Category Archives: National

Measuring and Understanding Empathy

Post developed by Katie Brown and Nicholas Valentino.

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  The presentation, titled “The Attitudinal Structure and Political Consequences of Group Empathy,” was a part of panel “32-8. Race and Political Psychology” on Thursday August 28th, 2014.

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Group empathy is the ability to see through the eyes of another, to take their perspective and experience their emotions. The ability to experience empathy is adaptive in families and friendships. But how can we best measure empathy? And how do life experiences condition one’s ability to feel empathy?

Center for Political Studies (CPS) Research Professor and Professor of Political Science Nicholas Valentino, along with Cigdem Sirin-Villalobos and Jose Villalobos, both of the University of Texas, El Paso, seek to answer these questions. To do so, they conducted a survey with Knowledge Networks.  The survey included 1,799 participants, of which 633 were White, 614 Black, and 552 Latino/a.

The authors contend that empathy is not just the ability to take another’s perspective, but the motivation to do so. To this end, they asked 14 questions to create a “Group Empathy Index” (GEI). Examples of the items included statements such as “The misfortunes of other racial or ethnic groups do not usually disturb me a great deal” and “I am often quite touched by things that I see happen to people due to their race or ethnicity.” They also asked about empathy toward specific groups. Analysis showed the new scale to be both reliable and valid.

In addition to better measuring empathy, the authors wanted to understand the role of related personal traits. They found that race, gender, and education condition empathy. In particular, being a minority or a woman, and having more education, are related to higher empathy. Further, personally experiencing unfair treatment by law enforcement also related to higher empathy. Minorities reported more unjust treatment by law enforcement, which might underlie the different levels of empathy by race.

The survey also included questions to gauge political implications of empathy. The study found that those who display higher empathy showed greater support for immigration, valued civil liberties more than societal security, and were more likely to volunteer and attend rallies. The authors concluded that, “Such variations in empathy felt toward social groups other than one’s own may thus have powerful political consequences.”

Does Presidential Party Impact Inflation Estimates?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Cassandra Grafström

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

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

In a paper which is forthcoming in Political Science Research and MethodsGandrud and Grafström began with a widely accepted notion that under more liberal governments, the Federal Reserve tends to predict higher inflation. Why? Democratic administrations tend to try to lower unemployment, which causes higher inflation. Under more conservative governments, on the other hand, the Federal Reserve predicts lower inflation. Yet there exists little empirical support for these ideas. Instead, most work on inflation comes from the field of economics, with a focus on comparing federal predictions with money market predictions.

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

In the graph below, perfect predictions would create an error of 0. Points above the line correspond to over-estimation and points below the line correspond to under-estimation. The graph shows that when a Democrat is president, estimate errors tend to be above the line, while Republican errors tend to fall below the line.

Errors in Inflation Forecasts Across Time by Presidential Party

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

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

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

Why do Black Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat?

Post developed by Vincent HutchingsHakeem Jefferson, and Katie Brown.

The following post elaborates on a presentation titled “Out of Options? Blacks and Support for the Democratic Party” that was delivered at the 2014 World Congress of the International Political Science Association (IPSA).

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In 2012, Barack Obama received 93% of the African American vote but just 39% of the White vote. This 55% disparity is bigger than vote gaps by education level (4%), gender (10%), age (16%), income (16%), and religion (28%). And this wasn’t about just the 2012 or 2008 elections, notable for the first appearance of a major ticket African American candidate, Barack Obama. Democratic candidates typically receive 85-95% of the Black vote in the United States. Why the near unanimity among Black voters?

Vincent Hutchings, Professor of Political Science and Research Professor in the Center for Political Studies (CPS), and Hakeem Jefferson, Ph.D. candidate in the department of Political Science and CPS affiliate, set out to answer this question.

Hutchings and Jefferson especially sought to shed light on the “Black Utility Heuristic.” First proposed by Michael Dawson, the Black Utility Heuristic holds that Blacks tend to assess what is in the best interests of their racial group as a proxy for judging what are the best political decisions for them individually. So, given the widespread perception that the Democratic Party is best for African Americans, many Blacks support this party even if – in the case of the middle-class and social conservatives – it might not be in their individual interests to do so. But despite the reliance on this theory by numerous scholars, there exists little empirical support that it can account for Blacks’ lopsided support for the Democratic Party.

Using American National Election Studies (ANES) data, Hutchings and Jefferson tested the Black Utility Heuristic against other potential explanations for the near-unanimous support among Blacks for the Democratic Party.

The 2012 ANES pre-election survey includes 511 Black respondents. Using this survey, the authors report that 90% of African Americans identify as Democrats and 55% strongly so, compared to 39% and 11% of Whites. Yet, when the authors looked at a 7-point measure of ideology, only 47% of Blacks identify as liberal while 45% identify as conservative in the United States.

Given the mismatch between political ideology (measured using the liberal-conservative continuum) and partisanship, the authors turned to other ways to measure political ideology: egalitarianism, moral traditionalism, and ideal role of government. On egalitarianism and size of government, Blacks were indeed considerably more liberal than Whites; there was not significant difference between the groups on morality.

Despite the ideological underpinnings of these questions, they only weakly correlate with the standard measure of political ideology. The strongest correlation was between egalitarianism and political ideology – at just 0.18 Among Blacks, this correlation jumps to 0.42 for Whites. (Correlation coefficients give a measure of fit between two variables. If the two variables move up and down in concert, this is a perfect correlation of 1; if there is no connection the correlation is 0.) Further, support for bigger government was the only ideological measure that was a statistically significant predictor of partisanship, which may suggest a need to rethink how we conceptualize and measure ideology as it pertains to African Americans.

So could the Black Utility Heuristic offer the best explanation of the overwhelming support for Democratic candidates among Black voters? To test this, the authors looked at the connection between believing that what happens to other African Americans affects the survey respondent’s own life and Democratic affiliation. This connection was not significant, directly countering Dawson’s Black Utility Heuristic. On the other hand, an alternative measure assessing the importance of in-group racial identity predicted identifying as a Democrat among Blacks.

Hutchings and Jefferson thus conclude that African Americans do not vote Democrat because of their ideological identity as liberals, or because of notions of linked fate. Instead, strong support for activist government and the importance of in-group racial identity seems to drive this trend.

Can racial prejudice demobilize white voters?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Spencer Piston.

The 2008 election in the United States featured the first black major party presidential candidate in U.S. history – Barack Obama. Obama won in a historic election. But was his victory margin narrower than it could have been? In particular, did racial prejudice erode Obama’s vote share among those whites expected to vote for him: strong Democrats?

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Center for Political Studies (CPS) affiliate and Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan Spencer Piston explored this question with co-author Yanna Krupnikov (Northwestern University) in a recent article published in Political Behavior.

The researchers identify a gap in the field. Where previous work focuses on the connection between prejudice and vote choice, few studies have considered the relationship between prejudice and turnout on Election Day.

The researchers evaluate the relationship between racial prejudice, strength of party identification, and turnout. They are especially interested in a situation in which a white voter, high in racial prejudice, is faced with a black candidate from her party. How will the voter vote? In this scenario, racial prejudice is pitted against party identification.

Examining 2008 data from the American National Election Studies and replicating their analyses with survey data from a wave of a 2007-2008 Associated Press-Yahoo! News-Stanford University study, the authors find that highly partisan and prejudiced voters often address the tension embodied in a black candidate from their party by not turning out to vote. Interestingly, the authors also test if this group would instead vote for the white Republican presidential candidate John McCain. They would not. This is because they cannot compromise on race or partisanship. Unable to compromise, they instead choose not to vote.

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These findings have significant implications for American elections. The authors conclude, “Racial prejudice undermines black candidates’ efforts to mobilize strong partisans.”

Spencer Piston will join Syracuse University in the fall as an Assistant Professor of Political Science.

How ANES impacts the university classroom

Post developed by Katie Brown and Deborah Schildkraut.

ANES65thThis post is part of a series celebrating the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES). The posts will seek to highlight some of the many ways in which the ANES has benefited scholarship, the public, and the advancement of science. Do you have ideas for additional posts? Please contact us by email (cps-center@umich.edu) or Twitter (@umisrcps).

In this post, we consider the impact of ANES on teaching.

First, we hear from Tufts University Professor of Political Science Deborah Schildkraut, who shares her experience using ANES in the classroom. From Schildkraut:

ANES impacts my teaching in two key ways. First, I use raw ANES data in my lectures.Second, the research I rely on as I teach and that I think is really meaningful for my students includes:

All take advantage of the time series to help demonstrate both the importance of fundamentals and the role of particular events in shaping attitudes, behaviors, and election outcomes. And all are written at a level that combines sophisticated methods but approachability such that undergrads can engage with them.

Second, in a 1977 grant proposal to the American National Science Foundation (NSF), ANES founder Warren Miller outlined the current and potential use of ANES in teaching. This excerpt from the proposal encapsulates his analysis and vision:

The election data are even more widely used in activities related to teaching. Reports from the same roster of political scientists who were questioned about research use of the data indicate that the data were being used for teaching purposes in some 480 courses taken by more than 18,000 students… Given the reasonably short history of the systematic use of quantitative data by political science students in meeting course requirements, we were surprised to discover that three-quarters of the students using the data were actually undergraduates.

The hand typed table below from the 1977 proposal details the use of ANES (then called the Michigan Election Study) in the university classroom.

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Miller then concluded, “The election studies promise to play an increasingly significant role in undergraduate teaching.” Professor Deborah Schildkraut’s use of ANES nearly forty years after the 1977 proposal demonstrates the continued reach of ANES in the classroom.

 

Americans are more sympathetic to the poor and more resentful of the rich than previous research indicates

Post developed by Katie Brown and Spencer Piston.

The gap between the rich and poor in the United States is growing. Occupy Wall Street, fast food worker strikes, and other manifestations of this gap make headlines often. And just a few weeks ago, President Obama visited the University of Michigan to champion raising the minimum wage.

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Despite these movements, previous academic work suggests Americans look down on the poor. The news media perpetuate this message. The Economist claims, “Americans want to join the rich, not soak them,” while The New York Times published an article with the headline, “New Resentment of the Poor.”

But what if previous research and the mainstream media are wrong? What if anti-rich movements better capture the American ethos? Center for Political Studies (CPS) affiliate and Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan Spencer Piston investigated this issue.

Piston addresses this question with an innovative approach. Previous scholarship measures attitudes with questions about “economic inequality” and “government-led redistribution.” But these are terms that survey respondents rarely use without prompting, and Piston finds reason to believe that many Americans don’t understand what these terms mean.

Piston therefore begins with a straightforward but rarely-used survey technique: he asks people how they feel about the poor and the rich. Piston examines answers to these questions using an original survey, and supplemented with American National Election Studies (ANES) data. The graphs below depict feelings of (a) deservingness, (b) sympathy, and (c) resentment toward and the rich and the poor. As we can see, people tend to see the rich as deserving less and the poor deserving more.  They also see the poor as more sympathetic than the rich, and the rich as objects of more resentment than the poor.

Feelings toward the Rich and Poor

a. Do the (rich, poor) have more or less money than they deserve?

b. How often have you felt sympathy for (rich, poor) people?

c. How often have you felt resentment toward (rich, poor) people?

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What effect might these Robin Hood attitudes have on elections? Piston tested this with several survey experiments. He finds that that a candidate who supports the poor garners more support among voters than an otherwise identical candidate who hurts the poor, regardless of the candidate’s party.

Effects of Candidate’s Record on Mean Support for the Candidate

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Taken together, these results suggest that previous research has overestimated public support for economic inequality and public opposition to downward redistribution. When survey questions are worded using terms that survey respondents more commonly use, it appears that many Americans want government to give more to the poor – and to take from the rich.

Spencer Piston will join Syracuse University in the fall as an Assistant Professor of Political Science.

Could some seemingly racist sentiments be more about white in-group identification than out-group animosity?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Ashley Jardina.

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This month, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy made headlines. What started as a battle against the U.S. Federal Government for his cattle and land turned into daily press conferences. As part of the Sovereign Movement, Bundy used the attention to propagate an anti-government agenda and racist ideas. Across the country at Princeton University, freshman Tal Fortgang also made headlines with his essay, “Checking my Privilege.” His championing of white privilege garnered backlash in the press. What do Bundy and Fortgang have in common? Both demonstrate reactions to a perceived status threat to whites.

Center for Political Studies (CPS) affiliate and Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan Ashley Jardina studies white identification. In particular, she argues that threats to dominant status make racial identity salient. Does this in turn influence support for political policies that could eliminate such status threats?

To answer this question, Jardina analyzed data from the American National Election Studies (ANES). Especially relevant is a measure of racial identity importance available for the first time in the 2012 ANES. This measure let Jardina gauge the extent to which white Americans feel that being white is important to their identity. She looks at whether this white identity relates attitudes toward policies (e.g., immigration) and candidates (e.g., Barack Obama) that exacerbate threats to white dominance. Immigration especially threatens whites’ dominance, because it drives demographic changes whereby whites are being displaced as the majority racial group in the nation. Likewise, as the country’s first African American president, Obama also represents a status threat.

Previous work has argued that out-group attitudes, either toward Hispanics or blacks, primarily drive whites’ attitudes toward immigration policy and support for Obama. But Jardina constructs models to explicitly test the relationship between in-group / out-group feelings. She finds in-group identity to be a more powerful and consistent predictor of restrictive immigration policies than out-group attitudes, including evaluations of Hispanics. Furthermore, whites who identified with their racial group were significantly less likely to vote for Obama, even after controlling for racial prejudice or resentment.  Her results are replicated using two other datasets. Jardina concludes, “These results lend support for the notion that, in some important cases, a desire to protect the in-group, rather than dislike for the out-group, primarily drives opinion.”

Ashley Jardina will join Duke University in the fall as an Assistant Professor of Political Science.

Moral conviction stymies political compromise

Post developed by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan

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Partisanship gets in the way of political progress. Hillary Clinton made this common claim last week. The lack of compromise inherent to partisanship is worth investigating. What causes such non-cooperation?

Timothy Ryan, a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Michigan’s Department of Political Science and affiliate of the Center for Political Studies (CPS), seeks to answer this question. In a paper presented at the 2013 meeting of the American Political Science Association – “No Compromise: Political Consequences of Moralized Attitudes” – Ryan ran four studies to understand non-cooperation.

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.

Ryan tests moral conviction’s effect on compromise. Data come from the American National Elections Studies (ANES), as well as surveys of undergraduates, participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, and citizens found via GfK Research (his work was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)). Ryan also considers several types of compromises: hypothetical, actual, positions citizens want their elected officials to adopt, and a willingness to accept a monetary reward only if a disliked group (the Tea Party or the Progressive Change Campaign Committee) also receives a donation.

Participants with moral conviction around an issue are less likely to compromise. Hypothetical and real world compromises were hindered. Compromising politicians received less support. Personal gain was sacrificed to avoid the gain of the Tea Party (if a political adversary). As Ryan concludes, “Different attitude characteristics relate to compromise in different ways, with moral conviction being a particularly potent obstacle to compromise.”

In the fall, Ryan will continue his work on morality when he joins the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as Assistant Professor of Political Science.

 

What makes a political issue a moral issue?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Timothy Ryan.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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?

Timothy Ryan, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Political Science and affiliate of the Center for Political Studies (CPS), explored this question in a recent article in The Journal of Politics. An extensive literature already asserts a moral vs. not moral issue distinction. Yet, there is no consensus in how to distinguish between moral and non-moral political issues. Further, trying to sort issues into these categories proves challenging. Many people assume that same-sex marriage is a moral issue, but does everyone see the issue in moral terms? Do people vary in terms of whether they see economic issues, such as Social Security reform and collective bargaining, with morality at stake?

In an attempt to define the divide between moral and non-moral, Ryan turned to the psychology literature. In particular, Ryan applies moral conviction to morality in politics. Moral conviction refers to topics that tap into an individual’s sense of right and wrong. According to the psychology literature, moral conviction leads to a different type of information processing. Moral conviction involves negative emotions, hostile opinions, and potential punitive actions.

Ryan then tests this concept as it relates to political issues with two studies. In both studies, he measures the emotions stimulated by moral conviction. He finds that moral conviction evokes negative emotions toward political disagreement. He also finds that both traditionally moral issues (like abortion or same sex marriage) and traditionally non-moral issues (like labor relations or Social Security) can both illicit moral conviction.

The graph below displays the mean (the squares), the middle 50% (the bars), and the middle 80% (the dots) of moral conviction for five different political issues. As we can see, moral conviction varies a lot for both economic and non-economic issues.  Of course many people see same-sex marriage as a matter of right and wrong, Yet, many also see Social Security reform in the same way. The upshot is that, when it comes to deciding which issues are moral, an important part of the answer depends on the individual. 

Distribution of Moral Conviction Variable

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Ryan’s article also challenges a common assumption: the assumption that moral fervor in politics comes more from the right than the left. In the article, he examines propensity to moralize several political issues. The result? Liberals and conservatives moralize in equal measure. The figure below illustrates this with three separate samples: students, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk respondents, and Evaluations of Government and Society Study (EGSS) respondents.

Moral Conviction by Partisanship

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Taken together, Ryan’s findings suggest that the response of moral conviction may be more important than distinguishing between inherently moral and non-moral political issues. Rather, all issues can produce a moral conviction response, depending on the person. Ryan concludes that, “in terms of the underlying psychology, Social Security is just as moralized for some people as Abortion is. Morality is in the eye of the beholder.”

In the fall, Ryan will continue his research on morality in politics when he joins the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as Assistant Professor of Political Science.

W. Phillips Shively reflects on the storied history of the ANES

This is a guest post written by W. Phillips Shively, Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.

ANES65thThis post is part of a series celebrating the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES). The posts will seek to highlight some of the many ways in which the ANES has benefited scholarship, the public, and the advancement of science. Do you have ideas for additional posts? Please contact us by email (cps-center@umich.edu) or Twitter (@umisrcps).

First and foremost, I can’t really separate ANES, especially in its earliest and most exciting time, from Philip Converse, Donald Stokes, and Warren Miller. Though the large, ongoing dataset is seen as their legacy, it was actually a byproduct of their greatest contribution (after all, there were other large surveys being done at the time, but only theirs became institutionalized like ANES). Their real contribution was research that was breathtakingly creative and rigorous for its time. In the 1960s, when I was in graduate school, they were my gods; if he had ever had a poster, Phil Converse would have been on my dormitory room wall. They pioneered considering the interaction of data from different levels of social organization, analyzing the interplay of historical change and individual behaviors, and applying data analysis to democratic theory. The ANES data set came to be of such importance in the field because they demonstrated the beautiful things that could be done with it.

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Converse, Miller, and Campbell developing ANES predecessor the Michigan Election Studies

The high point of my graduate studies was a secondary analysis of the 1956 and 1960 national election studies, to test for various processes by which individuals were influenced in their voting by their community (i.e., an early and very primitive study of contextual effects.) This was pre-computer, so I did it all with IBM cards and a card sorter. It was the most exciting thing I did in graduate school, yet all I was doing was imitating Miller, Converse, and Stokes.

In more recent years, ANES made a huge contribution when Steven Rosenstone took the lead in setting up the ambitious Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), a cooperative study involving roughly fifty national election studies. He was able to build on years of cooperation between the ANES and international scholars, started especially by Stokes and Converse.

While the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) now serves a broad inter-disciplinary audience, it was initially a spin-off of the ANES. I attended the summer program in its second year, 1965. It consisted of a single class, co-taught by Stokes and Converse. Each day they opened some exciting new window for us. One day, Stokes introduced us to the problem of cross-level inference, which he had just started work on; I had never heard of it before, and it would become an important part of my work over the next fifty years. Another day they invited a young sociology graduate student, Gudmund Iversen, to come in and talk to us about an interesting new kind of statistics he had just learned of – Bayesian statistics.