The American National Election Study (ANES): History and Insights from Recent Surveys

This year the American National Election Study (ANES) will conduct its 19th time series study of a presidential election. In every U.S. presidential election since 1948, the ANES has conducted pre- and post-election surveys of a large representative sample of American voters. 

On August 12, 2020, Vincent Hutchings gave a talk outlining the history of the study, and why it is the “gold standard” of political surveys. You can view a recording of his talk below, and view tweets about the talk here

 

The history and significance of the ANES

The ANES was originally launched at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Since 2005 the study has been a collaboration between the University of Michigan and the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences at Stanford University

Since 1977, the ANES has been funded by the National Science Foundation. It is used by scholars as well as high-school students, college students, and journalists. The data are made publicly available online for free as soon as it is processed after the election; principal investigators of the study do not receive privileged access to the survey data. 

The ANES aims to answer two fundamental questions: how do citizens select the candidate they vote for? Why do some citizens participate in politics (e.g., vote, work on campaigns, etc.) while others do not? These questions are answered with nationally representative survey data. 

The value of the ANES comes not only from the care and precision brought to designing questions, but also from the way the study balances continuity and innovation. In order to achieve this balance, the ANES asks identical questions over time about vote choice, turnout, party identification, ideology, political information, and attitudes about candidates. But even as questions are preserved over time, new questions are added about issues as they arise. The investigators and board members solicit public input on new questions and determine which ones will add value. 

Recent data trends

Professor Hutchings outlined findings from some of the questions that were recently added to the ANES, including questions about the Black Lives Matter movement and police misconduct. 

Respondents to the 2016 ANES were asked to rate the Black Lives Matter movement on a 0-100 “feeling thermometer” scale. Ratings 50-100 degrees signal favorable feelings toward the group; ratings 0-50 degrees signify unfavorable feelings. Respondents would rate the group at the 50 degree mark if they don’t feel particularly warm or cold toward the group.

Graphic showing feelings about the Black Lives Matter movement by party and race.

Hutchings points out that there are important partisan and racial divides in the results shown above. For example, Black Republicans have warmer feelings toward the Black Lives Matter movement than white Democrats in 2016. This question will be repeated in the 2020 study, giving researchers a way to track changes in perceptions of the movement over time. 

Attitudes toward the Black Lives Matter movement were a very strong predictor of the candidate a respondent would vote for in 2016. As Hutchings showed using the graphic below, voters who supported the Black Lives Matter movement were much more likely to support Hillary Clinton for president. 

Graphic showing the relationship between support for the Black Lives Matter movement and probability of voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Similarly, perceptions of police violence were correlated with voter preference. Those respondents who believed that whites were treated better by the police were much more likely to support Hillary Clinton than respondents who believed that police are unbiased. 

Graphic showing the effect of perceptions of anti-Black police bias on support for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The value of the ANES

Professor Hutchings concluded his talk by reflecting on the value of the ANES. “It allows us an opportunity to assess the health of our democracy,” he said. “We can assess levels of trust in government, levels of perceived corruption in government, levels of racial animus, levels of religious and gender intolerance. We can assess how things have changed – or how things have not changed – over time. And we can only do this as a consequence of this study.” 

Discussing Election Day and Vote by Mail with Michael Traugott

Michael Traugott, research professor at the Center for Political Studies, was featured on the Michigan Minds podcast. In the recording and transcript below, Professor Traugott discusses the timing of the presidential election and whether there are fraudulent concerns with mail-in voting after President Trump tweeted about both topics on Thursday, July 30, 2020

A transcript of Michael Traugott’s remarks follows.

There’s been quite a bit of research about voting by mail. I actually participated in a research project in Oregon in 1995 the first all-mail election and there is no indication that mail-in voting produces any kind of fraud. For that matter, we have almost no fraud in American elections.

Having a vote-by-mail election is a complicated enterprise. Any election is an audit process in which the security of the ballots has to be maintained. Vote-by-mail elections actually cost more than a machine-based election because it requires more staff, the votes come in over a longer period of time, they have to be secured, and then counted. So it’s just as safe and secure, with proper preparation and with sufficient funding, as any other machine election. 

One thing that might be going on is that the President is trying to run out the clock, in the sense that in order to have a secure vote-by-mail election, we probably have to have the funding in place and the local election administrators have to be organized by September. So there’s really only four or five weeks left in order to prepare for our mail election or to have a large number of absentee ballots printed and available.

It’s actually a kind of a fable or a myth that we have national elections in the United States. We really have a series of state and local elections held on the same day. But all of the rules about how you register, how you can get an absentee ballot, how many precincts there are, all of this is regulated by local officials. So while each local official is responsible for the election in their own jurisdiction. It takes a lot of coordination to get the votes counted, for example, at the state level.

Congress passed a law in 1845 as a way of regularizing the Electoral College procedures and they said that federal elections will be held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even numbered years, and that has set the calendar for all of our elections. They have never been altered or postponed. Sometimes under unusual circumstances a local election has been postponed, for example a storm or hurricane or something like that. But there is no way that the president of the United States can change the date of an election. It requires an act of Congress.

I think the tweets are strategic. Donald Trump uses these tweets to distract journalists, for example, from covering other important elements of the news of the day. They also have purpose in appealing to his particular base but they don’t serve any useful function for the general public. And in fact, I would be concerned that tweets about the quality of voting in the United States or the need to postpone election day would increase distrust in the public about how our government functions. That’s clearly a bad thing.

I think that the Trump administration is trying to question the validity of the election in November, the accuracy of the vote count and other related factors. It’s all of a kind of debilitating message to American democracy. 

Experts from the Center for Political Studies are available to discuss current topics related to elections, politics, international affairs, and more. Click here to find experts.

What We Call Racial Violence Matters – Here’s Why

Our research finds that the label used to describe an act of violence can change perceptions of it.

By Kiela Crabtree and Corina Simonelli

Kiela Crabtree and Corina Simonelli

With the fifth anniversary of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, the nation still grapples with how to understand and remember the nine people killed in their house of worship on June 17, 2015.

The perpetrator of those murders has been sentenced to death, after being convicted on federal hate crime charges. But, in the aftermath of the killings, there was public uncertainty about how to describe what occurred. The murders certainly met legal definitions about what constitutes a hate crime, but there seemed to be a need for a stronger language to describe the massacre.

President Barack Obama, in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, remarked that the massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E., “was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”

In a previous study, we find evidence to suggest that violence against black people is more likely to be classified by the public as a “hate crime,” but that such incidents are also perceived as being isolated, less destructive, and also less impactful on society at large than an act of terrorism. This suggests that the label of “hate crime” might minimize the seriousness of racial violence and imply that those incidents do not stem from similar wide-spread networks and ideologies that are associated with terrorism.

Does the label used to describe acts of violence such as these influence perceptions of the event? Here’s what our research suggests.

Labels shift emotional responses to racial violence

Our January 2020 survey experiment asked 1,012 subjects to read a brief breaking news story about a fictional shooting with several casualties. In the experiment, we alternated whether we described the incident as a “hate crime,” a “terrorist attack,” or a “mass shooting.” We also alternated the race of the perpetrator and the victims, describing them as either white or black. Subjects read a tweet about the fictional incident and then answered questions about their emotional reactions, their own perceived likelihood of victimization, and what punishments they believed were warranted by the attack.

We find that, regardless of who perpetrated the attack, subjects reported higher levels of anger after reading about an incident labeled as a “hate crime,” when a white male perpetrator targeted a black university. We find that there are no distinct differences in anger when comparing “terrorism” and “mass shooting,” nor under those labels do the race of the victim or perpetrator influence levels of anger.

While likelihood of personal victimization is slightly higher for those who see the hate crime condition with a white perpetrator, we see that this variable is not strongly influenced by treatments.

We also find that support for the death penalty to punish the shooting is significantly lower among subjects who read about a hate crime perpetrated by a black person.

The interaction of race and label matter as well

But, do all people perceive violence the same way? We cannot take for granted that violence, and racial violence at that, is viewed the same way by members of different racial groups, especially when long legacies of violence are in play.

Therefore, we also look at how these labels might elicit distinctive responses among white and non-white participants. Stratifying our sample this way, we find that there are distinct responses among members of different racial groups. Non-white respondents indicated greater support for the death penalty to punish the crime in all conditions that had a white perpetrator, regardless of the label. However, we see little difference across conditions among white subjects.

Racial group attachment moderates these in a way that we might expect – the lowest support for the death penalty is among white subjects with high racial group attachment who read about a hate crime committed by a white perpetrator. Among non-white subjects we see that higher racial attachment is associated with greater support for the death penalty in all conditions with a white perpetrator. Support is consistent in conditions with a black perpetrator.

Additionally, non-white subjects who read about an act of terrorism committed by a white actor reported a higher likelihood of victimization than white respondents in the same condition.

We also find that anger is stable for all, white and non-white subjects, who saw a terrorism condition, regardless of if the perpetrator is white or black.

Anger increases slightly among non-white people who saw a mass shooting targeting black people. But, anger is significantly higher among non-white people who read about a hate crime targeting black people, when compared to those who read about a hate crime targeting white people. We see no significant changes among white subjects across these conditions.

Labels can send a powerful message to the public

While the label “terrorism” has come to be associated with acts of violence committed by Islamists, the term has long been used by black people to describe white violence against them. Regardless of legal parameters, we wondered if using the term “hate crime” to instead describe these acts minimizes public perceptions about them. Our research suggests that calling an act of violence a “hate crime” has little effect on perceptions of violence for white Americans. For non-white Americans, however, we find that this label is associated with greater anger in reaction to the incident.

The boundaries of the law determined the charges levied against the perpetrator of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. killings, but the press, politicians, and the public grappled for language to describe them. Our research suggests that while the the term “terrorism” seems more rhetorically evocative of a long history of violence against black people, it does not necessarily evoke greater anger than use of the term “hate crime” or “mass shooting.” In fact, among non-white respondents, “hate crime” elicits the greatest anger.

Emotions hold powerful political potential, anger in particular has been shown to incite political participation. The words used to describe violence do matter, for the images and narratives they conjure, as well as the emotions they evoke.

Kiela Crabtree (@kielacrabtree) is a PhD. candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan.

Corina Simonelli (@CorinaSimonelli) is a PhD. candidate in Political Science and the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

The words that made a difference in the 2016 election

What do voters really learn from the media about presidential candidates? A new book by experts from the University of Michigan, Georgetown University, and Gallup, Inc., Words That Matter: How the News Media Environment Allowed Trump to Win the Presidency, offers in-depth analysis and conclusions about the information that mattered most in the 2016 presidential election. 

Words That Matter is the collaborative work of eight authors: Leticia Bode, Ceren Budak, Jonathan M. Ladd, Frank Newport, Josh Pasek, Lisa O. Singh, Stuart N. Soroka, and Michael W. Traugott. The authors have expertise in a range of disciplines including public opinion, communications, public policy, and computer science, and they take different approaches to the study of campaign media. As a result, the book is nuanced in its handling of news content, social media posts, and survey responses. 

There are a number of reasons that the 2016 presidential campaign was exceptional. The media landscape has changed dramatically in recent years, with many people accessing and sharing news through social media. The authors find that news coverage during the 2016 campaign “was more negative than in recent previous presidential campaigns, consistent with these candidates being the most personally unpopular nominees in polling history.” 

Words That Matter guides readers through the media’s process of producing information, how that information gets to voters, and what information voters actually absorb. The authors argue that advances in media technology call for new ways to measure the information environment. They address this challenge through innovative surveys and content-analytic research techniques. 

This figure highlights the changing topics that Americans remember about Clinton since July. The x-axis shows the date and the y-axis the fraction of responses that fall into a particular topic.
This figure highlights the changing topics that Americans remember about Clinton since July 2016. The x-axis shows the date and the y-axis the fraction of responses that fall into a particular topic.

A key finding of the work is that the largely negative campaign played out differently for the two major party candidates: Donald Trump was confronted with a shifting but largely uninfluential series of scandals, whereas Hillary Clinton faced a single, stable, and influential scandal involving her use of a private email server. The authors show that the long-standing nature of the email scandal made it especially sticky in the public mind. They write “Even when there was other news about Hillary Clinton, the public thought about ‘her emails’—for months and months—indeed, starting before the election campaign was even underway.” 

Some scholars are skeptical that the media have the power to influence votes, whereas others believe that campaign messaging can have a large effect. The authors show that not all voters are equally open to influence. The most politically-engaged voters are steadfast, while the least engaged are difficult to reach at all. “The fact that middle- and low-engagement voters are the most susceptible to influence,” write the authors, “also helps us understand why the topics given heavy attention in the media environment can be consequential.”

News stories that are repeated over a long period of time are the most likely to be noticed by people who are not highly engaged with politics. The authors also find that telling people how to vote is less effective than simply changing the subject. Voters who don’t follow the news carefully may not remember the details of various scandals, but they do tend to notice if one specific issue garners sustained coverage. Those sustained scandals stand out as more important when voters make their choice. 

The authors conclude that media content can indeed shift voter behavior for some voters, and that in a close election like the 2016 presidential election, these effects can be of real consequence. 

Panel discusses the Nineteenth Amendment’s legacy and current implications

Post developed by Katherine Pearson

A panel of prominent political scientists presented their research at the panel “One Hundred Years of Women Voting: The Nineteenth Amendment’s Legacy and Current Implications” on Monday, February 24, 2020. The experts discussed the political behavior of women leading up to and since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Jenna Bednar, professor of political science at the University of Michigan and research faculty at the Center for Political Studies, moderated the discussion. The event was part of the U-M Department of Political Science Rubin Speaker Series and U-M Suffrage 2020 event series.

Mara Ostfled, Christina Wolbrecht, Angela Ocampo, and Corrine McConnaughy

Mara Ostfeld, Christina Wolbrecht, Angela Ocampo, and Corrine McConnaughy

Popular views of women voters over the past 100 years, and what the evidence actually tells us about them

In her newly-released book, A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections Since Suffrage, Christina Wolbrecht, professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, presents evidence to challenge some of the long-standing beliefs about the way women vote and engage in politics. 

In the first several decades of women’s suffrage in the U.S., understanding of women’s political behavior was based on rhetoric, not based on data, said Wolbrecht. Data does show that married women often voted as their husbands did. Political experts interpreted this correlation as evidence of political disinterest on the part of women, but this conclusion was not based on data. Following the belief that women didn’t form independent political opinions, Gallup used quota controlled sampling that undersampled women. The American Voter describes women as following their husband’s wishes rather than voting according to their own beliefs. 

Wolbrecht argues that these unsupported conclusions still matter today because these books are still read today. She emphasizes that although married women often vote as their husbands do, we don’t know who is influencing whom. 

Political Pioneers: Women of Color as Candidates and Elected Officials

Angela X. Ocampo, a research fellow in the department of political science and the Center for Political Studies, presented current research assessing the representation of women of color as political candidates and elected officials. “Women don’t get access to vote until their racial group does,” said Ocampo, noting that women of color were still denied the right to vote or hold elected office on the basis of race after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. 

Most research on women of color in elected office focuses on the federal level, but Ocampo, along with her research collaborator, Ana Oaxaca, is studying representation in local government. Their research shows that women are most likely to be elected from places that are protected by the Voting Rights Act. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act, Ocampo sought to understand how the representation of women of color was affected at the local level. 

To answer this, she’s analyzing data on city councils in the 300 largest U.S. cities to isolate the factors that are associated with a high proportion of women of color council members. Women of color are underrepresented in city councils, making up only 10% of council members. Ocampo finds that the more Democratic a locality is, the higher the proportion of women of color and minority council members. Proxies of political power are also important. When there is a higher proportion of more minority voters in a city, the proportion of women of color and minority council members also increases. 

Ocampo concludes that gains have been made in representation, but parity is yet to be achieved. Representation of women of color and minorities depends on political pressures and the voting power of minority voters. She cautions that upward trends in the representation of women of color and minorities will likely be derailed by efforts to suppress minority votes. 

Hidden Politics: Women’s Organizing and the Shape of American Democracy

Corrine McConnaughy is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and worked closely with many of the faculty during that time. 

McConnaughy said that to find examples of women doing political work in the period before suffrage, we must look beyond formal suffrage organizations. Whether political organizing was taking place within suffrage organizations or other organizations, historians find common themes in women’s political activity in the period before the nineteenth amendment. Women were doing crucial service work in their communities and creating innovative ways to gain power. Importantly, women were doing political work as women, but not unified by womanhood. 

The suffrage movement faced challenges because women were not seen as a promising voting bloc, McConnaughy said. Because so many people believed women would vote as their husbands did, no party stood to gain an advantage by allowing women to vote. For this reason, bi-partisan support was essential to gaining franchise. The ability to form coalitions with other groups also proved essential. Suffragists were well-organized and good at raising money, which made them attractive coalition partners. 

Why Women Oppose Policies that Support Women 

The final speaker was Mara Ostfeld, is a Faculty Associate with the Center for Political Studies and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science. She presented research she is conducting with two graduate students, Lauren Hahn and Sara Morell

Ostfeld framed their question: “In the 100 years that women have had access to voting rights, and in the context of women constituting the majority of voters in America, why hasn’t there been more progress for policies to provide women with equitable opportunities?” She cited statistics to illustrate the issue: 20% of women say that reports of the gender pay gap are overblown; one-third of women say that women who complain about sexual harassment create more problems than they solve; another third believe that at least half of the time that women demand equality, they’re actually seeking special favors. 

Family socialization is the key reason for these beliefs, according to Ostfeld. “Unlike other marginalized groups, women are not raised in women-majority environments,” she noted. 

Ostfeld, Morell, and Hahn conducted a survey to gauge how women believe their family members would react to taking pro-women positions, to assess how women perceive the social costs of their beliefs within their families. The survey also asked about the polices the women supported. Ostfeld found clear evidence that women who believed they will be stigmatized for embracing policies to promote gender equality are far less likely to support those policies. Even among women respondents who recognized the gendered disparities motivating the policies, they were still less likely to support policies promoting gender equality if they felt their family members would stigmatize them for doing so. 

ESC Center Tackles Ethical Questions about Tech 

Post developed by Katherine Pearson

Christian Sandvig, the Director of the new Center for Ethics, Society, and Computing (ESC), says he developed this new center “to reconcile the fact that I love computers, but I’m horrified by some of the things we do with them.” ESC is dedicated to intervening when digital media and computing technologies reproduce inequality, exclusion, corruption, deception, racism, or sexism. The center was officially launched at an event on January 24, 2020. Video of the event is available here

The associate director of ESC, Silvia Lindtner, elaborated on ESC’s mission at the event. “I’ve learned over the years not to shy away from talking about things that are uncomfortable,” she said. “This includes talking about things like sexism, racism, and various forms of exploitation – including how this involves us as researchers, and how we’ve experienced these ourselves.” 

ESC is sponsored by the University of Michigan School of Information, Center for Political Studies (CPS), and the Department of Communication and Media. CPS Director Ken Kollman called the new center “an exciting, interdisciplinary effort to ask and address challenging questions about technology, power, and inequality.” Thomas Finholt, Dean of the School of Information, said, “if you look at the world around us there are a seemingly unlimited number of examples where individual leaders or contributors would have benefitted dramatically from the themes this center is going to take on.” 

The wide range of disciplines represented among the ESC faculty is essential to its mission. “To have people in computer science, engineering, social science, and humanities interacting together on questions about the impacts of technology strikes me as the kind of necessary, but all too rare, collaborative efforts for generating new ideas and insights,” Kollman said. 

Christian Sandvig, Thomas Finholt, and Sylvia Lindtner cut the ribbon to launch the ESC Center

Christian Sandvig, Thomas Finholt, and Sylvia Lindtner cut the ribbon to launch the ESC Center

The launch event was comprised of two panel discussions featuring notable experts in technology and its applications. The first panel, “Accountable Technology — An Oxymoron?” explored the ways that big companies, the media, and individual consumers of technology hold the tech industry accountable for issues of equity and fairness. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Julia Angwin highlighted journalists’ role in investigating and framing coverage of tech, including her work to launch a publication dedicated to the investigation of the technology industry. Jen Gennai, Google executive responsible for ethics, fielded questions from the audience about accountability. danah boyd, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder of Data & Society, and Marc DaCosta, co-founder and chairman of Enigma, rounded out the panel, which was moderated by Sandvig. 

During the second panel, “Culture After Tech Culture — Unimaginable?” Silvia Lindtner, Holly Okonkwo, Michaelanne Dye, Monroe Price, Shobita Parthasarathy, and André Brock debated the inevitability of technology’s impact on culture, and how the future might be reimagined. The panelists challenged the audience to think of technology from the perspectives of different cultures around the world, not just a single monolithic entity. Questions from the audience interrogated the ways the tech could be more inclusive.  

ESC organizers encourage students and faculty to get involved with the new center. A series of mixers to get to know ESC are scheduled through the spring.