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Interdisciplinary Workshops on Politics and Policy Archive 2016

About the workshops

Interdisciplinary Workshops on Politics and Policy are weekly seminars hosted by the Center for Political Studies. Speakers present current research on a wide range of topics. Abstracts of past workshops are available in the menu to the right.

2016-2017 Series

Latinos Rising to the Challenge: Political Responses to Threat and Opportunity Messages

September 14, 2016
Vanessa Cruz Nichols


My research aims to re-assess the common belief that threat mobilizes people to participate in the American political system. A frequently used tactic of political activists is to frame the policy issues that they wish to challenge as potential threats or attacks to people’s personal interests. The underlying theory suggests that the use of threat tactics shake people out of their political apathy. 

While it might seem intuitive that people would be more mobilized if they are alerted to a crisis that would jeopardize their interests, it may be counter-productive to only emphasize the crisis at hand. For instance, in the field of persuasive communication, fear appeals were found to be unsuccessful unless an effective remedy was offered as an alternative. Instead of using the alarm-only approach as seen in previous threat appraisal studies, it is important to couple one’s sense of urgency with alternative messages pointing to opportunities or policy initiatives individuals or groups can aspire to accomplish. By using this two-pronged approach of threat and opportunity cues, people are more likely to believe their contribution makes a difference. To test the causal inference of my hypotheses, I rely on an original online survey experiment with 1,001 Latino adults in the U.S. and their exposure to single-cue and simultaneous threat and opportunity immigration policy messages. I find that those jointly exposed to threat and opportunity frames yield greater levels of intended and observed political participation. Combining threat messages with more opportunity-based policy alternatives may be the most ideal strategy to mobilize a group to rise, and not succumb, to the challenge before them.


“Wealth Rules, Average Citizens are Thwarted” and “Not so Fast! Public Opinion and Policy Representation”

September 21, 2016  
Christopher Wlezien (University of Texas – Austin) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern University)

Sectarian Framing in the Syrian Civil War

September 28, 2016  
Dan Corstange (Columbia University)


How do civilians respond to civil war narratives? Do they react to ethnic frames more strongly than to alternatives? Governments and rebels battle for hearts and minds as well as strategic terrain, and winning the narrative war can shift legitimacy, popular support, and material resources to the sympathetically framed side. We examine the effect of one-sided and competing war discourses on ordinary people’s understandings of the Syrian civil war — a conflict with multiple narratives, but which has become more communal over time. We conduct a framing experiment with a representative sample of Syrian refugees in Lebanon in which we vary the narrative that describes the reasons for the conflict. We find that sectarian explanations, framed in isolation, have a strong mobilizing effect that increases the importance people place on fighting, but only among government supporters. When counterframed against competing narratives, however, the mobilizing effect of sectarianism drops and vanishes.

What We Know So Far About the 2016 Elections

October 5, 2016
Ken Kollman, Tasha Philpot, Univ. of Texas-Austin, Stuart Soroka, Mike Traugott, Nicholas Valentino

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When Common Identities Decrease Trust: An Experimental Study of Democratic and Republican Women

October 12, 2016 
Samara Klar (University of Arizona) 


American partisans hold strong preferences for members of their own party and even express personal distrust towards members of the opposing party. Nevertheless, other group memberships exist simultaneously – such as race, ethnicity, or gender – and these identities cut across partisanship. When Democrats and Republicans share a common social identity does this engender trust between them, or does it fuel further distrust? Relying on economic theories of identity loss and literature on the origins of inter-group rivalry, I theorize and demonstrate that when policies are framed in terms of gender, sharing a common gender identity in fact exacerbates distrust between female Democrats and Republicans. This study includes three experiments conducted on a sample of 2,100 American women. The findings hold direct implications for the influence of women in political positions and it provides new advances into our understanding of how rivals with cross-cutting identities interact in political settings.

Do Voters Prefer Gender Stereotypic Candidates? Evidence from a Conjoint Survey Experiment In Japan 

October 19, 2016 
Yoshikuni Ono (Tohoku University) 
This event is co-sponsored with the Center for Japanese Studies


There is a huge gender disparity in representation among elected officials in Japan. Although women compose a majority of the population, the percentage of women holding seats in the parliament is below 20 percent, partly because voters are biased against female candidates. To survive electoral competition, therefore, female candidates may need to avoid conforming to their gender stereotypic image. Yet, we know little about whether and to what extent female candidates are rewarded or punished when they deviate from their gender stereotypic image. Using a conjoint survey experiment, we demonstrate that not only female candidates are disadvantaged compared to their male counterparts, but also they could suffer around a five percentage point penalty when they diverge from gender stereotypes. This suggests that female candidates face a difficult dilemma because avoiding such negative sanctions by playing their gender role may result in producing a potential for further gender-based prejudice against themselves.

Saving Science from Itself: How to Respond to the Changing Value and Politics of Information 

November 2, 2016  
Arthur Lupia 


At its core, science is a set of methods and procedures for evaluating logic and evidence. When performed in accordance with widely recognized best practices, scientific research produces findings with a distinctive and often valuable quality – the findings should be true regardless of who conducted the research. For this reason, science is a powerful engine for creating a special kind of knowledge – special because the validity of the knowledge does not depend on a person’s age, sex, race, religion, or income.

Inquiry conducted through scientific methods allows individuals and organizations to evaluate the plausibility of competing propositions. By so doing, science can help us achieve important goals more effectively and efficiently by clarifying cause-and-effect. It can help us more effectively navigate dangerous environments and help us other environments less dangerous. It can show us when something we want to believe, or have believed in the past, is inconsistent with measurable components of our physical reality. In many cases, science is our last, best defense against wishful thinking.

Social science as a type of inquiry has changed how millions of people live. Its findings make factories, offices, and farms more efficient. Social science aids in the development, implementation, and evaluation of a wide range of business, campaign, diplomatic and military strategies. Social science has transformed how social and health-related services are delivered around the world. Today, more social scientists are using more advanced methods and instruments to study more topics than ever before – and more individuals and public and private sector entities are using social science’s information and insights to improve quality of life for many diverse populations.

Given recent trends, and the current status of social science, one would think that its future as a practice of inquiry and as a generator of significant social value is very bright. However, dark clouds loom. In the last twenty years, changes in technology and society have affected the kinds of information that people value. Some of these forces have altered the kinds of content for which individuals and organizations in the private and public sectors are willing to pay. Other forces have led people to raise new questions the veracity of scientific claims. These forces are altering relationships between social science and society.

These changes have the potential to destabilize many existing scientific institutions and practices. In the United States, for example, prominent members of Congress have questioned whether the National Science Foundation should fund certain types of social scientific research – with a few proposing that the NSF substantially cut or eliminate funding to its social, behavioral, and economic science division. Others ask why the government should support a high-priced bundle of basic and applied social science research when there are increasing numbers of alternative sources of seemingly comparable information – that is, people and organizations who, through interest-group websites, blogs, various social media venues, and the comments attached to the bottom of social science-related newspaper articles, claim to have valid and useful knowledge about the topics that social scientists study. 

If scientists and scientific organizations do not react to these changes in effective ways, they will limit the ways in which social science can improve quality of life for present and future generations. I argue that these negative consequences are serious — but they are not inevitable. This presentation lays out our challenges and then describes a plan for how to respond.

2016 Election: Implications

November 30, 2016
Yanna Krupnikov (State University of New York – Stony Brook), Andrew Martin (Dean- UM LSA), James Morrow and Mara Ostfeld

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Inglehart Event

January 11, 2017
Ron Inglehart


MLK Day Event: An Afternoon with Junot Díaz

January 18, 2017
Junot Diaz


Please join us for the Institute for Social Research MLK Lecture: “An Afternoon with Junot Díaz.” Junot Díaz is a creative writing professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fiction editor at the Boston Review, and author many acclaimed short stories and novels. His works include: “Drown” (1996) and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2007), which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and critics have named it the best novel of the 21st century to date. In 2012, Díaz published “This is How You Lose Her” and was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship. In addition to writing and teaching, Díaz is active in many community organizations like Pro-Libertad. He has been critical of United States’ policy on immigration and is currently serving as the honorary chairman of the DREAM Project. Díaz is also the co-founder of Voices of Our Nation Workshops: writing workshops of writers of color.

Pivotal Identity: How Competitive Elections Politicize Ethnicity

February 1, 2017 
Ali Valenzuela (Princeton University)


The current study advances a new theory of Latino identity politicization as a function of exposure to competitive electoral activity. using nationally representative survey data and a novel online survey experiment, the results show that Latinos exposed to a greater volume and distinct type of campaign activity in competitive elections manifest greater interest in politics, more attention to immigration reform, and more strongly politicized identity attachments than Latinos in safe elections. The experiment leverages pre-treatment exposure to competitive elections to test whether reminders of competitiveness interact with actual exposure in predictable ways, finding support for a mixed socialization and strategic identification mechanism of ethnic politicization in which competitive campaigns teach Latinos the value of their ethnic identity in politics, while perceptions of electoral influence empower them to make strategic political choices. Findings extend prior work on electoral closeness and pivotally, highlighting the importance of political geography and electoral campaigns for understanding contemporary patterns of Latino voting and identity politics in America. 

Where Do the Rich Rule? Specifying Unequal Public Influence on American Policy Adoption

February 8, 2017 
Matthew Grossmann (IPPSR – Michigan State University)


In adopting new policy, do policymakers respond only to the opinions of the richest American citizens, ignoring the rest? High-profile political science research suggests that the likelihood of U.S. national policy adoption is strongly related to the share of the richest citizens who support the policy, but—after taking the richest citizens’ opinions into account—is unrelated to the opinions of the middle class. We revisit these findings arguing that the disproportionate influence of affluent citizens is not uniform across policy proposals but is concentrated in foreign policy and in the largest proposed shifts from the status quo. Instead of archetypal inequality-increasing proposals like high-income tax cuts and deregulation, the disproportionate influence of the affluent comes primarily in extra support for consensus foreign proposals like international agreements. Instead of slowly influencing small policy changes behind the scenes, affluent preferences primarily block high-profile large policy changes. The rich do have stronger influence than the middle class on policy adoption, but they succeed mostly in supporting global engagement and avoiding large-scale shift in policy. Our data enlarge Martin Gilens’ dataset from his book Affluence and Influence, reviewing more than 1,800 policy proposals before the national government since 1981, but adding original information on the policy subtopics and ideological direction of each proposal. 

Not Fully Human: The Dehumanization of Blacks & White Support for Punitive Criminal Justice Policy

February 15, 2017 
Ashley Jardina (Duke University) Spencer Piston (Boston University)


Decades of research on race in political science has maintained the position that most white Americans no longer, by and large, believe that blacks are biologically or innately inferior. We argue that this conclusion has been too optimistic. While whites in the mass public have certainly grown reluctant to overtly express on opinion surveys the belief that blacks are innately inferior, we suggest that there is another process at play, and one in which whites fundamentally still subscribe to the notion that blacks are somehow “less than” whites. Specifically, we posit that a large percentage of whites dehumanize blacks, and they do so automatically and routinely. We develop measures of dehumanization, and with multiple original national surveys, we show that dehumanizing attitudes toward blacks are widespread among white Americans. Furthermore, we show that dehumanizing attitudes are significantly associated with support for more punitive criminal justice policies, especially when whites are told that these policies disproportionately penalize blacks. 

The Image in Our Heads: Race, Partisanship and Affective Polarization

February 22, 2017 
Nicholas Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov


Affective polarization between supporters of the two major U.S. parties has been well documented. At the same time, evidence of issue based, ideological polarization in the American electorate is, at best, contradictory. What explains growing antagonism between ordinary Democrats and Republicans? Mason argues that socio-political sorting on several dimensions including religion, class, ideology and race all combine to produce affective polarization. In essence that theory argues that the more consistent and overlapping identities, the greater the affective polarization between Democrats and Republicans. We suspect the mechanism may be more narrow: Affective polarization is driven primarily by people’s standing schemas about the racial make-up of the two parties, and their attitudes about these groups. We predict other identities, like religion, class and ideology, are either less important or are downstream consequences of this schematic overlap between race and party. To test this theory, we combine two sources of empirical evidence. First, we use time series data from the ANES to demonstrate that the effect of racially explicit attitudes—racial resentment and support for government aid to blacks—on partisan affect has grown significantly during the last few decades. Second, we develop an original measure of implicit cognitive linkages between social groups and parties based on the IAT. Using this measure in an online M-Turk survey, we find that white respondents with racialized images of the Democratic party scored significantly higher on affective polarization. Contrary to our initial expectations, however, linking religious fundamentalists to the Republican party is also a powerful independent driver of affective polarization. Our findings have important implications for the understanding the phenomenon of affective polarization and, more generally, for the study of human cognition in politics. 

The Increasingly United States: How and Why American Political Behavior Nationalized

March 8, 2017 
Dan Hopkins (University of Pennsylvania) 


Drawn from a book project, this talk will detail and then offer explanations for the extent to which contemporary American political behavior is focused on federal politics, to the exclusion of state and local politics.

The Resurgence of Women’s Protest in the United States

March 22, 2017 
Michael Heaney (University of Michigan) 


The election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States has proved to be a highly contentious decision. During the campaign, he made many statements that were offensive to women, Muslims, immigrants, and other broad social groups. In the aftermath of the election, leaders in these communities have sought to organize opposition and resistance to the policies of the Trump Administration. These efforts have manifested both as large, central demonstrations and as smaller, decentralized actions. The underlying premise of this project is that the actions of Trump and his administration have the potential to stimulate new lines of political conflict and organization in the United States. I am particularly interested in understanding who gets organized, how they organize, and to what effect. In this specific paper, I examine efforts to organize women as a broad social group in response to Trump. It does so by drawing upon surveys of activists attending counter-inaugural protests and the Women’s March on Washington in 2017 on January 20 and 21, respectively. Analysis of the data shows that there were notable similarities and differences between the activists who were mobilized using a broad frame of “resist” (at the counter-inaugural) and those mobilized using a gendered frame at the Women’s March. While the two groups were nearly identical in their ideological positions, attitudes about women in the workplace, and their race/ethnicity, women’s marchers were significantly more partisan, older, more advanced educationally, had higher incomes, and we’re more likely to be female. Moreover, women’s marchers were more likely to use gendered frames to explain their motivations for participation than were counter-inaugural protesters, other factors held constant. Interestingly, women’s marchers observed at the counter-inaugural protest used frames that were more similar to other counter-inaugural protesters than to other women’s marchers. This analysis reveals the potential to organize women as a broad social group in opposition to President Trump. The Women’s March, in particular, demonstrated the ability to systematically influence the way activists express their motivations for participation. 

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Developing Countries’ Unity in International Politics

March 29, 2017 
Tana Johnson (Duke University)and Johannes Urpelainen (Columbia University)


With the post-Cold War rise of major developing countries blurring the distinction between the indus- trialized “North” and the developing “South,” it is unclear whether a state’s development level remains a strong predictor of its stances in international politics. Observers debate whether Brazil, India, China, South Africa, and other major developing countries behave like members of the North, or the South? Having been left behind in some respects, do other parts of the global South still rally behind the major developing countries? We lay out six observable implications that should be in place if the Southern coalition is intact. Then we probe them with statistical analyses of over 3,600 paragraphs of text from states’ negotiations concerning trade and environmental policy, a policy space that facilitates generaliz- ability by representing fundamental sovereignty and wealth issues underlying North-South friction. Our finding – that overall, developing countries have maintained remarkable unity – weighs in on central debates in international relations, comparative politics, and political economy. 

Cognitive Complexity, Racial Stereotypes, and Representation

April 12, 2017 
Shana Gadarian (Maxwell School of Syracuse University)


Research examining the relationship between electoral institutions and descriptive representation proposes that district elections increase the representation of racial minorities due to geographic segregation and polarized voting by race. This paper uses two experiments and observational data to test a different mechanism – cognitive complexity. We find that voters casting ballots in cognitively simpler district elections are more likely to support black candidates than voters faced with more complicated at-large contests. When voters’ cognitive resources are taxed – by complex at-large elections or other cognitive load treatments – they are less able to overcome negative racial stereotypes and choose a candidate of color. However, when cognitive load is lower or substantive information about candidates is easily accessible, voters are less likely to rely on simple cues like racial stereotypes when choosing between candidates.

Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes about LGBT Rights

April 19, 2017 
Melissa R. Michelson (Menlo College) & Brian Harrison (Northwestern University) 


American public opinion tends to be sticky. Although the news cycle might temporarily affect the public’s mood on contentious issues like abortion, the death penalty, or gun control, public opinion toward these issues has remained remarkably constant over decades. There are notable exceptions, however, particularly with regard to divisive issues that highlight identity politics. For example, over the past three decades, public support for same-sex marriage has risen from scarcely more than a tenth to a majority of the population. Why have people’s minds changed so dramatically on this issue, and why so quickly? It wasn’t just that older, more conservative people were dying and being replaced in the population by younger, more progressive people; people were changing their minds. Was this due to the influence of elite leaders like President Obama? Or advocacy campaigns by organizations pushing for greater recognition of the equal rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) people? 

“Listen, We Need to Talk” tests a new theory, what Brian Harrison and Melissa Michelson call The Theory of Dissonant Identity Priming, about how to change people’s attitudes on controversial topics. Harrison and Michelson conducted randomized experiments all over the United States, many in partnership with equality organizations, including Equality Illinois, Georgia Equality, Lambda Legal, Equality Maryland, and Louisiana’s Capital City Alliance. They found that people are often willing to change their attitudes about LGBT rights when they find out that others with whom they share an identity (for example, as sports fans or members of a religious group) are also supporters of those rights-particularly when told about support from a leader of the group, and particularly if they find the information somewhat surprising. Through a series of engaging experiments and compelling evidence, Listen, We Need to Talk provides a blueprint for thinking about how to bring disparate groups together over contentious political issues. 

Issue Accountability in U.S. House Elections

April 26, 2017 
Ben Highton (University of California, Davis)


This paper analyzes the positions Members of Congress take on important aspects of public policy, voters’ preferences on those issues, and individual-level voting behavior in congressional elections. Four distinct types of issue accountability are theorized and evidence for one is found, but only with respect to one of the five issues examined. The central implication is that representatives appear to have a good deal of discretion to take positions – at least with respect to voters – without paying an electoral penalty. The “electoral blind spot” (Bawn et al. 2012) in congressional elections may be substantial. 

The Ideology of Affluence: How the Rich Explain Inequality, and Why It Matters

May 3, 2017 
Elizabeth Suhay (American University) 


Paper with Marko Klašnja (Georgetown University) and Gonzalo Rivero (Westat) The small percentage of people who sit atop the economic ladder in the United States control more resources than at any time in recent history and exhibit grossly disproportional political power. Yet, we know relatively little about their economic and political ideologies. In this study, we ask: what do affluent individuals believe is the cause of economic inequality, and are such factual beliefs related to their redistributive preferences? Some previous research suggests affluent individuals are more likely than others to endorse explanations for inequality that justify the status quo and, hence, government inaction – for example, arguing that inequality is located within the person (“blaming” individuals) as opposed to within the environment (“blaming” society). Americans regardless of class gravitate toward dispositional, rather than contextual, explanations for inequality. To date, no research has been able to resolve this question because the affluent represent a small and “hard to reach” population. In this paper, we examine data from an original online survey in which approximately half of respondents were drawn from the top 5% of the income/wealth distribution. We find that, on the one hand, the vast majority of Americans indeed believe their economic system to be largely meritocratic, stating that “hard work” and “intelligence” are most important to getting ahead in life. On the other hand, the affluent – particularly the top 1% – are somewhat more likely than others to endorse such beliefs and much more likely than others to say such characteristics are rooted in “nature” (i.e. people’s genes) as opposed to “nurture.” Mediation analyses suggest these genetic beliefs in particular are associated with greater economic conservatism among the affluent.