Garth Taylor Dissertation Fellowship in Public Opinion

The Garth Taylor Dissertation Fellowship in Public Opinion will support a doctoral student at the University of Michigan who is completing his or her dissertation on a topic related to the study of public opinion. The dissertation should be primarily a quantitative study of U.S. public opinion as either a dependent or independent variable. Research can be with national or lower level data as well as part of an international comparative study. The projects should not be primarily methodological. Award and acceptance of the Taylor Dissertation Fellowship does not preclude the incumbent from holding a simultaneous GSI or GSRA position. Applicants will be required to have defended their dissertation prospectus before the application date.

Read the story about Garth Taylor and his gift at Pickin’ and Givin’: The retirement of pollster Garth Taylor.

Application Process

Applications are available starting in February each year. Information about the competition, award amount, and eligibility will be available on this website.

Please contact us with any questions about the competition. 

Award Winners

2020: The Politics of Place: How Southern Identity Shapes Americans’ Racial Attitudes and Policy Preferences

By Princess Williams

Project Description

This project argues that sub-national identification is an influential but omitted factor that influences the formation of American’s political beliefs. For example, using residency in the South as a rough proxy to capture the psychological effects of being socialized in the region, political science routinely finds that Southern Whites residents are distinct from their non-southern counterparts. The extant literature, however, faces important measurement and theoretical limitations. Williams proposes a dynamic measurement of Southern identity to properly investigate this phenomenon and address current limitations. 

This project demonstrates that Southern identity is a widely recognized identity that is both socially and politically significant for Black Americans, as it is for Whites. Investigating Southern identity amongst Black Americans leads to a better understanding of heterogeneity in American political behavior across race. This work also has implications for racial groups beyond Blacks and White Americans, though it focuses on these racial groups as the first stage. 

2020: The Emotional Landscape of the American Media & Its Relationship to Public Opinion

By Erin Cikanek

Project Description

By examining the variation in emotional cues in news, Cikanek’s dissertation will be one of the first to map the emotional landscape of the news environment that citizens experience during campaigns. This work will address measurement deficiencies in the literature, survey the emotional landscape of the media environment, and examine how emotional signals in the media environment relate to public opinion regarding political behavior, attitudes, and candidate preferences. These studies taken together will help to more fully explain the role emotions play in American elections. Broadly, the ability to measure emotion in a way that more fully integrates psychological theory with measurement design and validation will result in a measurement tool that can be used in other areas of political science to examine the emotional environment surrounding political events,  allowing her to contribute to sub-fields beyond American politics. 

2019: When The Walls of Jericho Crumble: Critical Junctures and Democratization Choices

By Mark Tessler and Jane Kitaevich

Project Description

What explains the perpetuation (or even reinforcement) of authoritarian values in societies experiencing significant political transitions? Why does the espousal of democratic values and the construction of new democratic institutions by the state often not promote the emergence of a democratic political culture among ordinary citizens; and what factors at both the state and individual levels of analysis increase the likelihood that a population experiencing a democratic transition will in fact embrace democratic norms?

Using data from a unique dataset, an original survey from Armenia– a state undergoing a prominent democratic transition, and results from a field experiment in the Caucasus, Jane Kitaevich’s research offers an answer this puzzle. Funding from the Garth Taylor Fellowship in Public Opinion will enable her to launch an original household survey in Armenia, which has undergone a major political transition in 2018 by electing its government fairly for the first time in 27 years, following a wave of massive nationwide protests that lasted over 1 month. In addition, Kitaevich will further complement the with a randomized control trial of civics and history teachers’ involvement in the development of a new social science curriculum for public schools in the Republic of Georgia.

2018: Immigration in Our Heads: Group Schemas, Attitude Transfer, and Policy Preferences

By Nicholas Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov

Project Description

Policy debates about immigration openness and the integration of newcomers have profoundly transformed politics of developed democracies during the last two decades. American politics is no exception, even though U.S. institutional design effectively blocked emergence of electorally relevant anti-immigrant parties (as it happened in Western Europe). Nevertheless, popular anxiety about immigration plays in important role in American politics. These attitudes played a major role in the continued inability to enact significant legislation on immigration since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, and most importantly in the failure of the Gang of Eight bill in 2013. The most recent political manifestation of anti-immigrant attitudes in U.S. politics has been the successful presidential campaign of Donald Trump. Outspoken and often controversial calls for more restrictive immigration policies constituted an important aspect of his electoral appeal.

But how do people form immigration policy preferences and, directly related, develop attitudes about immigrants as a group? One point of scholarly consensus concerns seems to be the limited explanatory power of self-interest: personal material concerns related to immigration do not play a major role in predicting policy preferences. As noted in a comprehensive review by Hainmueller and Hopkins (2014), “as an explanation of mass attitudes toward immigration, the labor market competition hypothesis has repeatedly failed to find empirical support” (241). Instead, people appear to think about immigration in sociotropic terms, i.e. their first consideration is whether it hurts or benefits the country as a whole. There is a problem with this conclusion, however, as the two variables in question—perception of immigration as harmful and desire to restrict it—are too close to one another in the causal chain. It raises endogeneity concerns as perceptions about the effects of immigration can be a rationalization of pre-existing anti-immigrant attitudes rather than their cause (Lodge and Taber 2013). Moreover, even if causal primacy of the sociotropic threat is accepted, its origins remain unclear. In other words, instead of explaining the roots of public opposition to immigration, sociotropic explanations simply shift the question mark one rung down on the ladder of causality.

So, why would people see immigration as more or less threatening to the nation’s general economic health and cultural cohesion? A potential answer to this question has to do with who the immigrants are perceived to be—in other words, with social categorization. But do individuals differ in their perception of immigrants’ race, ethnicity, religion, skills, language proficiency, and so on? And do these differences in individual images of “immigration” affect citizens’ issue preferences? As of now, there is no agreement in the literature with regard to these questions.

 

2016: Racial Sympathy in American Politics

By Don Kinder, Vince Hutchings, and Jennifer Chudy

Project Description

I will run a series of survey experiments exploring the conditions that activate racial sympathy in politics. First, I plan on conducting pilot studies of the experiment on convenience samples (both in-person and over the Internet) to refine the survey instrument. Based on the results of these pilot studies, I will adjust the instrument in preparation for administration on a nationwide sample. Working closely with Survey Sampling International, a reputable survey firm with whom I have previously contracted, I will identify the relevant sample, consult on the programing of the survey, and ultimately field the multiwave study over a period of one month. Once the firm returns the data to me, I will conduct a series of statistical analyses to explore the activation of racial sympathy. Specifically, I will examine whether the activation of racial sympathy is contingent on witnessing black suffering, or otherwise put: does sympathy lie politically dormant if black suffering is trivialized or not referenced? In this section of the proposal, I will provide an overview of my theoretical expectations for the project as well as a summary of the experimental design and projected budget.

My theory argues that racial sympathy is rooted in white sorrow over black suffering; I therefore hypothesize that two components must be present to activate it: African Americans and suffering. Accordingly, I have designed two experiments: the race experiment and the intensity experiment to probe the conditions that give rise to sympathetic political behavior. In the fall of 2015, I administered the race experiment, in which I presented subjects with a hypothetical newspaper article about an individual experiencing a hard time and manipulated the race of this individual to be either white or black. I found that viewing the black individual indeed increased the salience of racial sympathy on support for public policies to alleviate this hardship. This result was replicated across two diverse policy areas – policing and poverty – and demonstrated that racial sympathy is not reducible to a general social sympathy for anyone down on his or her luck – instead, it is firmly rooted in race.

 

2017: Black, but Not Like Me: When Political Solidarity Breaks Down Among Black Americans

By Vince Hutchings and Hakeem Jefferson

Project Description

My dissertation explores the conditions under which individuals are likely to abandon pro-group tendencies. More precisely, it attempts to provide a greater understanding of why significant segments of the Black community readily support punitive crime policies that disparately impact people of color and why others oppose redistributive policies perceived to benefit the most economically disadvantaged among them. Bridging literatures from political science and social psychology, I argue that solidarity among marginalized group members is threatened when those who are perceived to benefit or are targeted by a policy or a political action pose a threat to the social image of the group. These more stigmatized group members, I argue, are punished by some within the group for violating social norms and confirming negative stereotypes that threaten the image of the group and, by extension, the self-concept of individual group members. The claim I make in the dissertation is a provocative one. It expects that—in at least some cases—those most in need of group solidarity will be the least likely to receive it. Moreover, under some conditions, the most vulnerable members of these stigmatized groups can expect to face the harsh judgment of both outgroup members and in-group members who desire only that others recognize that not all group members are created equally. Given the group-centric nature of our politics and the important role of solidarity in the face of de jure and de facto inequality, the implications of this theory are numerous and wide-ranging.

2015: Disgust and the Dynamics of LGBT Politics

By Arthur Lupia and Logan Casey

Project Description

Uganda, a country of 38 million people in East Africa with a history of brutal dictatorship and civil wars, has made great strides in recent years in adopting multi-party elections and in meeting the Millennium Development Goals: it has halved the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, increased the share of births attended by skilled healthcare workers, reduced the under- ve mortality rate, and increased access to clean water and sanitation facilities. This progress depends upon the government’s distribution of limited development resources to particular locations and constituencies. Although political science has several established theories of distributive politics, these are more appropriate for more democratic electoral settings with real competition between political parties in continuous ideological space. It is not yet well understood how governments make these allocation decisions in ethnically diverse, partial democracies in the developing world like Uganda, where the incumbent strongman may use intimidation as a substitute for winning voters’ support and voters’ preference for co-ethnic candidates or parties identi ed with their own ethnic group might undermine performance-based voting.

This project investigates how the geography of political support a ects partially-democratic governments’ allocation of development goods and their impact on social welfare, and following the upcoming elections in 2016, how voters in turn respond to the distribution of these goods.

2014: Emotion and Attention to Political Advertisements

By Ted Brader and Kristyn L. Karl

Project Description

When it comes to politics, large segments of the population are “tuned out”. Yet we have little insight into the ways in which these segments may be systematically determined by individual characteristics and unconscious mechanisms. This research provides a theoretical and empirical basis for directly incorporating the role of attention into research on political behavior. While it is virtually inevitable that many individuals are frequently exposed to campaign advertisements that occur in the background while completing their daily tasks, exposure and attention must be considered separately. I argue that the influence of political advertisements may be far less wide reaching than anticipated, as most citizens are not only consciously, but also unconsciously tuned out. By examining unconscious physiological responses to political ads, in addition to selfreported emotional responses and recall measures, the current project addresses the degree to which everyday appeals are likely to reach the general public. Ultimately, the findings speak to the way in which particular political behaviors and modes of citizenship are unlikely to be uniformly distributed across the population, calling into question whether all citizens are equally suited to and likely to engage in the normative ideals of democratic citizenship.

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