Ferdinand M. Vieider and Barbara Vis
Prospect theory—a psychologically founded account of decision making under risk and uncertainty—revolutionized how economists and, later, political scientists thought about decision making under uncertainty. Conceptually, prospect theory is based on two central notions: reference dependence, which is the notion that the utility of outcomes is defined over changes in outcomes from a reference point instead of over absolute outcome levels; and likelihood dependence, which is the notion that people distort probabilities non-linearly when making a decision. Likelihood dependence gives rise to the possibility and certainty effects—changes in probabilities are given much more weight if they fall toward the probability endpoints than if they fall into intermediate probability ranges. Reference dependence gives rise to the reflection effect, predicting mirrored risk attitudes for gains and for losses; and to loss aversion, predicting that people display a disproportionate dislike for losses.
Mathew V. Hibbing, Melissa N. Baker, and Kathryn A. Herzog
Since the early 2010s, political science has seen a rise in the use of physiological measures in order to inform theories about decision-making in politics. A commonly used physiological measure is skin conductance (electrodermal activity). Skin conductance measures the changes in levels of sweat in the eccrine glands, usually on the fingertips, in order to help inform how the body responds to stimuli. These changes result from the sympathetic nervous system (popularly known as the fight or flight system) responding to external stimuli. Due to the nature of physiological responses, skin conductance is especially useful when researchers hope to have good temporal resolution and make causal claims about a type of stimulus eliciting physiological arousal in individuals. Researchers interested in areas that involve emotion or general affect (e.g., campaign messages, political communication and advertising, information processing, and general political psychology) may be especially interested in integrating skin conductance into their methodological toolbox. Skin conductance is a particularly useful tool since its implicit and unconscious nature means that it avoids some of the pitfalls that can accompany self-report measures (e.g., social desirability bias and inability to accurately remember and report emotions). Future decision-making research will benefit from pairing traditional self-report measures with physiological measures such as skin conductance.
Steven R. Brown
Q methodology was introduced in 1935 and has evolved to become the most elaborate philosophical, conceptual, and technical means for the systematic study of subjectivity across an increasing array of human activities, most recently including decision making. Subjectivity is an inescapable dimension of all decision making since we all have thoughts, perspectives, and preferences concerning the wide range of matters that come to our attention and that enter into consideration when choices have to be made among options, and Q methodology provides procedures and a rationale for clarifying and examining the various viewpoints at issue. The application of Q methodology commonly begins by accumulating the various comments in circulation concerning a topic and then reducing them to a smaller set for administration to select participants, who then typically rank the statements in the Q sample from agree to disagree in the form of a Q sort. Q sorts are then correlated and factor analyzed, giving rise to a typology of persons who have ordered the statements in similar ways. As an illustration, Q methodology was administered to a diverse set of stakeholders concerned with the problems associated with the conservation and control of large carnivores in the Northern Rockies. Participants nominated a variety of possible solutions that each person then Q sorted from those solutions judged most effective to those judged most ineffective, the factor analysis of which revealed four separate perspectives that are compared and contrasted. A second study demonstrates how Q methodology can be applied to the examination of single cases by focusing on two members of a group contemplating how they might alter the governing structures and culture of their organization. The results are used to illustrate the quantum character of subjective behavior as well as the laws of subjectivity. Discussion focuses on the broader role of decisions in the social order.
Ashley Jardina and Spencer Piston
A great deal of work in the domain of race and politics has focused on two phenomena: racial prejudice and racial solidarity. Scholarship on racial prejudice has primarily examined the nature and consequences of white racial animus, particularly toward blacks. In the latter half of the 20th century, in the post-Civil Rights era, scholars argued that racial prejudice had been transformed, as most whites rejected the belief that there were innate, biological differences between racial groups. Instead, whites came to embrace the belief that blacks did not subscribe to particular cultural values associated with the protestant work ethic. While these attitudes profoundly shape public opinion and political behavior in the United States, we suspect that there has been a resurgence in the belief that consequential biological differences between racial groups exist, and that biological racism is a growing force in American politics. Most of the development of work on racial consciousness has examined the effects of racial solidarity among racial and ethnic minorities on public opinion. Individuals’ psychological attachments to their racial group are an important element in American politics, and their importance may increase as the country becomes more racially and ethnically diverse.
Ray Block Jr.
Simply defined, stereotypes are commonly-held beliefs about groups of people. Racial stereotypes are the widely shared perceptions that people have about certain social groups and the individuals who are members of those groups. To understand the large and growing literature on racial stereotypes, it is useful to organize this body of research by whether stereotypes are being explored as dependent variables or as independent variables. When the focus is on dependent variables, scholars investigate why racial stereotypes exist and how they work. Conversely, the work on stereotypes as independent variables emphasizes their influence on both attitudinal and behavioral outcomes. Special attention should also be paid to the stereotypes that are often applied to people who exist at the intersections of multiple racial, ethnic, gender, and sexuality groups (for example, those attributed female and non-binary persons of color).
Despite predictions that urbanization, economic development and globalization would lead to the recession of religion from public life, populations around the world continue to be highly religious. This pattern holds in most parts of the Global South and also in some advanced industrial democracies in the North, including in the United States. In grappling with the influence (or lack thereof) of religion on political life, a growing body of literature pays attention to how clergy–congregant communication might shape listeners’ political attitudes and behaviors. Considerable debate remains as to whether clergy–congregant communication is likely to change political attitudes and behavior, but there is a greater consensus around the idea that exposure to religious communication can at the very least prime (that is, increase the salience of) certain considerations that in turn affect how people evaluate political issues and whether they participate in politics. Religious communication is more likely to exert a persuasive and a priming influence among those already inclined to select into the communication and when the source of the communication is credible. More research is needed on the duration of religious primes and on the effects of religious communication in different political and social contexts around the world.
The representativeness heuristic was defined by Kahneman and Tversky as a decision-making shortcut in which people judge probabilities “by the degree to which A is representative of B, that is, by the degree to which A resembles B.” People who use this cognitive shortcut bypass more detailed processing of the likelihood of the event in question but instead focus on what (stereotypic) category it appears to fit and the associations they have about that category. Simply put: If it looks like a duck, it probably is a duck. The representativeness heuristic usually works well and provides valid inferences about likelihood. This is why political scientists saw it as an important part of a solution to an enduring problem in their field: How can people make political decisions when so many studies show they lack even basic knowledge about politics? According to these scholars, voters do not need to be aware of all actions and opinions of a political candidate running for office. To make up their mind on who to vote for, they can rely on cues that represent the performance and issue position of candidates, such as the party they are affiliated with, their ranking in the polls, and whether (for instance) they act/appear presidential. In other words, they need to answer the question: Does this candidate fit my image of a successful president? The resulting low-information rationality provides voters with much confidence in their voting decision, even though they do not know all the details about the history of each candidate. Using heuristics allows relatively uninformed citizens to act as if they were fully informed.
Despite this optimistic view of heuristics at their introduction to the discipline, they originated from research showing how heuristic use is accompanied by systematic error. Tversky and Kahneman argue that using the representativeness heuristic leads to an overreliance on similarity to a category and a neglect of prior probability, sample size, and the reliability and validity of the available cue. Kuklinsky and Quirk first warned about the potential effect of these biases in the context of political decision-making. Current research often examines the effects of specific cues/stereotypes, like party, gender, race, class, or more context-specific heuristics like the deservingness heuristic. Another strand of research has started exploring the effect of the representativeness heuristic on decision-making by political elites, rather than voters. Future studies can integrate these findings to work toward a fuller understanding of the effects of the representativeness heuristic in political decision-making, more closely consider individual differences and the effects of different contexts, and map the consequences that related systematic biases might have.
Role theory first emerged as an approach to the study of foreign policy with the seminal work of Holsti, who argued that decision makers’ conceptions of their state’s role on the world stage influenced that state’s foreign policy behavior. Holsti’s approach was ahead of its time. The potential of role theory to contribute to the agent-structure debate has not always been appreciated. In fact, early research employing role theory often maintained a close connection to structural theories of international relations, especially among U.S.-based scholars.
In the last decade or so, there has been a renewed interest in role theory that differs from earlier work in that it more clearly connects with psychological approaches to foreign policy analysis. It also takes more seriously the domestic sources of role theory through inquiry into horizontal and vertical role contestation. Much of this new work intersects with constructivism, although it remains grounded in empiricism.
As foreign policy analysis increasingly seeks to understand the foreign policies of a broader array of states—including smaller states that face significant constraints on their ability to act in the international arena—role theory provides an attractive framework. Its focus on decision makers’ conceptions of their state’s role in international politics enhances the ability to make sense of the foreign policies of a wider array of states in the global arena. In essence, role theory allows foreign policy analysis to move beyond a U.S.-centric or global-north-centric field to become more broadly comparative.
The idea of satisficing as a decision rule began with Herbert Simon. Simon was dissatisfied with the increasingly dominant notion of individuals as rational decision-makers who choose alternatives that maximize expected utility on two grounds. First, he viewed the maximizing account of decision-making as unrealistic given that individuals have cognitive limitations and varying motivations that limit cognitive ability and effort. Second, he argued that individuals do not even choose alternatives as if they are maximizing (i.e., that the maximizing account has predictive validity). Instead, he offered a theory of individuals as satisficers: decision-makers who consider a limited number of alternatives, expending limited cognitive effort, until they find one that is “good enough.” At this point, he argued, the consideration of alternatives stops.
The satisficing decision rule has influenced several subfields of political science. They include elite decision-making on military conflicts, the economy, and public policy; ideas of what the mass public needs to know about politics and the extent to which deficits in political knowledge are consequential; and understanding of survey responses and survey design. Political and social psychologists have also taken Simon’s idea and argued that satisficing rather than maximizing is a personality trait—stable characteristics of individuals that make them predisposed toward one or other type of alternative search when making decisions. Research in these subfields additionally raises normative questions about the extent to which satisficing is not only a common way of making decisions but a desirable one. Satisficing seems superior to maximizing in several respects. For example, it has positive effects on aspects of decision-makers’ well-being and is more likely to result in individuals voting their interests in elections.
There are, however, a number of directions in which future research on satisficing could be taken forward. These include a fuller incorporation of the interaction of affect and cognition, clearer tests of alternative explanations to satisficing, and more focus and understanding on the effects of the Internet and the “information age.”
The boundary between the religious and the secular spheres of life is contested in many parts of the world. From the latter decades of the 20th century, controversies over issues such as the legalization of same-sex marriage, assisted dying, and freedom of speech, as well as clashes around reproductive rights and equality issues, have all featured highly on national political agendas. Set against a backdrop of the “return of religion” to public life, these debates and tensions have given rise to the notion that secularism might be in a state of crisis or moving toward some form of post-secular condition. The term “secularism” is itself also contested. The precise nature of the “secular” and the “religious” spheres of life is subject to interpretation, and secularism in practice can be manifest in a number of ways. This ranges from exclusivist forms of secularism in countries such as the United States and France to inclusive secularism in the case of India. Supporters of a role for religion in public life maintain that religion provides a range of valuable public goods and gives individuals a sense of meaning and identity. Secularists, on the other hand, claim that the separation of church and state provides the best framework for upholding the rights and freedoms of all citizens regardless of their religion or belief.
Ewa A. Golebiowska
Public opinion on LGBT Americans’ rights has become more supportive of equal treatment over time. The movement toward greater egalitarianism has been particularly pronounced on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and gay adoption. Today, the general public is overwhelmingly supportive of laws to protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, the right of gay and lesbian couples to adopt children, and legal recognition of same-sex marriages. It is also overwhelmingly supportive of legal protections for gay and lesbian employees, although we do not know whether abstract support for equality in the workplace translates into support for the hiring of gays and lesbians in all occupations. Yet, many questions concerning LGBT Americans’ rights remain controversial. The general public is especially polarized on the questions of whether transgender individuals should be able to use the bathrooms of the gender with which they identify and whether business owners in the wedding services industry can discriminate against same-sex couples on religious grounds.
Systematic research on political attitudes of LGBT individuals using probability samples is practically nonexistent, although there are many studies of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals’ attitudes, identities, and behavior that use convenience samples. The existing studies demonstrate that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals tend to identify as ideologically liberal and favor the Democratic Party in their affinities and votes. LGBT Americans are far more supportive of equality in all issue domains although bisexuals—compared to lesbians and gay men—are more lukewarm in their embrace of equality on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Scholarship on LGBT Americans in public opinion has primarily explored attitudes toward gays and lesbians and has tended to focus on attitudes toward same-sex marriage and adoption. It examines psychological, political, and demographic correlates of public opinion regarding LGBT individuals and explores links between interpersonal contact with LGBT individuals and attitudes toward them. Generally speaking, moral traditionalism, gender role conceptions, and attributions for the existence of homosexuality are especially important psychological predictors of attitudes toward sexual and gender identity minorities. Partisan and ideological identities play an important role too as do cues from ideologically compatible political elites. Of the several demographic attributes that researchers have included in their models, religion-related variables stand out for their predictive prowess. Finally, interpersonal contact with sexual and gender minorities, as well as community exposure to LGBT individuals, is associated with more favorable views toward them.
Another yardstick by which commitment to equal treatment for LGBT Americans could be measured is whether and how sexual orientation and gender identity influence political fortunes of candidates for electoral office. Scholarship to date suggests that sexual orientation and gender identity function as important heuristics that influence voters’ thinking about LGBT candidacies. Some scholarship mines survey questions that inquire about respondents’ willingness to support hypothetical LGBT candidates for office. Others use experimental design to isolate the influences of sexual orientation and gender identity on political evaluation. Altogether, these studies demonstrate that LGBT individuals do not face a level playing field when they launch campaigns for office.
Deborah Welch Larson
Social identity theory (SIT) from social psychology provides a means to explore the influence of identity and status concerns on foreign policy. The theory argues that groups are motivated to achieve a positively distinctive identity. Groups compare themselves to a similar but slightly higher reference group. Inferiority on important dimensions may lead to the adoption of an identity management strategy: social mobility (emulating the higher-status group to gain admission), social competition (striving to equal or surpass the dominant group), or social creativity (revaluing an ostensibly negative characteristic as positive or identifying an alternative dimension on which the group is superior).
Applied to international relations, states may pursue social mobility by emulating the values and practices of higher-status states in order to be admitted to a higher standing, much as Eastern Europe did in seeking admission into the European Union after the end of the Cold War. If elite groups are impermeable to new members, and the status hierarchy is perceived to be unstable or illegitimate, aspiring powers may engage in social competition, which usually entails territorial conquest and military displays. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to catch up with and surpass the capitalist states. If elite clubs are not permeable, but the status hierarchy is stable, states may seek status through social creativity—either reframing a negative trait as positive or seeking preeminence in a domain apart from geopolitical competition. Social creativity may entail creating new international institutions, promoting new norms, or engaging in major diplomatic initiatives in order to increase the state’s prestige.
Research applying SIT to international relations has addressed the question of whether anarchy necessarily leads to conflict between states, the diffusion of values, the selection of an identity discourse on the domestic level, and state efforts at moral leadership.
Critics have charged that SIT does not clearly predict which identity management strategy will be chosen in a given situation. From a realist perspective, the selection of a strategy for enhancing a state’s status is constrained by geographic position, size, and natural endowments. But this argument does not take into consideration the availability of social mobility and social creativity as ways to achieve status that do not depend on relative military power.
Christina Ladam, Ian Shapiro, and Anand Sokhey
As the most common form of voluntary association in America, houses of worship remain an unquestionably critical component of American civil society. Major approaches to studying religion and politics in the United States are described, and the authors present an argument for focusing more attention on the organizational experience provided by religious contexts: studying how individuals’ social networks intersect with their associational involvements (i.e., studying religion from a “interpersonal” perspective) may actually shed new light on intrapersonal, psychological constructs like identity and religiosity.
Evidence is presented from two nationally representative data sets that suggests considerable variance in the degree to which individuals’ core social networks overlap with their houses of worship. This variance exists within and between individuals identifying with major religious traditions, and such networks are not characterized solely by agreement (as theories of self-selection might suggest).
Angela L. Bos, Heather Madonia, and Monica C. Schneider
Stereotypes are a set of beliefs a person holds about the personal attributes of a group of people. The beliefs are commonly held and understood, which allows people to use them as automatic shortcuts when making evaluations and decisions. Because the beliefs are so broadly understood and easily accessible, they can subconsciously influence opinion formation. In the realm of politics, citizens may use stereotypes to guide evaluations of candidates from stereotyped groups (such as African Americans or women) or as they formulate opinions about a policy that may have a particular group as its perceived beneficiary.
Because many commonly held stereotypes—such as that African Americans are lazy or violent—are not socially desirable, they pose a challenge to researchers attempting to measure them effectively. Thus, as social scientists examine the effects of stereotypes on citizen decision-making, it is important that they carefully consider how to best measure stereotypes. The goal should be to create reliable (consistent) and valid (accurate) measures that minimize social desirability in responses. Measures should reflect clear understanding of the content of the stereotype under examination and incorporate a full range of content to reflect it. One part of understanding the content of a stereotype is considering whether the group under examination is a subtype or subgroup of a larger stereotype category. For example, female politicians as a group constitute a subtype of the larger stereotyped group, women, where female politicians share little overlap in terms of stereotype content with women. Similarly, Black politicians are a subtype of Blacks, sharing little stereotype content. Male politicians, in contrast, form a subgroup of men, where they share many characteristics with the larger group, men. Stereotype content has implications for the link between stereotypes and evaluations of political actors or public policies. The ability to accurately measure stereotypes is a necessary step in understanding when and how people use stereotypes to navigate the political arena.
The intersection of two stereotypes is another important consideration, particularly since the combination of two stereotypes may be more than the sum of its parts. When researchers consider the content of stereotypes, the relationship between one stereotype to others (e.g., subtypes or subgroups), and the intersection of stereotypes, they can create improved measures of stereotypes that optimize reliability and validity.
A variety of explicit and implicit measures exist for researchers to consider, including explicit measures, such as semantic differential scales and open- and closed-ended identification of stereotype content, and implicit measures, such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT) and affective attitude measures. Two-step measures can be used to examine stereotype activation and application. While each of these measures has strengths and weaknesses, all are designed to help researchers better measure stereotypes en route to understanding how stereotypes influence peoples’ attitudes and behaviors. Reliable and valid measures of stereotypes—both implicit and explicit—can help us create more accurate understandings of the political world.
Stereotypes are overgeneralized, often inaccurate, characterizations of a group and its members. Because stereotypes rely on heuristics, they can occur unconsciously and shape behavior in multiple ways. People may stereotype in order to quickly characterize a person or a group of people, or they may be motivated to deliberately stereotype in order to maintain their own self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Stereotypes can undermine many facets of our behavior and beliefs, including how we make political decisions. For example, people who stereotype women as being nurturing and in need of protection may be less inclined to vote for a women running for a leadership position. Because stereotypes are so pervasive and learned early, they can be particularly difficult to reduce or eliminate, and people will often look for evidence to support their attitudes rather than actively challenging the stereotype. However, stereotype reduction is possible and can be done both consciously and unconsciously.
Damien Bol and Tom Verthé
People do not always vote for the party that they like the most. Sometimes, they choose to vote for another one because they want to maximize their influence on the outcome of the election. This behavior driven by strategic considerations is often labeled as “strategic voting.” It is opposed to “sincere voting,” which refers to the act of voting for one’s favorite party.
Strategic voting can take different forms. It can consist in deserting a small party for a bigger one that has more chances of forming the government, or to the contrary, deserting a big party for a smaller one in order to send a signal to the political class. More importantly the strategies employed by voters differ across electoral systems. The presence of frequent government coalitions in proportional representation systems gives different opportunities, or ways, for people to influence the electoral outcome with their vote. In total, the literature identifies four main forms of strategic voting. Some of them are specific to some electoral systems; others apply to all.
Wouter van Atteveldt, Kasper Welbers, and Mariken van der Velden
Analyzing political text can answer many pressing questions in political science, from understanding political ideology to mapping the effects of censorship in authoritarian states. This makes the study of political text and speech an important part of the political science methodological toolbox. The confluence of increasing availability of large digital text collections, plentiful computational power, and methodological innovations has led to many researchers adopting techniques of automatic text analysis for coding and analyzing textual data. In what is sometimes termed the “text as data” approach, texts are converted to a numerical representation, and various techniques such as dictionary analysis, automatic scaling, topic modeling, and machine learning are used to find patterns in and test hypotheses on these data.
These methods all make certain assumptions and need to be validated to assess their fitness for any particular task and domain.
Charles A. Miller
The “sunk costs fallacy” is a popular import into political science from organizational psychology and behavioral economics. The fallacy is classically defined as a situation in which decision-makers escalate commitment to an apparently failing project in order to “recoup” the costs they have already sunk into it. The phenomenon is often framed as a good example of how real decision-making departs from the assumption of forward-looking rationality which underpins traditional approaches to understanding politics. Researchers have proposed a number of different psychological drivers for the fallacy, such as cognitive dissonance reduction, and there is experimental and observational evidence that it accurately characterizes decision-making in certain contexts. However, there is significant skepticism about the fallacy in many social sciences, with critics arguing that there are better forward-looking rational explanations for decisions apparently driven by a desire to recoup sunk costs – among them reputational concerns, option values and agency problems. Critics have also noted that in practical situations sunk costs are informative both about decision makers’ intrinsic valuation for the issue and the prospects for success, making it hard to discern a separate role for sunk costs empirically. To address these concerns, empirical researchers have employed a number of strategies, especially leveraging natural experiments in certain non-political decision making contexts such as sports or business, in order to isolate the effects of sunk costs per se from other considerations. In doing so, they have found mixed support for the fallacy. Research has also shown that the prevalence of the sunk costs fallacy may be moderated by a number of factors, including the locus of decision-making, framing, and national context. These provide the basis for suggestions for future research.
With the worldwide wave of democratization, scholars interested in the preservation of the new democracies dusted off old theories of regime maintenance. While commonly sharing the assumption that democracy requires democrats, researchers proceeded in different directions, depending on their image of the ideal democrat. Today, we know a great deal about who supports democracy, and why. However, the state of our knowledge is incomplete at the point where it matters the most. As might be expected in any emerging area of research, different sets of scholars based their research instruments on contrasting understandings of what it means to be a democrat, and how democrats are best identified and measured. More importantly, they proceeded from differing understandings and underspecified theories as to why democrats are important, how many are needed, and how they actually affect the level and stability of democracy. Thus, while the intuition that democracy requires democrats is strong, the actual state of the evidence is still mixed, at best.
Stuart J. Kaufman
The symbolic politics theory of ethnic war starts from the insight that most political behavior is not rational but intuitive, driven by “symbolic predispositions” such as ideological beliefs, normative values, and prejudice. The way leaders lead is by using rhetoric not to appeal rationally to followers’ interests but to appeal emotionally to their symbolic predispositions.
According to symbolic politics theory, the path to ethnic conflict begins with group narratives that are hostile to another group. These narratives help to generate hostile and prejudiced symbolic predispositions. If group members perceive a social threat, such as to their group identity or status, they become more likely to join mass movements agitating for a politics of redistribution—discriminating in favor of their own group at the expense of rival groups. If people feel physically threatened, they become more likely to support a politics of protection leading to violent ethnic conflict. These popular attitudes and moods are turned into social movements or military mobilization if aggressive leaders emerge, framing political issues in terms of these threats, and if those leaders are both credible and supported by effective organizations. A series of case studies has demonstrated that this process—from narratives to prejudice and threat perceptions, harnessed by leadership and organization—is what occurred in ten ethnic civil wars, including the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Israel-Palestine, and the Philippines. The theory also explains less violent cases such as Gandhi’s nationalist movement in India.
This theory is hypothesized to apply to international war, as the politics of national identity is similar to the politics of ethnic identity. The theory also suggests a way of reconciling realist, liberal, and constructivist accounts of international relations through political psychology and a scientific realist ontology.