane discovered that there are partisan differences in the types of incidents that Twitter users shared during the 2016 General Election. For example, Republicans were less likely to report a long line to vote, but more likely to report registration problems. A significant conclusion from this finding is that such observational biases and communication silos suggest partisans tended to form different impressions of how the 2016 election went, supported by the divergent reported experiences. These patterns will probably continue in 2018, according to Mebane.

Vincent Hutchings, Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan

Vincent Hutchings analyzed the shifting demographics of the American electorate. Hutchings presented data showing that Democratic voters have become more racially diverse in the past 20 years, while Republican voters have remained predominately white. Similarly, the Congress elected in 2018 is the most diverse in the history of the United States, but the increase in diversity has been primarily among Democrats elected to Congress.

The most diverse Congress in US history

Reviewing voting data by race, gender, age, marital status, and education, Hutchings notes that each demographic group voted for Democrats at a higher rate than they did in the 2014 Midterm Elections. However, the magnitude of change was different for each group.

Some elections experts wondered whether women would vote for Democrats at higher rates in 2018 in response to the #MeToo movement, the contentious confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, and controversial remarks about women made by President Trump. Hutchings showed that, among white voters, men and women both shifted toward Democratic candidates, but the gender gap didn’t change. Married men and married women both moved toward the Democratic Party House candidates at roughly equal rates in 2018 compared to 2014. No matter how Hutchings examined gender, he found no evidence that white women behaved differently than comparable men, relative to their preferences four years ago.

Votes by gender and marital status

Similarly, Hutchings observed meaningful trends related to generation and education. Voters under 30 years old voted for Democrats at a higher rate than voters under 30 in 2014. Democrats also increased gains among college-educated white voters compared to the 2014 Midterm Elections. Hutchings concluded that, while media may focus on gender differences between Democratic and Republican voters, more important differences are emerging along generational and educational lines, and these are trends to watch

Democratic House support by age of voterDemocratic House support by education of voter

Round Table Analyzes Salient Themes in the Upcoming 2018 Midterm Elections

On Thursday, November 1, 2018 the Center for Political Studies hosted a round table discussion on the 2018 midterm elections. A panel of three experts presented data and analysis of the most important trends in political attitudes and behavior that they see emerging in the weeks leading up to the elections. A recording of this event is available here.

Ashley Jardina, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Duke University, spoke about the trends in race, gender, and racial attitudes that are emerging in her research. She shared images from political ads and news articles that illustrate the heightened emphasis on race in this election cycle, including displays of the Confederate flag, politicized messages about the caravan of migrants from Central America, and President’s Trump’s recent announcement of plans to end birthright citizenship.

Jardina shared polling data from Gallup and Pew that demonstrate the divide between Democrats and Republicans with regard to their attitudes about immigration. These data show that while 75% of registered Republicans think that illegal immigration is a big problem, only 19% of registered Democrats felt the same way. Data from the American National Election Studies (ANES) also shows partisan differences in support for birthright citizenship, as illustrated in the graphic below.

Graphic showing support for Eliminating birthright citizenship in the United States

Identity politics have become an increasingly notable theme in the current election cycle, one which Jardina’s forthcoming book, White Identity Politics, examines. She notes that President Trump appeals to a base of white voters who feel attached to their racial group and possess a sense of racial identity or racial consciousness. She finds that the 2018 midterms are significantly about issues of race and identity, and many Republican candidates are appealing to voters’ attitudes about race and immigration, following President Trump’s lead.

Next, Brendan Nyhan, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy and Faculty Associate at the Center for Political Studies, discussed the challenges of forecasting the outcome of the elections, and the role of misinformation in campaigns.

Nyhan began his talk by noting that many Americans have difficulty interpreting polls, and may be surprised by the actual outcomes. Rather than dwelling on predictions, he turned instead to three broader questions:

  1. What is the state of U.S. democracy in 2018?
  2. To what extent is Trump changing the Republican Party?
  3. What role do conspiracy theories and misinformation now play in our democracy?

Experts see a downturn in quality of U.S. democracy, according to data presented by Nyhan (see graph below). He notes that this trend is consistent with what many observe in the news, and reflects concerns about interference in investigations and voting rights, and limitations on the power of government. This election is not a referendum on these issues, says Nyhan, but this is an important time to be aware of the potential erosion of democracy.

Graphic showing decline in expert ratings of democracy in the United States.

Nyhan notes that President Trump has increasingly fallen in line with the Republican party when it comes to accomplishing long-standing aspects of the party agenda, including passing tax cuts and appointing conservative judges. However, he also argues that President Trump appears to be pivoting the Republican party toward ethnonationalism in a way that may outlast his presidency. Policies like separating the children of asylum seekers from their parents are moving ideas that were once at the fringe to the center of the Republican party.

Whereas the Republican party has focused strongly on identity issues leading up to the midterm elections, the Democratic party has campaigned largely on the issue of health care. Nyhan notes that there has been a notable shift in the tone of racial language in the campaigns, with rhetoric about the campaign of migrants stoking racial fears. He concludes that voters should be shocked by the explicit fear mongering presented by campaigns in this election cycle.

Stuart Soroka, Professor of Communication Studies and Professor of Political Science and Faculty Associate at the Center for Political Studies, presented a content analysis from open-ended survey responses and from news coverage for the last two months.

He showed results of surveys conducted in collaboration with SurveyMonkey, the Washington Post, and researchers affiliated with the S3MC project. These nationally-representative surveys asked, “If the election for the US House of Representatives were held today, would you vote?” and then asked “Why?” The open-ended responses to “Why?” were analyzed to reveal differences behind the reasons that Democrats and Republicans are making their choices on election day. Distinguishing words, words that are most uniquely linked to Democrats or Republicans, are shown in the graphic below. Soroka notes that Democrats frequently mention Republicans in their response, and Republicans frequently mention Democrats, suggesting that voters from each party are strongly motivated to vote against the opposing party.

Survey results showing the words that distinguish respondents of each political party.

Soroka also presented an analysis of newspaper content, including all articles mentioning “election” or “campaign” from August through the end of October during midterm election years 2006-2018, in 17 major newspapers archived in Lexis-Nexis. This amounts to approximately 20,000 articles and between 35-70,000 individual sentences (that do not mention polls), coded for sentiment using the Lexicoder Sentiment Dictionary. In the 2018 data, he finds a strong relationship between the predicted advantage for Democrats and negative news sentiment. Soroka warns that he is not arguing that news is affecting attitudes, but that news moves along with political attitudes. Based on his analysis of these data from newspapers, Soroka concludes that the nature of media coverage is going through dramatic changes because of the way the press report on President Trump.