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Article

The Realignment of Class Politics and Class Voting  

Geoffrey Evans and Peter Egge Langsæther

Since the early days of the study of political behavior, class politics has been a key component. Initially researchers focused on simple manual versus nonmanual occupations and left versus right parties, and found consistent evidence of a strong effect of class on support for left-wing parties. This finding was assumed to be simply a matter of the redistributive preferences of the poor, an expression of the “democratic class struggle.” However, as the world became more complex, many established democracies developed more nuanced class structures and multidimensional party systems. How has this affected class politics? From the simple, but not deterministic pattern of left-voting workers, the early 21st century witnessed substantial realignment processes. Many remain faithful to social democratic (and to a lesser extent radical left) parties, but plenty of workers support radical right parties or have left the electoral arena entirely. To account for these changes, political scientists and sociologists have identified two mechanisms through which class voting occurs. The most frequently studied mechanism behind class voting is that classes have different attitudes, values, and ideologies, and political parties supply policies that appeal to different classes’ preferences. These ideologies are related not only to redistribution but also to newer issues such as immigration, which appear to some degree to have replaced competition over class-related inequality and the redistribution of wealth as the primary axis of class politics. A secondary mechanism is that members of different classes hold different social identities, and parties can connect to these identities by making symbolic class appeals or by descriptively representing a class. It follows that class realignment can occur either because the classes have changed their ideologies or identities, because the parties have changed their policies, class appeals, or personnel, or both. Early explanations focused on the classes themselves, arguing that they had become more similar in terms of living conditions, ideologies, and identities. However, later longitudinal studies failed to find such convergences taking place. The workers still have poorer, more uncertain, and shorter lives than their middle-class counterparts, identify more with the working class, and are more in favor of redistribution and opposed to immigration. While the classes are still distinctive, it seems that the parties have changed. Several social democratic parties have become less representative of working-class voters in terms of policies, rhetorical appeals, or the changing social composition of their activists and leaders. This representational defection is a response to the declining size of the working class, but not to the changing character or extent of class divisions in preferences. It is also connected to the exogeneous rise of new issues, on which these parties tend not to align with working-class preferences. By failing to represent the preferences or identities of many of their former core supporters, social democratic parties have initiated a supply-side driven process of realignment. This has primarily taken two forms; class–party realignments on both left and right and growing class inequalities in participation and representation.

Article

Religious Communication and Persuasion  

Benjamin R. Knoll and Cammie Jo Bolin

Religious communication affects political behavior through two primary channels: political messages coming from a religious source and religious messages coming from a political source. In terms of the first channel, political scientists have found that clergy do tend to get involved in politics, and church-goers often hear political messages over the pulpit, although not as frequently as might be expected. Sometimes these political messages are successful in swaying opinions, but not always; context matters a great deal. In terms of the second channel, politicians use religious rhetoric (“God talk”) in an attempt to increase their support and win votes. When this happens, some groups are more likely to respond than others, including political conservatives, more frequent church attenders, and racial/ethnic minorities. The scope and effectiveness of religious communication remains a field ripe for further research, especially in contexts outside of the United States.

Article

Religious Communication and the Effects of Priming  

Gwyneth McClendon

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.

Article

The Representativeness Heuristic in Political Decision Making  

Sjoerd Stolwijk

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.

Article

Satisficing in Political Decision Making  

Daniel Stevens

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.”

Article

The Search for Real-World Media Effects on Political Decision Making  

Thomas J. Leeper

Empirical media effects research involves associating two things: measures of media content or experience and measures of audience outcomes. Any quantitative evidence of correlation between media supply and audience response—combined with assumptions about temporal ordering and an absence of spuriousness—is taken as evidence of media effects. This seemingly straightforward exercise is burdened by three challenges: the measurement of the outcomes, the measurement of the media and individuals’ exposure to it, and the tools and techniques for associating the two. While measuring the outcomes potentially affected by media is in many ways trivial (surveys, election outcomes, and online behavior provide numerous measurement devices), the other two aspects of studying the effects of media present nearly insurmountable difficulties short of ambitious experimentation. Rather than find solutions to these challenges, much of collective body of media effects research has focused on the effort to develop and apply survey-based measures of individual media exposure to use as the empirical basis for studying media effects. This effort to use survey-based media exposure measures to generate causal insight has ultimately distracted from the design of both causally credible methods and thicker descriptive research on the content and experience of media. Outside the laboratory, we understand media effects too little despite this considerable effort to measure exposure through survey questionnaires. The canonical approach for assessing such effects: namely, using survey questions about individual media experiences to measure the putatively causal variable and correlating those measures with other measured outcomes suffers from substantial limitations. Experimental—and sometimes quasi-experimental—methods provide definitely superior causal inference about media effects and a uniquely fruitful path forward for insight into media and their effects. Simultaneous to this, however, thicker forms of description than what is available from close-ended survey questions holds promise to give richer understanding of changing media landscape and changing audience experiences. Better causal inference and better description are co-equal paths forward in the search for real-world media effects.

Article

Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Political Decision Making  

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.

Article

Social Capital  

Francesca Vassallo

Social capital is created by engagement in groups or associations. As a product of social involvement inside and outside of the family, people trust others more. Social commitment leads to activism while expanding social trust and cooperation for mutual benefit. Social capital develops typically through interaction that happens face-to-face, locally, and over a period of time. A large variety of measures are used to assess quantity and quality of social capital in society. The number of associations, types of groups, and intensity of membership in a club are examples of social engagement generating social capital. Scholars are also employing empirical data from longitudinal and cross-national studies. Research looks at family interactions and membership in sports clubs, environmental groups, arts associations, nonprofit organizations, volunteer networks, and a variety of other state institutions. Since the development of social media, social capital also has been measured digitally. Users in online communities show that engagement connects to political action. Although operating electronically, people can still interact socially. Online individuals can become politically involved, and new digital movements have developed from simple social interaction via Twitter. A major concern is the type of social capital generated. Some associations create bridging social capital, a version of social engagement that is inclusive and supportive of bonding across social divides. In this situation, social trust benefits the most from individuals with different backgrounds interacting in a social activity. Other organizations generate bonding social capital, which is exclusive because it focuses on a social bond among similar individuals only, at the exclusion of others. This type of social capital represents the dark side of social engagement that may undermine democracy by creating trust within groups, at the expense of society at large. Social engagement at an early age inside the family, and later in life in recreational associations, generates social capital. As a resource that can benefit all members in a network, social capital creates a community across society.

Article

Social Media Lessons on the Nature of Political Decision Making  

Douglas R. Pierce

Traditional models of political decision making tend to focus on the subject’s information levels or information-processing strategy. One of the most common conceptions of political decision making assumes that voters who are informed by a store of factually accurate policy information make more optimal decisions—that is, decisions more in line with their supposed political interests—than those who lack such information. However, this traditional view of political decision making minimizes the roles of affect and social influence on judgment. No phenomenon underscores the primary place of these constructs more so than the meteoric rise of online social media use. Indeed, scholars working at the intersection of social media use and political judgment have made important revisions to the traditional model of political decision making. Specifically, the popularity of online social networks as a tool for exchanging information, connecting with others, and displaying affective reactions to stimuli suggest that new models of competent political decision making which take into account social, affective, and cognitive elements are replacing older, information-based and rational choice models. In this essay, I review some of the pertinent literature on social media use and decision-making and argue that motivation, emotion, and social networks are key components of political judgment and are in fact more relevant to understanding political decisions than political knowledge or political sophistication. I also propose that new models of political decision-making would do well to take into account automaticity, social approval, and the role of information in both rationalizing preferences and persuading others.

Article

Social Network Influence on Political Behavior in Religious Contexts  

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).

Article

The Special Role of Religion in LGBT-Related Attitudes  

Abigail Vegter and Donald P. Haider-Markel

Religious tradition and religiosity affect attitudes toward LGBT people, their rights, and their position within religious communities. There is significant variability within the American context concerning how religious traditions approach issues related to sexuality and gender identity, with monotheistic religions holding more conservative positions. These positions and the elites who hold them often influence the attitudes of their congregants, but not always, as some congregations diverge from the official positions of their denominations in terms of attitudes toward LGBT rights, religious leadership, and congregational membership. As the religious landscape is consistently changing in terms of attitudes toward sexual minorities, understanding the special role of religion in LGBT-related attitudes remains important and an area ripe for future scholarship.

Article

The Study of Discrete Emotions in Politics  

Cigdem V. Sirin and José D. Villalobos

Numerous empirical works document that discrete emotions have substantive and differential effects on politically motivated processes and outcomes. Scholars have increasingly adopted a discrete-emotions approach across various political contexts. There are different theoretical paths for studying discrete emotions. Appraisal theories contend that cognition precedes emotion, where distinct cognitive appraisal tendencies elicit discrete emotional reactions associated with specific coping mechanisms. Affective Intelligence Theory, another dominant paradigm in the study of discrete emotions in politics, argues for affective primacy. Others are more concerned with the level of analysis issue than the emotion-cognition sequence. For instance, Intergroup Emotions Theory calls for differentiating between individual-level and group-based discrete emotions, asserting that the latter form is a stronger predictor of collective political actions. Scholars also need to consider which methodological strategies they should employ to deal with a range of issues that the study of discrete emotions brings about. For instance, one issue is how to effectively induce a specific emotional state such as hope without also triggering other related yet discrete emotions such as enthusiasm in an experimental setting. Beyond these theoretical and methodological choices, there are various opportunities to diversify the field of study. Above all, the field needs more cross-national replications and extensions of U.S.-based findings to help resolve the debate over the universality versus contextuality of discrete emotions. The field would also benefit from the study of a wider array of emotional states by expanding beyond its main focus on negative discrete emotions. Contemporary developments—such as the increasing use of social media by the public and political actors—further offer novel platforms for investigating the role of discrete emotions.

Article

Sunk Costs and Political Decision Making  

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.

Article

Support for Democracy  

Robert Mattes

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.

Article

A Survey Researcher’s Many Decisions  

Ashley Koning

Survey research is often interpreted as an exact science, but its role in assessing the social world—and its foundation in statistics—make it a methodological tool less about absolute certainty and more about estimation, choice, and trade-off. Much like any other research method, the survey process involves a number of important decisions for a researcher to make, and every decision affects not only the end result but also all of the subsequent choices along the way. Some of the most important issues that any researcher conducting a survey should consider include sampling, questionnaire design, and modality—and how these decisions, in turn, affect the thought processes and responses of survey takers. Each of these broader categories involves a multitude of choices that are dictated by research goals, as well as time and budget constraints. These aspects of the survey process have become more complex—and thus decisions have become more challenging—in the face of rapidly declining response rates and skyrocketing costs. There is no singular survey formula or path that all researchers follow; survey research is instead an accumulation of knowledge and best practices, trial and error of new techniques, and continual adaptation—all in an effort to say something with some level of statistical confidence about a particular population.

Article

Surveys and the Study of Latin American Politics  

Ryan E. Carlin

To understand Latin American politics, one must view it through the eyes and minds of Latin Americans. Since the middle of the 20th century, pollsters in academia, government, and industry have fielded public opinion surveys in an attempt to do just that. Although they are not typically considered political institutions, polls and surveys influence a variety of political processes directly and indirectly thanks to the legitimacy they enjoy among academics, policymakers, and publics. Large strides have been made toward making surveys more methodologically rigorous and toward improving the quality of survey data in the region. Scholars have leveraged the data to advance the theoretical understanding of a range of topics, especially political support, partisanship, and voting behavior. Despite these gains, public opinion surveys face clear challenges that threaten their hard-won legitimacy. To the extent that these challenges are met in the coming decades, public opinion polling’s role in shaping Latin American politics will remain, if not strengthen.

Article

Voter Behavior in Latin America  

Matthew M. Singer and Gabriela Ramalho Tafoya

Voter choices in Latin America have structural roots that are similar to what is observed in other regions, but these structures are weaker and more fluid than in more established democracies. In particular, while cleavages emerge in the average Latin American country and voters’ choices vary across demographic traits, issues, ideologies, and partisanship, these cleavages are weaker than in Western Europe and the United States. These cleavages are particularly weak in countries where parties do not take ideologically distinct positions from each other and instead emphasize clientelism, which suggests that the overall weakness of these cleavages in the hemisphere reflects the weak commitment of political parties to programmatic competition. Elections in Latin America are strongly shaped by government performance, especially economic trends, but these forms of accountability are weakened in countries where the party system makes it hard to identify the degree to which any specific party is able to dominate the policy process or where identifying a credible alternative to the incumbent is difficult. Thus, while voters are trying to use elections to hold politicians accountable and to ensure that their policy preferences are represented, the weaknesses of Latin America’s party systems often make this difficult.