Stephen Jessee: The Supreme Court and the American Public

Stephen Jessee published an Op-Ed in The New York Times based on his research measuring the ideological position of Supreme Court justices and how well the court represents the American public. Jessee argues that the court could be headed toward greater polarization and positions less reflective of the average American’s preferences. Read it here:

Religious feelings could sway the vote in 2016 election

Eric McDaniel, University of Texas at Austin

Political scientists have long noted that politics is a competition between groups with diverse and competing interests. During campaigns, candidates actively attempt to sway certain groups and vilify others in order to garner support.

In this year’s election, scholars and commentators have argued that the success of Donald Trump’s campaign is a consequence of pitting racial groups against each other. Specifically, they argue that Trump is appealing to whites who feel they are losing their influence to other racial and ethnic groups. Scholars have also noted that the election of Barack Obama may have actually increased racialized thinking among whites.

There is considerable anxiety among whites about American national identity. The growth of the Hispanic population has created questions about what it means to be an American. Further, the increasing number attacks on U.S. and European cities has heightened a sense of a domestic and international conflict with Muslims.

So, it is not surprising that since launching his campaign in June 2015, much of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric has addressed these themes. His early rhetoric focused on immigration from Mexico, but subsequently broadened to include anti-Muslim rhetoric. He speculated Syrian refugees were terrorists and asserted that Muslims celebrated the collapse of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

While racial and religious hostility has often been noted as a factor in Trump’s support, it has not necessarily been clear which of these is the most important: Is it race or religion?

My research looks at the role religious feelings are playing in this election. What I have found is that white Republican and white Democrat feelings toward Muslims is strongly associated with their candidate choice and their willingness to vote.

Here’s how I did the study

I used data from the American National Election Study (ANES) 2016 pilot to find out how group preferences were playing a role in support for Trump. The survey was conducted between Jan. 22 and 28, 2016, just before the first primary.

To demonstrate the extent to which whites prefer their racial group over Muslims, blacks and Hispanics, I used a measure referred to as polar affect. To create the measure, I individually subtracted the Muslims’, blacks’ and Hispanics’ feeling thermometer scores from the whites’ feeling thermometer scores. Because my primary concern was to see how whites perceived other racial and religious groups and how that influenced their support for candidates, this analysis is limited only to white participants.

Supporters at an election rally.
Dominick Reuter/Reuters

Negative scores indicated whites prefer the minority group over their racial group, zero indicated indifference, and positive scores indicated whites prefer their racial group over the minority group. For instance, if a respondent scores whites at 80 and Muslims at 50, she would be considered to prefer whites 30 points more than Muslims.

Here is what I found

My results show a preference among whites for their own racial group over these minority groups. What is noteworthy is that the preference was significantly higher when Muslims were the comparison group.

One reason for this could be attributed to the survey being administered six weeks after the San Bernardino terrorist attack in which 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured. However, that might not offer a full explanation – negative attitudes toward Muslims have been fairly consistent throughout this election.

These preferences were even more stark when I compared partisans: Republicans expressed the strongest preference for whites over Muslims, blacks and Hispanics, compared to independents and Democrats. These relationships held even when accounting for demographics, such as age, sex, education and income.

Preference for whites over minority groups.
2016 ANES Pilot

In a match-up between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, a strong preference for whites over Muslims was the most important relationship. This preference for whites over Muslims benefited Trump and hurt Clinton.

Clinton had a 47.7 percent chance of being chosen by whites indifferent to Muslims, Trump had only a 29.9 percent chance of being the choice. This reversed when it came to whites with a strong preference: Trump’s chances doubled, whereas Clinton’s chances dropped by half.

Democrats, with a strong preference for whites over Muslims, are less likely to choose Clinton as their presidential vote choice. These voters do not move to Donald Trump; rather, they chose a third-party candidate or abstention.

Republicans, with a strong preference for whites over Muslims, have an 84.4 percent chance of choosing Trump. Further, they have virtually no chance of abstaining.

These results reveal that a strong preference for whites over Muslims energized Republicans, but deflated Democrats.

Presidential vote choice.
2016 ANES Pilot

Is this about race or religion?

Given the association between attitudes toward Muslims and support for Donald Trump in this election, one could ask whether this is a story about religion or race.

What is important to note is while the importance of religion has decreased in other Western industrialized nations, the decline has been much slower in America. Religion remains a critical part of understanding American identity.

It is, in fact, possible that exposure to terrorist attacks and international conflicts might have increased importance of religion in America. In 1996, 50.9 percent of white Americans endorsed the idea that it was important for one to be a Christian in order to be an American. But, in 2004, 64.4 percent of Americans endorsed that criterion.

Religion is also tightly intertwined with race in America. Many of the shameful periods of American history, such as slavery and Jim Crow, were justified in religious terms.

Finally, data from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) pilot demonstrate that whites who believe they are being discriminated against are also likely to believe American Christians are being discriminated against. These results hold even when examining whites who do not identify as Christian.

All of these issues make it difficult to disentangle racial and religious attitudes.

A language of hostility?

Overt racial hostility is no longer acceptable; however, certain forms of religious hostility may be.

For example, critics of President Obama have shied away from using his race, but a significant portion of the electorate has used his religion.

The 2016 ANES Pilot found that 37.8 percent of whites believed President Obama to be a Muslim. Of those who held this belief, 71.8 percent chose Trump over Clinton.

Scholars have paid close attention to the role of racial hostility in elections. However, this election has demonstrated a need to pay closer attention to the role of religious hostility as well as how the experience influences the political and social engagement of religious minorities – irrespective of the election results.

The Conversation

Eric McDaniel, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Texas at Austin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Terry Chapman: Greece and the Politics of Lending

Terry Chapman on the LSE Blog: Greece illustrates how the politics of lending can undermine its effectiveness

Conclusion: “Our study indicates that the politics of lending can sometimes undermine its effectiveness, and this helps to explain why success is so elusive in important cases. In the Greek case, it will be difficult to rebuild the confidence of a market shaken by several failed attempts at stabilisation, and it will probably require another round of debt relief.”

Rapoport Center: Ford Foundation Grant

The Rapoport Center has launched a major five-year initiative.

“The Rapoport Center is uniquely positioned to work with and analyze the global human rights movement,” according to Texas government professor and Rapoport Center co-director Daniel Brinks. “We have established relationships with activists and academics from around the world, and with area studies centers and faculty from across the University, giving us access to every region of the world, as well as a wealth of disciplinary approaches,” says Brinks. “And we have spent the last ten years critically examining human rights work, its accomplishments and shortcomings. This work lays the foundation for the more comprehensive project that lies ahead.”

Weyland Podcast On Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift

Listen to Kurt Weyland, on the Journal of Deomcracy’s podcast, discuss his article on Latin America’s populist left and the drift toward authoritarianism:

Read the article:

Economist Features Findley Research

Mike Findley’s research has been featured by The Economist.

The subject of The Economist article is a coauthored paper published by Griffith University’s Centre for Governance and Public Policy, “Global Shell Games: Testing Money Launderers’ and Terrorist Financiers’ Access to Shell Companies.”

The paper tests the effectiveness of international rules mandating that those selling shell companies collect identity documents from their customers. The conclusion states:

“As noted at the outset, organized crime and terrorism depend on financial secrecy. Untraceable shell companies are the most important means of providing this financial secrecy. Recognizing this danger, the international community has responded by mandating that authorities must be able to look through the corporate veil to find the real individuals in control of shell companies. Yet until now, no one has known how effective these policy measures have been. Our study goes a long way to remedy this fundamental ignorance. By identifying the serious weaknesses in the existing regime we hope to provoke governments to much greater efforts in enforcing corporate transparency.”

Brownlee Awarded USIP Grant

Jason Brownlee has been awarded a grant from the United States Institute of Peace in the amount of $109,484. The grant will fund Brownlee’s project, “Preventing Inter-Communal Violence during Egypt’s Transition.” The project tests rival hypotheses of inter-communal conflict to determine whether anti-Coptic violence has originated in selective law enforcement by officials or, instead, if confessional tensions stem from a lack of crosscutting ties in civil society. Data will be collected in Cairo from major newspapers and interviews, then coded and analyzed in Austin. The dataset will help explain variations in attacks across geography and time, including the last years of Mubarak’s rule and first year after his ouster.

Brinks’ Research Cited by The Economist

The Economist discussed Dan Brinks’ research in the March 31 issue, running an article in the Free Exchange section, “The law and the poor: Courts in emerging markets are better for the poor than many assume.” The research, a World Bank Policy Research Working Paper (No. 5999), coauthored with Varun Gauri of the World Bank, presents a nuanced account of courts’ ability to benefit the poor, with results showing courts delivering pro-poor outcomes in India and South Africa, neutral outcomes in Brazil and Indonesia, and anti-poor outcomes in Nigeria.

Post Highlights Jesse’s Research

Stephen Jessee’s research was highlighted in the February 26, Outlook section of The Washington Post. The research is part of a project Jessee is working on with Stanford’s Neil Malhotra. The key aspect of the research discussed by the Post is that as a whole the Supreme Court reflects the ideological center in the United States, but this moderation is reached through offsetting extremes of individual justices much more liberal or conservative than most Americans.


Anxious Politics

By Bethany Albertson

What is the role of anxiety in contemporary political debates, like immigration, the economic crisis or the recent H1N1 scare? In studies of public opinion, emotions such as anxiety have been alternatively ignored and derided. However, current research on anxiety tends to portray it in a positive light: anxiety makes people seek out information and anxious citizens are more likely to base their political decisions on new information rather than standing decisions such as partisanship. Given that the average American citizen has little factual knowledge about politics, the idea that anxiety shakes us up and causes us to learn suggests that anxiety is beneficial.

My co-author, Shana Gadarian, and I started doing research in this area because we could not square these positive implications of anxiety with the way it seems to work in political debates. Politicians sometimes try to make people anxious, and we had trouble believing that their goal was to create an informed citizenry – we assumed that they were trying to win votes, suggesting a persuasive aspect to anxiety that hadn’t been studied before. We also read work in psychology arguing that anxiety causes people to pay attention to threat. We hypothesized that anxiety causes people to learn, but that it causes people to learn in a biased way, paying more attention to threatening information.

So far, we’ve studied these ideas in three substan- tive areas: immigration, the economic crisis, and the H1N1 scare. Our typical study is an experiment that participants take on their home computer. For example, in our first immigration study we asked half of the participants in the study to list their thoughts about immigration and we asked the other half to list their worries. The goal is to induce anxiety in half the population in a fairly unobtrusive way. After listing worries or thoughts, we ask them to take some time to read some stories. They see a list of article head- lines; some are about immigration and some aren’t, and, among the immigration headlines, some are threatening and some are not. Some participants read all of the stories (six total), some read none, but most read about three.

Our study records which stories each participant looks at, and, based on the data, we know that anxious participants (those that listed worries) are more likely to look at threatening information than the non-anxious participants (those that listed their thoughts). They’re also more likely to remember threatening information and more likely to agree with it. In our work, anxiety caused people to learn, but their learning was directed at threatening information. This makes sense given politicians’ use of fear as a rhetorical strategy. In a later study, we used campaign ads to induce anxiety about immigration and had similar findings.

Our most recent study has been on the H1N1 flu. Public health campaigns sometimes consciously try to scare us into healthier behavior and sometimes tone down the threatening aspects of their message. We were interested in the effect of anxiety on learning and on trust in various government groups. Our findings on learning were mixed: politically moderate students who were anxious about H1N1 paid more attention to threatening information, while liberals and conservatives re- sisted the bias. However, anxious students, regard- less of ideology, reported higher levels of trust in governmental organizations such as the CDC, Health and Human Services, and the FDA to provide information about H1N1.

Our next set of studies will look at anxiety and public health campaigns in two different political contexts: the U.S. and South Africa. South Africa is facing a HIV/AIDS crisis, and we’re curious to see how anxiety about health plays out there.

Bethany Albertson is assistant professor of government. Her primary research interest is political psychology. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago and is currently at work on a book about the role of anxiety in contemporary political debates.