Category Archives: Michigan

Exploring 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.


The 2016 election campaign seems to many to have been one of the most negative campaigns in recent history. Our exploration of negativity in the campaign – focused on debate transcripts and Facebook-distributed news content – begins with the following observations.

Since the advent of the first radio-broadcasted debate in 1948, debates have become a staple in the presidential campaign process.  They are an opportunity for voters to see candidates’ debate policies and reply to attacks in real-time. Just as importantly, candidates use their time to establish a public persona to which viewers can feel attracted and connected.

Research has accordingly explored the effects of debates on voter preferences and behavior. Issue knowledge has been found to increase with debate viewership, as well as knowledge of candidates’ policy preferences. Debates also have an agenda-setting effect, as the issues discussed in debates then tend to be considered more important by viewers. Additionally, there is tentative support for debate influence on voter preferences, particularly for independent and nonpartisan viewers. While debate content might not alter the preferences of strong partisans, it may affect a significant percentage of the population who is unsure in its voting decision. (For a review of the literature on debates effects, see Benoit, Hansen, & Verser, 2003).

Of course, the impact of debates comes not just from watching them but also from the news that follows. The media’s power to determine the content that is seen and how it is presented can have significant consequences. The literatures on agenda setting, priming, and framing make clear the way in which media shape our political reality. And studies have found that media’s coverage of debates can alter the public’s perception of debate content and their attitudes toward candidates. (See, for instance, Hwang, Gotlieb, Nah & McLeod 2006, Fridkin, Kenney, Gershon & Woodall 2008.)

This is true not just for traditional media, but for social media as well. As noted by the Pew Research Center, “…44% of U.S. adults reported having learned about the 2016 presidential election in the past week from social media, outpacing both local and national print newspapers.” Social media has become a valuable tool for the public to gather news throughout election cycles, with 61% of millennials getting political news from Facebook in a given week versus 37% who receive it from local TV. The significance of news disseminated through Facebook continues to increase.

It is in this context that we explore the nature of the content and coverage of the presidential debates of 2016.  Over the course of a term-long seminar exploring media coverage surrounding the 2016 presidential election, we became interested in measuring fluctuations in negativity across the last 40 years of presidential debates, with a specific emphasis on the 2016 debates. We simultaneously were interested in the tone of media coverage over the election cycle, examined through media outlets’ Facebook posts.

To test these hypotheses, we compiled and coded debate transcripts from presidential debates between 1976 and 2016. We estimated “tone” using computer-automated analyses. Using the Lexicoder Sentiment Dictionary (LSD) we counted the number of positive and negative words across all debates. We then ran the same test over news articles posted on Facebook during the election cycle, taken news feeds of main media outlets including ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, and FOX. (Facebook data are drawn from Martinchek 2016.)

We begin with a simple measure of the volume of tone, or “sentiment,” in debates.  Figure 1 shows the total amount of sentiment – the total number of positive and negative words combined, as a percentage of all words – in all statements made by each in candidate across all debates.  In contrast with what some may expect, the 2016 debates were not particularly emotion-laden when compared to past cycles. From 1976 through to 2016, roughy 6.9% of the words said during debates are included in our sentiment dictionary. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s speeches were essentially on par with this average; neither reached the peak of 8% (like 2004) or the low of 6% (like 2012).

Figure 1: Total Sentiment in Debates, 1976-2016

Figure 2 shows the percent of all sentiment words that were negative (to be clear: negative words as a percent of all sentiment words), and here we see some interesting differences.  Negativity from Democratic candidates has not fluctuated very much over time. The average percent of negative sentiment words for Democrats is 33.6%.  Even so, Hillary Clinton’s debate speeches showed relatively high levels of negativity, at 40.2%. Indeed, Clinton was the only Democratic candidate other than Mondale to express sentiment that is more than 40% negative.

Figure 2: Negativity in Debate Speeches, By Political Party, 1976-2016

Clinton’s negativity pales in comparison with Trump’s, however.  Figure 2 makes clear the large jump in negativity for Donald Trump in comparison with past candidates. For the first time in 32 years, sentiment-laden words used by Trump are nearly 50% negative – a level similar to Reagan in 1980 and 1984. Indeed, when we look at negative words as a proportion of all words, not just words in the sentiment dictionary, it seems that nearly every one in ten words uttered by Trump during the debates was negative.

The 2016 debates thus appear to be markedly more negative than most past debates. To what extent is the tone of debate content reflected in news coverage? Does negative speech in debates produce news coverage reflecting similar degrees of negativity?  Figure 3 explores this question, illustrating negativity (again, negative words as a proportion of all sentiment words) in the text of all Facebook posts concerning either Trump or Clinton, as distributed by five major news networks.

What stands out most in Figure 3 are the differences across networks: ABC, CNN, and NBC show higher negativity for Trump-related posts, while Fox shows higher negativity for Clinton-related posts.  CBS posts reflect a more neutral position.

Figure 3: Negativity in Facebook News Postings by Major Broadcasters, By Candidate, 2016

Clearly, political news content varies greatly across news sources. Trump’s expressed negativity in debates (and perhaps in campaign communications more generally) does not necessarily translate to more negative news content, at least by these measures. For instance: even as Trump is expressing more negative sentiment than Clinton, coverage in Fox is more positive towards Trump.  Of course, news coverage isn’t (and shouldn’t be) just a reflection of what candidates say. But these make clear that the tone of coverage for candidates needn’t be in line with the sentiment expressed by those candidates.  Expressing negative sentiment can produce negative coverage, or positive coverage, or (as Figure 3 suggests), both.

This much is clear: in line with our expectations, the 2016 presidential debates were among the most negative of all US presidential debates.  The same seems true of the campaigns, or at least the candidates’ stump speeches, more generally.  Although there was a good deal of negativity during debates, however, the tone of news coverage varied across sources.  Depending on citizens’ news source, even as candidates seem to have focused on negative themes, this may or may not have been a fundamentally negative campaign cycle. For those interested in the “tone” of political debate, our results highlight the importance of considering both politicians’ rhetoric, and the mass-mediated political debate that reaches citizens.

 


This article was co-authored by U-M capstone Communication Studies 463 class of 2016, which took place during the fall election campaign. Class readings and discussion focused on the campaign, and the class found themselves asking questions about the “tone” of the 2016 debates, and the campaign more generally. Using their professor Stuart Soroka as a data manager/research assistant, students looked for answers to some of their questions about the degree of negativity in the 2016 campaign.

 


Another Reason Clinton Lost Michigan: Trump Was Listed First on the Ballot 

Post written by Josh Pasek, Faculty Associate, Center for Political Studies and Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan. 

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.

Yesterday, Donald Trump was declared the winner in Michigan by a mere 10,704 votes, out of nearly 5 million presidential votes cast. Although this is not the smallest state margin in recent history – President Bush won Florida and the election by 537 votes and Al Franken won his senate seat in Minnesota by 225 (after the result flipped in a recount) – it represented a margin of 0.22%. The best estimate of the effect of being listed first on the ballot in a presidential election is an improvement of the first-listed individual’s vote share of 0.31%. Thus, we would expect Hillary Clinton to have won Michigan by 0.4% if she were listed first and about 0.09% if neither candidate were consistently listed in the first position.

It may seem surprising to suggest that anyone’s presidential vote would hinge on the order of candidates’ names, but the evidence is strong. In a paper I published with colleagues in Public Opinion Quarterly in 2014, we looked at name order effects across 76 contests in California – one of the few states that rotates the order of candidates on the ballot – to estimate the size of this benefit. We later replicated the results in a study of North Dakota. Both times, we found that first-listed candidates received a benefit and that the effect was present, though smaller, at the presidential level.

There are many reasons that voters might choose the first name, even if they started their ballots without a predetermined presidential candidate. Some individuals might have been truly ambivalent and selected the first name they had heard of (in this case, “Trump”), others may have instead checked the first straight party box – listed in a similar order – without intending to select our new President-elect. Regardless of the cognitive mechanisms involved, the end result is clear – the “will” of the voters can be diverted by seemingly innocuous features of ballot design.

How broadly is this first-position benefit a problem? Across the country, only seven states vary the order of candidate names across precincts. Another nine choose a single random order for listing candidates in each contest, but use that same order across the entire state. And the rest generally use some combination of alphabetic ordering or a listing based on who won in prior elections at the state level. Michigan’s system – prioritizing the candidate who last won the Governor’s office – is among the most common methods.

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Given the control that Republicans currently hold over governorships, this bias likely helps Republicans maintain their dominance over many state legislatures. And the effects of being listed first only grow as you move down the ballot. In our study of California, we found the average benefit for a Governor was also 0.31 percent*, Senators gained 0.37 percentage points of additional votes, and candidates for other statewide offices gained an average of 0.63 percentage points.

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Source: Prevalence and moderators of the candidate name-order effect evidence from statewide general elections in California Pasek J., Schneider D., Krosnick J.A., Tahk A., Ophir E., Milligan C. (2014) Public Opinion Quarterly, 78 (2) , pp. 416-439.

For a better answer, we might look to the strategy adopted by Michigan’s neighbor to the South. Ohio produces a unique ballot for each precinct where the ordering of candidates’ names is rotated. Although it is too late to prevent this effect from altering the 2016 election, it may have less of an impact if everyone were not filling out ballots with the same candidates listed first.


*this would likely be larger if California did not elect its Governors in non-presidential years.

 

Is Running Away From a Child Welfare Placement a Risk for Entry into the Justice System?

Post developed by Rosemary Sarri in coordination with Linda Kimmel.

This blog includes a brief report of ongoing research on career patterns of youth who drift from the child welfare system to the juvenile and adult justice system. It is taken from a paper that has been published by Rosemary Sarri, Elizabeth Stoffregen and Joseph Ryan, researchers with affiliations in the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies (CPS), Population Studies Center (PSC), and School of Social Work.

Rosemary SarriA growing body of research has shown that children who run away from foster care placement increase their probability of subsequent involvement in the juvenile and adult justice systems, especially for males. In the research reported here we used Michigan Department of Human Services and Wayne County administrative records to examine the experiences of two samples of youth in the child welfare system, one of which were youth who had run away from placement one or more times, and they were compared with a matched sample who had no history of running away from placement. The study covered their experiences over an eleven-year period from 2003-2011. Those selected were twelve years or older and had been assigned to the agency because of neglect or abuse by a parent. Most were also identified as having a behavioral problem such as mental illness, substance abuse or delinquency. As is the case throughout the U.S., children in this study were disproportionately youth of color (84%). Most were children of single parents and resided in urban areas of poverty, unemployment, crime and social disorganization. A slight majority were female, most of whom were placed in individual foster care and small community agencies whereas males were more likely to be placed in residential care away from their home community. When the males ran away, they typically returned to their home communities and were involved in “survival crime” until apprehended. On the other hand most females remained in their home community and often circulated among family relatives but were seldom arrested.

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Runaway youth in child welfare placements are more likely to enter the justice system

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Rosemary Sarri.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

400,000 youth are placed out of home in residential treatment institutions in the United States because they were abused or neglected their family. Just 2% of these youth placed out of home in institutions will run away each year, compared to the annual runaway rate of of 6-8% for American youth overall. But the ramifications for the institutionalized runaway youth are grave, including homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, exploitation, and crime.

Center for Political Studies (CPS), School of Social Work, and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri studies the impact of social policy on children. A forthcoming paper with her colleagues Joseph P. Ryan and Elizabeth Stoffregen, who are also of the Institute for Social Research (ISR), considers the serious risks for these youth running away from the child welfare system. The article asks: Does running away from these institutional placements pose an increased risk of future involvement with the juvenile and/or adult justice systems?

Focusing on Wayne County, Michigan, home of the city of Detroit, the study includes 371 children aged twelve or older from the child welfare system that ran away at least once in 2003, matched against similar children in the system that did not run away. The data trace involvement of the youth from the two groups in the justice system over eight years.

Sarri finds that running away is indeed associated with negative outcomes. Overall, youth who run away from institutional placements have a 40% chance of ending up in the adult justice system. For males, this increases to 71.5%. The table below breaks down the most serious offenses by status and gender for the youth who ran away from institutions. Indeed, youth who run away from institutions commit more serious crimes, especially males.

Most Serious Juvenile Justice Offense by Gender and Runaway Status (the term “AWOL” identifies youth who ran away from institutions)

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Given these staggering results, what can be done? Most of the youth are neglected, often with deep issues relating to substance abuse, mental health, homelessness, and crime. As such, Sarri calls for a positive, restorative approach that sets goals and offers resources to help youth achieve them. The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform have developed an inter-agency collaborative proposal to provide more effective treatment for these “crossover” youth who are at high risk when they drift to the justice system.

Voters are not broken

Developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Arthur Lupia.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

Voters are ignorant and we must fix them. This belief has spawned much political science research and many efforts to inform the “ignorant. ” But what if this premise is false?

In a forthcoming book – The trouble with voters and those who try to fix them – Center for Political Studies (CPS) researcher and professor of political science Arthur Lupia suggests that voters aren’t as ignorant as many fear.

First, it is impossible to know all potentially relevant political information. Lupia presents his own position as a citizen as a case study. To be informed about all legislation that could affect him, Lupia should know about the more than 2,000 laws passed by the United States Senate and signed by the President. He should also know about the 40,000 additional proposed bills. As a resident of Michigan, Lupia should know about the 1,239 proposed bills, 42 concurrent resolutions, 26 joint resolutions, and 174 resolutions from the Michigan House of Representatives, as well as the 884 bills, 25 continuing resolutions, and 19 joint resolutions from the Michigan Senate in 2011 alone. Living in Ann Arbor, Lupia should also know about the many city ordinances passed in recent years. Does he know the gist, let alone the details, of each of these? No. Does he or anyone need to? No.

Second, even if you could know all potentially relevant political information, shortcuts can get you there faster. That is, voters without certain knowledge tend to vote the same as if they possessed that knowledge. Lupia likens this to traffics signals. It is impossible for a driver to know the traffic flows and locations of all vehicles in all directions when approaching an intersection. A traffic light signals the optimal time to go and stop. Voters can therefore seek out signals in a saturated, sometimes chaotic political environment to make informed choices.

So, voters are not crippled by ignorance. What then of those who try to fix voters? Lupia sees fixers as playing an integral role in civic society. But these fixers would benefit from changing their baseline assumption. Voters are not broken. With this paradigm shift in place, fixers could appeal to this group with precision and tact. To this end, Lupia offers the latest from biology and brain science, strategic communication, and marketing to help fixers better deliver their messages.

Lupia summarizes his argument in succinct terms: “From these facts alone, we can draw an important conclusion. When it comes to political information there are two groups of people. One group is almost completely ignorant of almost every detail of almost every law and policy under which they live. The other group is delusional. There is no third group.”

The future of affirmative action is unclear, but public opposition remains stable

Post developed by Katie Brown.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

In June of this year, the Supreme Court of the United States maintained the legality of affirmative action programs at American colleges and universities – for now. The Supreme Court’s seven-to-one decision pushes American colleges and universities to prove the utility of affirmative action programs. The court declined to rule specifically on a case regarding the University of Texas at Austin’s affirmative action policy. This week, the UT Austin case was debated before a federal court.

How does the American public feel about affirmative action, and has their support or opposition changed over time? The American National Election Studies (ANES) can be used to examine such trends. For 65 years, the ANES has interviewed a representative sample of voting age Americans on a variety of topics, including but not limited to voting and turnout, public policy support, societal values, and demographics.  As ANES describes, the resulting data “inform the nation about itself.”

There are many ways to measure levels of support or opposition for affirmative action.  Since 1992, ANES has asked the American voting age public whether it is “for or against” one type of affirmative action: preferential hiring and promotion of blacks.  As the graph below illustrates, public opposition in the United States for this type of affirmative action appears both dominant and stable over the time period 1992-2012.

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In 2012, ANES also asked a question about support or opposition for the use of quotas to admit black students to colleges and universities.  The results were similar, with 77% of respondents opposing such a program and 23% of respondents being in support.

The latest Supreme Court ruling comes on the heels of a 2003 Supreme Court decision regarding the University of Michigan‘s use of affirmative action in its decision-making process for admitting students. The Court upheld the use of affirmative action by the University’s law school but negated the use of affirmative action in its undergraduate admissions. In 2006, voters from the state of Michigan voted in support of a ballot referendum, Proposition 2, which made affirmative action illegal in the state.  Then in November of 2012, the state of Michigan’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Proposition 2. Last month, the constitutionality of Proposition 2 went before the Supreme Court of the United States.

The latest court proceedings suggest that the future of affirmative action remains unclear, but results from the ANES suggest that public opposition to affirmative action remains stable. Yet, no single question or two can encapsulate feelings toward an issue as complex as this one.

Tracing incarceration along family trees

Developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Rosemary Sarri

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

In June of 2013, Sesame Street debuted its first character with a parent in prison. The Sesame Street website now features a page of video clips and guides to help children facing this situation. But how likely is it a child will see his or her parent go behind bars?

The U.S. has a high rate of incarceration, about 760 per 100,000. The rates are higher than peer countries – five times the rate of Britain, and eight times the rate of Germany. But are the rates even higher for families with criminal pasts?

Center for Political Studies (CPS), School of Social Work, and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri studies social policy, with an emphasis on children in the justice system. In a paper just published with Irene Ng and Elizabeth Stoffregen in the Journal of Poverty, Sarri considers the intergenerational nature of incarceration.

The study grew from a larger effort to understand preparation of youth returning from detention to the community. Data analysis revealed high levels of parental imprisonment among the youth in the sample. So the researchers considered the issue in more depth.

The researchers broke their participants into three groups: low, medium, and high levels of parental incarceration. Then they performed a cluster analysis to determine if these three groups varied along different factors.

The results indicate that higher levels of parental incarceration correspond to negative life events, parental substance abuse, receiving federal assistant, placement in foster care, neighborhood quality and instability, stigma, and negative youth outcomes. The graph below displays four of these associations by level of parental incarceration.

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So having a parent in prison not only increases the risk of a child facing juvenile lock up, but is also associated with other negative experiences. The troubles appear to perpetuate along family trees. A staggering 53% of the juvenile offenders in the study have children themselves. Further, most of the male participants expected little future contact with their children.

It would be easy to be pessimistic given these results, but the results highlight a situation that needs to be addressed.  In response, Sarri calls for a re-examination of imprisoning parents. She argues that these families and society at large could benefit from community programs that support families. Such community programs demonstrate long-term positive effects for both parents and children. When used for non-violent offenses, like drug abuse, such community programs protect public safety while potentially redirecting the growth of ill-fated family trees. Sarri also suggests parenting training, substance abuse and mental health treatment, workforce development, and community organization to relieve disorganization. These preventative services could help redirect families before there’s a problem.

Juvenile Justice in Detroit Champions Community, Rehabilitation in a Declining Metropolis

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Rosemary Sarri

blog7_1Detroit makes headlines often: declining population, high crime rates, blocks of urban blight and, recently, the city’s declaration of bankruptcy. How does living in this bad news impact the city’s children? And, perhaps more importantly, how are we coping with the inevitable fallout this has on Detroit’s children?

Center for Political Studies, School of Social Work, and Women’s Studies Professor Emerita Rosemary Sarri studies the impact of social policy on children. In a forthcoming book chapter – “Juvenile Justice in a Changing Environment” – Sarri considers the developing approaches to juvenile offenders, focusing on Wayne County, Michigan, home of Detroit.

The concept of approaching juveniles in the justice system as distinct from their adult counterparts emerged just over a century ago. Two Supreme Court decisions – Roper v. Simmons in 1995 and Graham v. Florida in 2010 – reasserted the necessity of lesser sentences for youth offenders. Further, there is a large capital investment in the system. With 70,000 children in the justice system at an individual incarceration cost of $88,000 per year, the total exceeds $6 billion annually. This large amount of money coupled with the increasing emphasis on viewing children as in the midst of development shifted focus to rehabilitation over punishment. Wayne County, including Detroit, has paved the way.

In the 1990s, the state of Michigan controlled Wayne County’s youth offenders, punishing both serious and lesser crimes with long periods of detention, often out of state. U.S. Department of Justice threatened to close the in-county detention facility itself due to overcrowding and poor physical conditions, while the Michigan Auditor General issued a report criticizing the whole process. Without adequate mental health services and educational aid, recidivism – committing crimes again upon being released – topped 50%. The county and state spent $150 million per year on this ineffective program.

In the late 1990s, crime overall declined, but youth crimes associated with Detroit’s problems of homelessness, substance abuse, and gangs continued. Public outcry and political pressure to revamp the juvenile justice system was answered in 1997, when the system was overhauled.

The new mission, as Sarri writes, was to, “Treat each individual as a person in need of opportunities and resources rather than one with a societal disease that needed to be contained.” Wayne County spearheaded the initiative, which emphasized mental health care, education, and alternatives to incarceration, as summarized by the table below

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The information management also built into the new approach allows the effects to be quantified. In 1998, 731 youth were incarcerated. In 2012, there were six, with no juveniles placed out of state. From 2004 to 2012, the number of new delinquency cases dropped by 38.4%. Further, more children have access to diversion and prevention programs, totaling 9,319 in 2012. And recidivism dropped to 17.5%!

As Detroit’s woes deepen, the toll on Wayne County’s children will likely increase. But, as Sarri argues, the juvenile justice system initiated in the late 1990s is an investment in the community, rehabilitating youth instead of punishing them for their declining environment.