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. My experimental work is both inspired by and contextualized with large-scale computational text analysis.

Publications

How Words and Money Cultivate a Personal Vote: The Effect of Legislator Credit Claiming on Constituent Credit Allocation

American Political Science Review (November 2012)

With Justin Grimmer and Solomon Messing

Abstract and paper...

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.

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Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines:  New Evidence on Group Polarization

American Journal of Political Science (Forthcoming)

With Shanto Iyengar

Abstract and paper...

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 of partisans using implicit, explicit and behavioral indicators. Our evidence demonstrates that hostile feelings for the opposing party are ingrained or automatic in voters’ minds, and that affective polarization based on party is just as strong as polarization based on race. 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. We note that the willingness of partisans to display open animus for opposing partisans can be attributed to the absence of norms governing the expression of negative sentiment and that increased partisan affect provides an incentive for elites to engage in confrontation rather than cooperation.

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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 and paper...

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.

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The Role of Persuasion in Deliberative Opinion Change

Political Communication (Revise and Resubmit)

Abstract and paper...

Abstract: How does discussion lead to opinion change during deliberation? I formulate and test hypotheses based on theories of persuasion, and examine them against traditionally accepted sources of deliberative opinion change (knowledge gain and extremity from group attitudes). Through detailed analysis of a nationally representative deliberative event I create a full discussion network for each small group that deliberated by recording who said what, the argument quality for what was said and to whom it was directed. I find that well-justified arguments made in the context of direct engagement between peers are a consistent predictor of opinion change. Individual-level persuasion, not knowledge-driven refinement or extremity, drives most opinion change. These results show that further deliberative research needs to account for persuasion when explaining deliberative opinion change.

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