Category Archives: APSA

Empathy Trumps Fear? The Role of Group Empathy Theory in Shaping U.S. Foreign Policy

Post developed by Catherine Allen-West

There is a long, documented history of large opinion gaps along racial/ethnic lines regarding U.S. military intervention and humanitarian assistance. For example, some research suggests that since minorities are most likely to bear the human costs of war, African Americans and Latinos might be more strongly opposed to foreign intervention. Additionally, research conducted during the Iraq war found that the majority of African Americans didn’t support the war effort because they believed that they would be the ones called upon to do the “fighting and dying” and that the war would tie up resources typically used for domestic social welfare programs, programs upon which the group depends.

One obvious explanation for these opinion gaps is simple group interest. Americans are more likely to intervene to protect the lives and human rights of victims of humanitarian crises or genocides when the victims are “like us” and this narrow racial or ethnic group interest may be what drives racial/ethnic differences in support for foreign intervention or immigration policy in the U.S. This is important because public support for military and humanitarian interventions is crucial to not only the quantity of aid but also its quality and effectiveness.

But this simple in-group, material interest explanation doesn’t always hold up empirically. African Americans were more protective of the rights of Arab Americans after 9/11, even though they perceived themselves to be at higher risk from terrorism.

In a new paper, presented at the 2017 APSA annual meeting, Cigdem V. Sirin, Nicholas A. Valentino, and José D. Villalobos examine variations in political attitudes across three main racial/ethnic groups — Anglos, African Americans, and Latinos — regarding humanitarian emergencies abroad. The researchers tested these differences using their recently developed “Group Empathy Theory” which states that “empathy felt by members of one group for another can improve group-based political attitudes and behavior even in the face of material and security concerns.” Essentially, the researchers predict that a domestic minority group can empathize with an international group experiencing hardship, even when the conflict doesn’t involve the domestic group at all and when extending help oversees is costly.

The researchers tested their theory with a national survey experiment that assessed support for pre-existing foreign policy attitudes about the U.S. responsibility to protect, foreign aid, the U.S. response to the Syrian civil war, as well as the Muslim Ban proposed by Donald J. Trump.

First, they measured levels of group empathy and found that African Americans and Latinos both display significantly higher levels of general group empathy and support for foreign groups in need.

Next, to measure opinions about the U.S. ability to protect, they provided participants with a pair of statements about the role the U.S. should plan in international politics. The first statement read: “As the leader of the world, the U.S. has a responsibility to help people from other countries in need, especially in cases of war and natural disasters.” The second statement was the opposite — denouncing such responsibility to protect. Their results show that African Americans and Latinos are likely to attribute the U.S. higher responsibility to protect people of other countries in need as compared to Anglos. Furthermore, when asked about their opinion on the amount of foreign aid allocated to help countries in need, Latinos and African Americans were more strongly in favor of increasing foreign aid and accepting Syrian refugees than were Anglos.

The researchers further examined potential group-based difference in policy attitudes regarding Trump’s controversial “Muslim ban” which called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. Again, both Latinos and African Americans exhibited significantly higher opposition than Anglos to the exclusionary policy targeting a specific group solely based on that group’s religion.

Further analyses also supported the researchers’ claims that group empathy is a significant mediator of these racial gaps in support for humanitarian aid and military intervention on behalf of oppressed groups oversees.

This research brings into focus some of the dynamics that shape public opinion of foreign policy. Given the role of the public in steering U.S. leadership decisions, especially as the current administration seeks to implement deep cuts to foreign aid, investigating the role that group empathy plays in public responses to humanitarian emergencies has important broader implications, particularly concerning U.S. foreign policy and national security.

Attitudes Toward Gender Roles Shape Support for Family Leave Policies

Post written by Solmaz Spence

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.


Only three states (California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) have their own paid parental leave policies, as do some companies. In Silicon Valley, tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter offer gender-neutral paid parental leave policies that can be taken by new moms, dads, and adoptive parents. But that’s not the norm. According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2016 Employee Benefits research report, only 18 percent of U.S. organizations offer paid maternity leave, 12 percent provide paid paternity leave, and 17 percent have a paid parental leave plan that can be taken by either parent.

More commonly, birth moms with short-term disability insurance receive some pay for six to eight weeks following childbirth. If new moms want to take more time, or if dads, adoptive parents, or moms who didn’t give birth themselves want time off to bond with a new baby, those eligible under the Family and Medical Leave Act can take unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks.


But even if new fathers had access to parental leave programs, they might not take advantage of them. A survey by Deloitte found that 36 percent of men would not take advantage of their paid parental leave benefits because they worried it might jeopardize their position at work. And parental leave programs that offer more benefits to moms than to dads only reinforce the stereotype of the female caregiver and male breadwinner.

How is support for parental leave policies structured by attitudes about traditional gender roles? To assess this relationship, a team of researchers including Stuart Soroka, faculty associate at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies, along with Allison Harell, Shanto Iyengar and Valérie Lapointe, surveyed 3600 people across Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The results of the survey* were recently published as a chapter in the book, Mothers and Others: The Role of Parenthood in Politics.

The authors came to the study with mixed expectations for how gender role ideologies would influence support for parental leave. On the one hand, because parental leave programs give working mothers time at home after the birth of a child, they can help new moms balance work and motherhood—a struggle that is at the heart of traditional gender role ideology.

On the other hand, women must be employed to access maternity leave benefits, and the central goal of these policies is for women to return to their careers—facts that could conflict with conservative gender role attitudes.

Expanding parental leave to new fathers also has the potential to make men more involved in childcare, women more engaged in their careers, and workplaces friendlier for parents of all kinds. Thus, those holding more traditional views might be less supportive of parental leave policies that can be applied to male recipients.

This study assessed gender role ideology by asking participants how strongly they agreed or disagreed with four statements related to women’s roles in the home and as mothers:

  1. A woman’s place is in the home, not in the office or shop.
  2. A mother who carries out her full family responsibilities doesn’t have time for outside employment.
  3. The employment of mothers leads to more juvenile delinquency.
  4. Women are much happier if they stay at home and take care of their children.

In general, respondents rejected the view that a woman’s employment is detrimental to her perceived duty at home—but there were clear variations in responses. Largely in line with expectations, demographic factors such as being female, having a university education, and being employed were associated with more liberal views; those who are married, have children, and are older had more conservative views.

Next, the researchers investigated whether citizens are more or less generous toward parental leave takers based upon their gender role attitudes as well as the gender stereotypicality of the leave takers.

The researchers presented survey participants with fictional stories that described the situation of several potential parental leave takers: a married female, a single female, a married male, a single male. In each case, respondents were told the amount of leave to which the new parent is entitled in their country, and were asked how much he or she thinks the recipient should receive in monetary benefits.

Across all respondents, there was strong support for more stereotypical leave takers, with respondents opting to give the female parents in the fictional situations about $175 more in benefits than the male parents. The marital status of the leave taker was also important, with married leave takers receiving about $70 more than single parents—despite the fact that one might assume that single parents would be more in need of state support. There thus was a general tendency to enforce gender norms in terms of who benefits from family leave policies.

GRAPH: Support for Parental Leave by Traditional Gender Ideology

This figure shows the relationship between gender role attitudes (plotted on the x axis), and cash support for parental leave policy (show on the y-axis). Across all respondents in the U.S., UK and Canada, support is strongest for more stereotypical leave takers (married females), and least generous for single men.

That said, the researchers found that those who hold more conservative gender role attitudes in the UK and U.S. tended to be less generous toward leave takers overall. Among US survey participants in particular, those with the most conservative gender role attitudes reported giving the fictional recipients about $124 less than respondents who held more progressive attitudes. This was after controlling for the characteristics of the fictional leave takers, and also for the ideological orientation of the respondent with respect to government benefits.

Moreover, those with more traditional gender norms tended to be particularly punitive to non-stereotypical leave takers. (This is clear in the figure above.) The most conservative respondents reported giving single male recipients about $330 less than they would give to married women leave takers. In contrast, for respondents with more progressive gender role ideology, the difference in benefits between married women and single men was about $230.

These results highlight a good deal of complexity in the structure of support for parental leave policy. It is not necessarily the case that women are more supportive of parental leave policy than men, for instance. Although women are more likely to reject traditional gender roles, women who are married with children tend to believe more strongly in the gendered division of parenthood, and thus, are less willing to extend parental leave benefits to men.  In the U.S., and also Canada and the UK, support for parental leave policy reflects a set of complex and often counteracting ideas about gender, parenting, and work.

 


*Race, Gender, and the Welfare State survey (RGWS)

 

The Political Economy of Data Production

Post developed by Catherine Allen-West, Charles Crabtree and Andrew Kerner

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “The IMF and the Political Economy of GDP Data Production” was a part of the session “Economic Growth and Contraction: Causes, Consequences, and Measurement” on Sunday, September 3, 2017.

Political economists often theorize about relationships between politics and macroeconomics in the developing world; specifically, which political or social structures promote economic growth, or wealth, or economic openness, and conversely, how those economic outcomes affect politics. Answering these questions often requires some reference to macroeconomic statistics. However, recent work has questioned these data’s accuracy and objectivity. An under-explored aspect of these data’s limitations is their instability over time. Macroeconomic data is frequently revised ex post, or after the fact, and as such one could ask the same question of (ostensibly) the same data, and get different answers depending on when the question was asked.

We set out to explore the political economy of data production by examining a newly available dataset of ex post revisions to World Development Indicators (WDI) data.[1]  Ex post revisions occur when newly available information changes national statistical offices’ beliefs about the nature of the economy. Those revisions extend into the past, effectively rewriting history and, in the process, providing a reasonable proxy for the inaccuracy of the initial reports. These revisions affect a wide swath of data, but we focus on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and GDP-derived measures, like GDP per capita and GDP growth. GDP revisions are common—most GDP data available for download at the WDI are different now than they were at the time of its initial release. Normally these changes are subtle; other times they are substantial enough to condemn prior data releases as misleading.

We use these revisions to answer two related questions. First, how sensitive are political-economy relationships to GDP revisions? Should researchers worry about revisions-driven instability in the state of political-economic knowledge? We show that they should. To illustrate, we subject a simple, bivariate statistical relationships between democracy and growth to re-estimation using alternative versions of the “same” data. The democracy-growth relationship has been a topic of sufficient interest in economics and political science that instability in this relationship should give us reason for pause. Seen in this light our estimates are worrisome. As we show in Figure 1 below, our estimates are unstable across different “observation years” and further, they are unstable in ways that suggest that initial estimates were biased. Rather than simply a diminution of standard errors as more heavily revised data are introduced (which is what we would expect to see if revisions simply reduced random “noise in the data”), the estimated coefficients for Democracy change substantially across models estimated with different revisions of the same country-year GDP growth data.

Figure 1: GDP Growth ~ Democracy

Note: Figure 1 displays the relationship between GDP Growth and Democracy using the results from 21 different regression models. Plotted points represent parameter estimates, thick bars represent 90 percent confidence intervals, and thin bars represent 95 percent confidence intervals. Each point is labeled with the revision year used. The left side of the plot contains results from models estimated using the 2000-2004 data series, while the right side of the plot contains results from models estimated using the 1995-1999 data series. See paper for more details.

This finding anticipates our second question: Given the likelihood that GDP revision are non-random, what accounts for ex post revisions? What does the “political economy” of revisions look like? We show using Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests (see Figure 2) and random forest models (see Figure 3) that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) influences the magnitude of revisions for GDP and GDP-related measures. That is not entirely surprising. Our suspicion that the IMF would have such an effect is a straightforward recognition of its well-publicized efforts to provide financial and human resources to the national statistical offices of the countries in which it works. What we have “uncovered” in this exercise is simply one consequence of the IMF doing precisely what it has publically said it is doing. But this finding’s (retrospective) obviousness does not diminish its importance. Consider the empirical challenges that this presents. Political economists often ask if the IMF affects the way economies functions, but the IMF’s independent effect on the way economies are measured substantially complicates our ability to know if it does. And it doesn’t just complicate our ability to know if the IMF’s policies affect the economy, it complicates our ability to know if anything correlated with IMF participation affects the economy. Many important things correlate with IMF participation, including, for example, democracy, a country’s relationship with the UN, and whether or not a country is an ally of the United States.

Figure 2: Distributions of GDP Growth Changes

Note: Figure 2 presents compares the distributions of GDP growth revisions for years with and without IMF programs. The y-axis indicates the height of the density function and the x-axis indicates the magnitude of GDP growth revisions in percentages points. The solid green line denotes country years with an IMF program, while the dashed black line denotes countries years without a program. See paper for more details.

Figure 3: Predictors of GDP Growth Revisions

Note: Figure 3 presents the results from a random forest model that examines the predictors of GDP growth revisions. The vertical axis ranks variables according to their importance for predicting GDP Growth Changes. The horizontal axis displays estimates of permutation accuracy for each variable, calculated as the difference in mean squared error between a model that is fitted using the observed values for a measure and a model that is fitted using random (but realistic) values for the same measure. This measure is then scaled to represent the percentage increase in mean square error caused by permuting the values of the variable. Positive values indicate that the variables increase the predictive performance of the model, while negative values indicate that the variables decrease the predictive performance of the variables. See paper for more details.

Of course, politics likely affects the way the economy is measured in a variety of ways that have nothing to do with the IMF. Our random forest analysis suggests that democracy might also have an effect, for example, as might public sector corruption, and it is not hard to tell a plausible post hoc story for why that might be. But our aim is not to provide a comprehensive picture of the political economy of data production, but simply to show that it exists, and that it exists in a manner that should alert us to its importance. Taking seriously the political provenance of ostensibly apolitical data is an important (and, we believe, interesting) step towards refining the state of political economy knowledge.


[1] The raw data used in this paper are available at http://databank.worldbank.org/data/reports.aspx?source=WDI-Archives. To facilitate researcher use of this data, we will make it available in an R package, revisions. This package will contain long- and wide-format data sets.

Andrew Kerner is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science department at the University of Michigan, and a faculty associate at the Center For Political Studies.

Charles Crabtree is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan.

The Spread of Mass Surveillance, 1995 to Present

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “Big Data Innovation Transfer and Governance in Emerging High Technology States”  was a part of the session “The Role of Business in Information Technology and Politics” on Friday September 1, 2017. 

Post developed by Nadiya Kostyuk and Muzammil M. Hussain

On August 24, 2017, India’s highest court ruled that citizens have a fundamental right to privacy. Such a ruling may serve to slowdown the government’s deployment of the Aadhaar national ID program, a robust relational database connecting each of India’s 1.3+ billion citizens with their unique 12-digit identity aimed at centralize their physiological, demographic, and digital data shadows — minute pieces of data created when an individual sends an email, updates a social media profile, swipes a credit card, uses an ATM, etc. While the government has presented the Aadhaar system as an improved channel to provide social security benefits for its nationals, India’s civil society organizations have protested it as a means of furthering government surveillance. India’s trajectory in ambitiously modernizing its high-tech toolkit for governance represents a rapidly spreading trend in the contemporary world system of 190+ nations.

Take China as an other example.  China has recently mobilized its government bureaucracies to establish the worlds’ first ever, and largest, national Social Credit System covering nearly 1.4+ billion Chinese citizens. By 2020, China’s citizen management system will include each Chinese national’s financial history, online comments about government, and even traffic violations to rank their ‘trustworthiness.’ Like India’s, these unique ‘social credit’ ratings will reward and punish citizens for their behavioral allegiance with the regime’s goals by scientifically allowing the state to operationalize its vision of a “harmonious socialist society.”

Yet, the implementation of state-sponsored and ‘big data’-enabled surveillance systems to address the operational demands of governance is not limited just to the world’s largest democratic and authoritarian states. This summer, at the annual meetings of the International Communication Association (May 2017, San Diego) and the American Political Science Association (August 2017, San Francisco), the project on Big Data Innovation & Governance (BigDIG) presented findings from the first event-catalogued case-history analysis of 306 cases of mass surveillance systems that currently exist across 139 nation-states in the world system (Kostyuk, Chen, Das, Liang and Hussain, 2017). After identifying the ‘known universe’ of these population-wide data infrastructures that now shape the evolving relationships between citizens and state powers, our investigation paid particular attention to how state-sponsored mass surveillance systems have spread through the world-system, since 1995.

By closely investigating all known cases of state-backed cross-sector surveillance collaborations, our findings demonstrate that the deployment of mass surveillance systems by states has been globally increasing throughout the last twenty years (Figure 1). More importantly, from 2006-2010 to present, states have uniformly doubled their surveillance investments compared with the previous decade.

In addition to unpacking the funding and diffusion of mass surveillance systems, we are also addressing the following questions: Which stakeholders have most prominently expressed support for, benefited from, or opposed these systems, and why? What have been the comparative societal responses to the normalization of these systems for the purposes of population management in recent decades?

The observed cases in our study differ in scope and impact.

Why do stable democracies and autocracies operate similarly, while developing and emerging democracies operate differently? Access to and organization of material, financial, and technocratic resources may provide some context.

While nations worldwide have spent at least $27.1 billion USD (or $7 per individual) to surveil 4.138 billion individuals (i.e., 73 percent of the world population), stable autocracies are the highest per-capita spenders on mass surveillance. In total, authoritarian regimes have spent $10.967 billion USD to surveil 81 percent of their populations (0.1 billion individuals), even though this sub-set of states tends to have the lowest levels of high-technology capabilities. Stable autocracies have also invested 11-fold more than any other regime-type, by spending $110 USD per individual surveilled, followed second-highest by advanced democracies who have invested $8.909 billion USD in total ($11 USD per individual) covering 0.812 billion individuals (74 percent of their population). In contrast to high-spending dictatorships and democracies, developing and emerging democracies have invested $4.784 billion USD (or $1-2 per individual) for tracking 2.875 billion people (72 percent of their population).

It is possible that in a hyper-globalizing environment increasingly characterized by non-state economic (e.g., multi-national corporations) and political (e.g., transnational terror organizations) activity, nation-states have both learned from and mimicked each other’s investments in mass surveillance as an increasingly central activity in exercising power over their polities and jurisdictions. It is also likely that the technological revolution in digitally-enabled big data and cloud computing capabilities as well as the ubiquitous digital wiring of global populations (through mobile telephony and digital communication) have technically enabled states to access and organize population-wide data on their citizens in ways not possible in previous eras. Regardless of the impetuses for increases in mass surveillance efforts, our research aims to provide empirical support to advance theory and guide policy on balancing security needs and privacy concerns at a time where many governments are ambitiously upgrading their governance systems with unbridled hi-tech capabilities.

 

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

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “Inequality is Always in the Room: Language and Power in Deliberative Democracy” was a part of the session “Is Deliberation War by Other Means?” on Thursday, August 31, 2017. 

Posted by Catherine Allen-West


In a new 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 paper here: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/DAED_a_00447

Who Runs for Office? The Effects of Primary Election Reform in Ghana

This post was created by Catherine Allen-West, Nahomi Ichino and Noah Nathan.

Political parties across the developed and developing world increasingly rely on some form of primary to select nominees for legislative elections. The candidate selection process within political parties is crucial for shaping the extent to which voters can control elected representatives, as parties are important intermediaries between citizens and government.

The scientific literature has only scratched the surface in examining how primary elections operate in new democracies and what the implications of the system may be, both for the quality of candidates presented to the electorate and for general election outcomes. The process for selecting a candidate varies on several dimensions, including the restrictiveness of the rules for who may seek a nomination and who selects nominees.

In a new paper entitled, Democratizing the Party: The Effects of Primary Election Reforms in GhanaNahomi Ichino and Noah Nathan, collaborators in the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan, investigated the impact of recent reforms within one of the two major parties in Ghana that significantly expanded the size of the primary electorate.

Ghana has held regular, concurrent elections for president and a unicameral parliament since its transition to democracy in 1992. The two parties that dominate elections in Ghana’s parliament are the National Democratic Congress (NDC), the current ruling party, and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), the current opposition. The two parties pursue similar policy, but they differ in their ethnic bases of support. Voting is not exclusively along ethnic lines, but, in Ghana, ethnicity remains a strong determinant of vote choice overall.

One reason that Ichino and Nathan looked at primaries in a new democracy is that patronage is prevalent in these settings.  The primaries are a contest over who becomes the more important local patron in a given constituency rather than a contest over policy issues and ideology. In these scenarios, voting in primaries can involve extensive vote buying through the distribution of private goods.  In Ghana, aspirants (politicians seeking their party’s nomination) woo voters with gifts of flat screen TVs, new motorbikes, payment of school fees for their children and more. This system inherently benefits aspirants with immense personal wealth and the political connections to distribute these goods to the right people.  It also disadvantages aspirants who are outsiders who may better represent the interests of the party membership, like women or people from different ethnic groups.

So, given Ghana’s recent reforms that expanded the size of the electorate, Ichino and Nathan argue that this expansion will have positive effects on democratic representation through two changes:

  1. Vote buying becomes more difficult both logistically and financially due to the sheer size of new electorate.
  2. The expanded primary electorate will include new voters from groups that have been underrepresented in local party leadership positions.

These changes in turn will affect what types of politicians choose to compete in primary elections and the types of politicians who win nominations. In particular, the researchers hypothesize that more female politicians and politicians from groups that are usually excluded from power will compete for nominations and that nominees will be more likely to come from these marginalized groups. Ultimately, a larger pool of people- representing a more diverse distribution of preferences and interests- has a viable path to a nomination, and thus to elected office.

Their results show just that: With the new reforms, the total number of aspirants increased (including women and other ethnic groups) and more of these aspirants went on to become the party nominee. Also interesting to note: the number of aspirants with a private sector background (which indicates more personal wealth to put towards vote buying) decreased significantly.

This figure shows the effects on the number of aspirants (total, women aspirants only, and then aspirants from different sets of ethnic groups).

This figure shows the effects of reforms on the number of aspirants (total, women aspirants only, and then aspirants from different sets of ethnic groups).

Overall, the reforms increased the probability that the nominee will be from a non-plurality (local minority) ethnic group by 18 percentage points on average and reduced the probability that the nominee will be from the party’s core ethnic coalition by 12 percentage points on average.

This figure shows the effects on the characteristics of the selected nominee (whether that was the incumbent, someone who was a government official, etc.)

This figure shows the effects of reforms on the characteristics of the selected nominee (whether that was the incumbent, someone who was a government official, etc.)

The results suggest that, in Ghana, the reforms opened up important positions in the party to previously under-represented groups. This work is important because it advances our understanding of the nature and effects of primary elections in new democracies, contributes to research on institutional reforms that can improve the political incorporation of women, and also shows how internal political dynamics within parties shape the connections between parties and ethnic groups in setting where ethnic competition is prevalent.

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.

 

Motivated Reasoning in the Perceived Credibility of Public Opinion Polls

Post developed by Catherine Allen-West and Ozan Kuru.

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 in the Perceived Credibility of Public Opinion Polls,” was part of the session “Surprises: A Magical Mystery Tour of Public Opinion and Political Psychology” on Saturday, September 3, 2016.

Polls have been an integral part of American democracy, political rhetoric, and news coverage since the 1930s. Today, there are new polls reported constantly, showing public opinion on a range of issues from the President’s approval rating to the direction of the country. Polls remain relevant because numbers and statistical evidence have always been regarded as sound evidence to support one’s beliefs or affirm their affiliations; similarly, polls are supposed to provide relatively objective information in politics.

However, despite their importance and ever-increasing prevalence, polls are often heavily criticized, both by the public and politicians, especially when they fail to predict election outcomes. Such criticisms and discounting of poll credibility is important, because people’s perceptions of polls matter. In such an environment, the perceived credibility of polls becomes an important issue for the public’s reception of poll findings, which then determines the likelihood of any meaningful impact of their results.

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New research contest announced to study the 2016 election

Post developed by Catherine Allen-West and Arthur Lupia

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) this post details the Election Research Preacceptance Competition, organized by Arthur Lupia and Brendan Nyhan. Lupia discussed this initiative at the “Roundtable on the CPS Special Issue on Transparency in the Social Sciences” at APSA 2016 on Friday, September 2, 2016.

ERPCHow can scholars study politics most effectively? The Election Research Preacceptance Competition (http://www.erpc2016.com) is an innovative initiative that will test a new approach to conducting and publishing political science research during the 2016 election.

Entrants in the competition will preregister a research design intended to study an important aspect of the 2016 general election using data collected by the American National Election Studies (ANES). A condition of entering the competition is that entrants must complete and register a design before the ANES data are released. Many leading academic journals have agreed to review scholarly articles that include these research plans and to review them before the data are available or results are known.  

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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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