Category Archives: Innovative Methodology

Top 10 Most Viewed CPS Blog Posts in 2016

Post written by Catherine Allen-West.

Since it’s establishment in 2013, a total of 123 posts have appeared on the Center for Political Studies (CPS) Blog. As we approach the new year, we thought to take a look back at which of these 123 posts were most viewed across 2016.

 


 

01. Tracking the Themes of the 2016 Election by Lisa Singh, Stuart Soroka, Michael Traugott and Frank Newport (from the Election Dynamics blog)

“The results highlight a central aspect of the 2016 campaign: information about Trump has varied in theme, almost weekly, over the campaign – from Russia, to taxes, to women’s issues, etc; information about Clinton has in contrast been focused almost entirely on a single theme, email.”

 


 

02. Another Reason Clinton Lost Michigan: Trump Was Listed First on the Ballot by Josh Pasek

“If Rick Snyder weren’t the Governor of Michigan, Donald Trump would probably have 16 fewer electoral votes. I say this not because I think Governor Snyder did anything improper, but because Michigan law provides a small electoral benefit to the Governor’s party in all statewide elections; candidates from that party are listed first on the ballot.”

 


 

03. Motivated Reasoning in the Perceived Credibility of Public Opinion Polls by Catherine Allen-West and Ozan Kuru

“Our results showed that people frequently discredit polls that they disagree with. Moreover, in line with motivated reasoning theories, those who are more politically sophisticated actually discredit the polls more. That is, as political knowledge increases, the credibility drops substantially for those who disagree with the poll result.”

 

 


 

04. Why do Black Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat? by Vincent Hutchings, Hakeem Jefferson, and Katie Brown, published in 2014.

“Democratic candidates typically receive 85-95% of the Black vote in the United States. Why the near unanimity among Black voters?”

 


 

05. Measuring Political Polarization by Katie Brown and Shanto Iyengar, published in 2014.

“Both parties moving toward ideological poles has resulted in policy gridlock (see: government shutdowndebt ceiling negotiations). But does this polarization extend to the public in general?”

 


 

06. What makes a political issue a moral issue? by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan, published in 2014.

“There are political issues and then there are moral political issues. Often cited examples of the latter include abortion and same sex marriage. But what makes a political issue moral?”

 


 

07. Moral Conviction Stymies Political Compromise, by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan, published in 2014.

Ryan’s overarching hypothesis boils non-compromise down to morals: a moral mindset orients citizens to oppose political compromises and punish compromising politicians. There are all kinds of issues for which some citizens seem resistant to compromises: tax reform, same-sex marriage, collective bargaining, etc. But who is resistant? Ryan shows that part of the answer has to do with who sees these issues through a moral lens.

 


 

08. Exploring the Effects of Skin Tone on Policy Preferences Among African Americans by Lauren Guggenheim and Vincent Hutchings, published in 2014.

In the United States, African Americans with darker skin tones have worse health outcomes, lower income, and face higher levels of discrimination in the work place and criminal justice system than lighter skinned Blacks. Could darker and lighter skinned African Americans in turn have different policy preferences that reflect their socio economic status-based outcomes and experiences?

 


 

09. What We Know About Race and the Gender Gap in the 2016 U.S. Election by Catherine Allen-West

As of October, the latest national polls, predicted that the 2016 Election results will reflect the largest gender gap in vote choice in modern U.S. history. If these polls had proven true, the 2016 results would indicate a much larger gender gap than what was observed in 2012, where women overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. University of Texas at Austin Professor Tasha Philpot argues that what really may be driving this gap to even greater depths, is race.

 


 

10. How do the American people feel about gun control? by Katie Brown and Darrell Donakowski, published in 2014.

As we can see, the proportion of the public supporting tougher regulation is shrinking over the time period, while satisfaction with current regulations increased. Yet, support for tougher gun laws is the most popular choice in all included years. It is important to note that these data were collected before Aurora, Newtown, and the Navy Yard shootings. The 2016 ANES study will no doubt add more insight into this contentious, important issue.

 


 

Helping the Courts Detect Partisan Gerrymanders

Post written by Lauren Guggenheim and Catherine Allen-West.

In November, a federal court ruled that the Wisconsin Legislature’s 2011 redrawing of State Assembly districts unfairly favored Republicans deeming it an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. This ruling is the first successful constitutional challenge to partisan gerrymandering since 1986.  The case will now head to the U.S. Supreme Court—which has yet to come up with a legal standard for distinguishing between acceptable redistricting efforts and unconstitutional gerrymandering.

While there have been successful challenges to gerrymandering based on racial grounds, most recently last week in North Carolina, proving partisan gerrymandering—where the plaintiffs must show that district lines were drawn with the intent to favor one political party over another—is more difficult. One reason is that research shows that even non-partisan commissions can produce unintentional gerrymandered redistricting plans solely on the basis of the geography of a party’s supporters. Also complicating matters are legislatures’ lawful efforts to keep communities of interest together and facilitate the representation of minorities. Because traditional efforts can produce results that appear biased, showing partisan asymmetries—the main form of evidence in previous trials—is not sufficient to challenge partisan gerrymandering in the courts.

However, in recent years, scientists have devised several standards that could be used to effectively measure partisan gerrymandering. In last month’s Wisconsin ruling, the court applied one such mathematical standard called the “efficiency gap“- a method that looks at statewide election results and calculates “wasted votes.” Using this method, the court found that Republicans had manipulated districts by packing Democrats into small districts or spreading them out across many districts, which ultimately led to Republican victories across the states larger districts.

Another method to determine partisan gerrymandering, developed by political scientists Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden, uses a straightforward redistricting algorithm to generate a benchmark against which to contrast a plan that has been called into constitutional question, thus laying bare any partisan advantage that cannot be attributed to legitimate legislative objectives. In a paper published last year in the Election Law Journal, Chen, a Faculty Associate at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies and Rodden, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, used the controversial 2012 Florida Congressional map to show how their approach can demonstrate and unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.

First, the algorithm simulates hundreds of valid districting plans, applying criteria traditionally used in redistricting decisions—compactness, geographic contiguity, population equality, the preservation of political communities, and the protection of voting rights for minorities—while disregarding partisanship. Then, the existing plan can be compared to the partisan distribution of the simulated plans to see where in the distribution it falls. If the partisanship of the existing plan lies in the extreme tail (or outside of the distribution) that was created by the simulations, it suggests the plan is likely to have been created with partisan intent. In other words, the asymmetry is less likely to be due to natural geography or a state’s interest in protecting minorities or keeping cohesive jurisdictions together (which is accounted for by the simulations). In this way, their approach distinguishes between unintentional and intentional asymmetries in partisanship.

Using data from the Florida case, Chen and Rodden simulated the results of 24 districts in 1,000 simulated plans. They kept three African-American districts intact because of Voting Rights Act protections. They also kept 46 counties and 384 cities together, giving the benefit of the doubt to the legislature that compelling reasons exist to keep these entities within the same simulated district. The algorithm uses a nearest distance criterion to keep districts geographically contiguous and highly compact, and it iteratively reassigns precincts to different districts until equally populated districts are achieved. The figure below shows how this looks in one of the 1,000 valid plans.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-12-15-45-pm

Next, to measure partisanship, Chen and Rodden needed both the most recent data possible and precinct-level election results, which they found in the 2008 presidential election results. For both the existing plan and the simulated plans, they aggregated from the precinct to the district and calculated the number of districts where McCain voters outnumbered Obama voters. The figure below shows the partisan distribution of all of the plans. A majority of the plans created 14 Republican seats, and less than half of one percent of the plans produced 16 Republican seats. However, none of the simulations produced the 17 seats that were in the Florida Legislature’s plan, showing that the pro-Republican bias in the Legislature’s plan is an extreme outlier relative to the simulations.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-12-16-41-pm

Because the simulations they created were a conservative test of redistricting (e.g., giving the benefit of the doubt to the Legislature by protecting three African-American districts), Chen and Rodden also tried the simulations by progressively dropping some of the districts they had previously kept intact. Results suggested the Legislature’s plan was even more atypical, as they had less pro-Republican bias than the simulations with the protected districts.

Chen and Rodden note that once a plaintiff can show that the partisanship of a redistricting plan is an extreme outlier, the burden of proof should shift to the state.  Ultimately in Florida, eight districts were found invalid and, and in December 2015, new maps were approved by the court and put into use for the 2016 Election.

Identifying the Sources of Scientific Illiteracy

Post developed by Catherine Allen-West in coordination with Josh Pasek

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “Motivated Reasoning and the Sources of Scientific Illiteracy” was a part of the session “Knowledge and Ideology in Environmental Politics” on Friday, September 2, 2016.

At APSA 2016, Josh Pasek, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Faculty Associate at the Center For Political Studies presented work that delves into the reasons that people do not believe in prevailing scientific consensus.

He argues that widespread scientific illiteracy in the general population is not simply a function of ignorance. In fact, there are several reasons why an individual may answer a question about science or a scientific topic incorrectly.

  1. They are ignorant of the correct answer
  2. They have misperceptions about the science
  3. They know what scientists say and disagree (rejectionism)
  4. They are trying to express some identity that they hold in their response

The typical approach to measuring knowledge involves asking individuals multiple-choice questions where they are presumed to know something when they answer the questions correctly and to lack information when they either answer the questions incorrectly or say that they don’t know.

Pasek Slide 2

Pasek suggests that this current model for measuring scientific knowledge is flawed, because individuals who have misperceptions can appear less knowledgeable than those who are ignorant. So he and his co-author Sedona Chinn, also from the University of Michigan, set out with a new approach to disentangle these cognitive states (knowledge, misperception, rejectionism and ignorance) and then determine which sorts of individuals fall into each of the camps.

Instead of posing multiple-choice questions, the researchers asked the participants what most scientists would say about a certain scientific topic (like, climate change or evolution) and then examined how those answers compared to the respondent’s personal beliefs.

Pasek Slide 4

Across two waves of data collection, respondent answers about scientific consensus could fall into four patterns. They could be consistently correct, change from correct to incorrect, change from incorrect to correct or be consistently correct.

Pasek Slide 5

This set of cognitive states lends itself to a set of equations producing each pattern of responses:

Consistently Correct = Knowledge + .5 x Learning + .25 x Ignorance
Correct then Incorrect = .25 x Ignorance
Incorrect -> Correct =.5 x Learning + .25 x Ignorance
Consistently Incorrect = Misperception + .25 x Ignorance

The researchers then reverse-engineered this estimation strategy for a survey aimed at measuring knowledge on various scientific topics. This yielded the following sort of translations:

Pasek Slide 6

In addition to classifying respondents as knowledgeable, ignorant, or misinformed, Pasek was especially interested in identifying a fourth category: rejectionist. These are individuals who assert that they know the scientific consensus but fail to hold corresponding personal beliefs. Significant rejectionism was apparent for most of the scientific knowledge items, but was particularly prevalent for questions about the big bang, whether humans evolved, and climate change.

Pasek Slide 3

Rejectionism surrounding these controversial scientific topics is closely linked to religious and political motivations. Pasek’s novel strategy of parsing out rejectionism from ignorance and knowledge provides evidence that religious individuals are not simply ignorant about the scientific consensus on evolution or that partisans are unaware of climate change research. Instead, respondents appear to have either systematically wrong beliefs about the state of the science or seem liberated to diverge in their views from a known scientific consensus.

Pasek’s results show a much more nuanced, yet at times predictable, relationship between scientific knowledge and belief in scientific consensus.

 

Income and Preferences for Centralization of Authority

Post developed by Catherine Allen-West in coordination with Diogo Ferrari

DiogoFerrari

Diogo Ferrari, PhD Candidate, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “The Indirect Effect of Income on Preferences for Centralization of Authority,” was a part of the session “Devolution, Fragmented Power, and Electoral Accountability” on Thursday September 1, 2016.

One of the primary activities of any elected government is to decide how to allocate public funds for policies like health care and education. In countries that adopted a federal system – like the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, and others – the central government usually has some policies that promotes distribution of fiscal resources among different jurisdictions, like among states or cities. Take Australia for example. The federal government collects taxes that are funneled to local governments  in accordance with their needs. This diminishes the inequality between different Australian sub-national governments in their capacity to invest and provide public services. Brazil is another example. Brazil has a huge federal program that transfers resources from rich to poor states and whose goal is to reduce regional inequality. These federal governments can only continue to operate in this way, that is, promoting interregional redistribution, if the power to control fiscal resources is centralized.  Therefore, there is a connection between interregional redistribution and centralization of authority.

Now, voters have different preferences about how the government should spend the fiscal resources. They have different opinions, for instance, to which degree taxes collected in one region should be invested in another region. Do voters that support interregional redistribution also prefer that the fiscal authority is concentrated in the hands of the federal government as opposed to the sub-national ones? Which characteristics determine the preference of voters regarding interregional redistribution and centralization of authority? How those preferences are connected?

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Election Frauds, Postelection Legal Challenges and Geography in Mexico

Post developed by Yioryos Nardis in coordination with Walter Mebane.

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “Election Frauds, Postelection Legal Challenges and Geography in Mexico,” was a part of the session “Detecting and Concealing Patterns in Data” on Saturday September 5th, 2015.

Political Science and Statistics Professor and Center for Political Studies faculty member Walter Mebane previously examined electoral fraud in Russia. Professor Mebane, in collaboration with Research Assistant Jonathan Wall, now turns his focus to Mexico and the Presidential elections of 2006 and 2012.

This new research by Mebane and Wall investigates if the numbers of casillas (i.e. ballot boxes) and votes challenged and nullified in Mexico reflect political strategies or genuine election irregularities. In the 2006 elections in Mexico, nullification petitions by runners up were filed against 21% of ballot boxes (27,109/130,788), even though only .56% of votes (237,736/41,791,322) were actually nullified. Similarly, in the 2012 elections, 22% of ballot boxes (32,151/143,132) were challenged and .38% of votes nullified (184,725/49,087,466).

Mebane and Wall examine how the types of nullification claims relate to ballot-box level measures of election fraud and whether the reasons cited for the challenges are uniform across the two elections and/or geography. That is, are complaints geographically clustered or does a complaint depend on geographically clustered frauds?

Ballot-box level measures of election fraud are estimated using casilla vote count data. Hotspot analysis is used to show how nullification petition challenges to casillas are distributed across geography. This technique identifies which locations have local means that are higher than the overall average values and which have local means that are lower than the overall average. A redder color indicates a cluster of locations with higher than average values, and a bluer color indicates a cluster of locations with lower than average values. Grey indicates a cluster of locations that does not differ significantly from the overall mean.

Figure 1 represents nullification complaints of type corresponding to willful misconduct or error in the vote count in the two Presidential elections, and Figure 2 represents incremental fraud probabilities for nullification complaints. Comparing Figure 2 to Figure 1 indicates that the pattern of geographic clustering for the incremental fraud probabilities does not correspond well with the pattern for nullification complaints.

Figure 1: Nullification complaints of type corresponding to willful misconduct or error in the vote count, Mexico, 2006 and 2012 Presidential election Casillas.
Seccion (precint) geographic cluster hotspots

Figure 1aFigure 1b

Figure 2: Incremental fraud, Mexico, 2006 and 2012 Presidential election casillas.
Seccion (precint) geographic cluster hotspots

Figure 2aFigure 2b

In 2006 there are more widespread regions with clusters of casillas having above average frequencies of complaints than there are regions in which there are clusters of casillas with above average incremental fraud probability values. Some of the above average type clusters overlap with above average incremental fraud clusters, but more than half do not. In 2012 on the other hand, we observe the opposite. Clusters of casillas with above average incremental fraud probabilities are much more prevalent than are clusters of casillas with above average frequencies of complaints.

Such patterns indicate that it is unlikely that the relationship between incremental fraud probabilities and the incidence of complaints are positively related. This therefore suggests that the occurrence of nullification petitions is related to the strategic and tactical incentives of political parties.

To read the full paper please visit: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0By8J0EDg6IC3MDgxOWlUVGdfakE

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.

ANES65th

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.
Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 11.57.17 AM

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: anes@electionstudies.org

 

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.

Iyengar1

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.

Iyengar2

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.

Iyengar3

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.

Ghost-House Busters: Response to an Italian Tax Evasion Program

Post developed by Katie Brown and Ugo Troiano.

In Italy, would be tax evaders hide money in houses. In response, the Italian government developed a “Ghost Buildings” program which used technology to identify and monitor buildings otherwise hidden from tax authorities. In total, the Italian government identified two million houses that were hidden for tax purposes.

How do voters respond to anti-tax evasion policy? Answering this question has been a challenge because tax evasion is illegal and is typically very hard to measure. However, the Ghost Buildings program offers a unique opportunity to investigate the issue. Center for Political Studies (CPS) Faculty Associate and Department of Economics Assistant Professor Ugo Troiano seized this chance in a working paper along with his co-author Lorenzo Casaburi who is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR).

The authors approached the research knowing that anti-tax evasion programs like the Ghost Building program hurt tax evaders while benefiting tax payers. Usually, one assumes evaders to be the minority and payers to be the majority. If this is the case, a program like Italy’s Ghost Buildings one should boost public opinion in support of incumbents as payers support the crackdown on evaders.

To test the effect in Italy, the authors mapped the identified Ghost Buildings to calculate a town-by-town concentration, as illustrated by the graph below.

Ghost Building Concentration

italymap

The authors also collected geographic and socio-economic data for the same towns. They found tax evasion to be more prevalent in cities, possibly because cities offer more opportunity to to buy houses from a larger stock. Tax evasion was also found to have an inverse relationship with social capital and income.

Troiano and Casaburi then looked at the impact of the Ghost Buildings program on vote choice. Specifically, they were interested in change in support for incumbent politicians. The graph below displays the results:

Difference in Reelection Rates Pre- to Post- Ghost Buildings Program

graph

The positive trend-line shows that the higher the proportion of Ghost Buildings in a given town, the more that vote support for the incumbent increases. The authors therefore concluded that, “Local incumbents are shown to obtain positive political returns, namely, an increase in their reelection likelihood, from the Ghost Building program.”

The authors found that fighting tax evasion allowed politicians to increase public good provision, thereby creating material benefits to society. Second, support for the incumbent who fights tax evasion was found to be stronger in regions with attitudes more hostile to evaders. The authors also looked at responses to the World Values Survey question “Do you think tax evasion is justifiable?” and what they found suggests that tax enforcement and attitudes toward evasion have a complementary relationship.