I examine how partisan cues and political elites affect the behavior of citizens. I experimentally demonstrate that partisan cues alter decision-making in political and apolitical contexts, and that average citizens evaluate the performance of their congressional representatives heuristically. This reveals the pervasive role of simple heuristics---cognitive shortcuts used to quickly make decisions---in citizen decision-making. My work shows the influence of partisan polarization across many kinds of social interactions and illuminates new challenges in democratic accountability.
How Words and Money Cultivate a Personal Vote: The Effect of Legislator Credit Claiming on Constituent Credit Allocation
American Political Science Review (November 2012)
Abstract: Particularistic spending, a large literature argues, builds support for incumbents. This literature equates the amount spent with the credit constituents allocate to legislators. Yet, constituents lack the necessary information, expertise, and motivation to allocate credit based on the amount spent in the district. Rather, we show how legislators' credit claiming efforts--and not just money spent in the district--systematically affect how constituents allocate credit. We use a massive new collection of House press releases to characterize what legislators claim credit for, use innovative experimental designs to isolate the effect of those messages, and then a robust observational design to demonstrate the far-reaching effects of those statements. Together our results have broad implications for political representation and the empirical and theoretical study of particularistic spending and its effect on U.S. Congressional elections.
Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization
American Journal of Political Science (Revise and Resubmit)
With Shanto Iyengar
Abstract: When defined in terms of social identity and affect toward copartisans and opposing partisans, the polarization of the American electorate has dramatically increased. We document the scope and consequences of affective polarization using implicit, explicit, and behavioral indicators. Our evidence demonstrates not only that hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ psyches, but also that affective polarization based on party surpasses polarization based on race and other social cleavages. We further show that party cues exert powerful effects on non-political judgments and behaviors. Partisans discriminate against opposing partisans, and do so to a degree that exceeds discrimination based on race. In concluding, we note that heightened partisan affect and the intrusion of partisan bias into non-political domains means that American parties now resemble the model of the “mass membership” party.
Selective Exposure in the Age of Social Media: Endorsements Trump Partisan
Source Affiliation when Selecting Online News Media
Communication Research (Forthcoming)
With Solomon Messing
Abstract: Much of the literature on polarization and selective exposure presumes that the internet exacerbates the fragmentation of the media and the citizenry. Yet, this ignores how the widespread use of social media changes news consumption. Social media provide readers a choice of stories from different sources that come recommended from politically heterogeneous individuals, in a context that emphasizes social value over partisan affiliation. Building on existing models of news selectivity to emphasize information utility, we hypothesize that social media’s distinctive feature, social endorsements, trigger several decision heuristics that suggest utility. In two experiments, we demonstrate that stronger social endorsements increase the probability that people select information, and that their presence reduces partisan selective exposure to levels indistinguishable from chance.