(Political Behavior, 2019; Received APSA 2018 John Sullivan Award)
Worries about the instability of political attitudes and lack of ideological constraint among the public are often pacified by the assumption that individuals have stable political values. These political values are assumed to help individuals filter political information and thus both minimize outside influence and guide people through complex political environments. This perspective, though, assumes that political values are stable and consistent across contexts. This piece questions that assumption and argues that political values are socially reinforced—that is, that political values are not internal predispositions, but the result of social influence. I consider this idea with two empirical tests: an experimental test that recreates the transmission of political values and an observational analysis of the effect of politically homogeneous social contexts on political value endorsements. Results suggest that political values are socially reinforced. The broader implication of my findings is that the concepts scholars term “political values” may be reflections of individuals’ social contexts rather than values governing political behavior. Read Paper
Today’s political climate is charged with intense affective polarization that seems to have little root in issue polarization among the public. I argue that this difference between affective and issue polarization exists because of social pressure—today’s strong culture of political polarization acts as a social norm, driving those especially attuned to social messages to report polarization without actually being polarized on issues. This suggests that at least part of our empirical findings on affective polarization are driven by social pressure—or an acquiescence to a norm of polarization. My argument is tested with both observational and experimental data: a set of analyses of 2008 American National Election Studies (ANES) data and two survey experiments with samples from Survey Sampling International (SSI) and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (Mturk). Findings indeed suggest that we have been overestimating the levels of affective polarization among the public. Further, they imply a “snowball effect” of political climates—a culture of polarization, for example, will produce more polarization.
Politicians often use value rhetoric to win an election or to persuade constituents towards a policy position, but the effectiveness of this rhetoric—specifically in regard to political values—is unclear. I argue that politicians are constrained in their use of political value rhetoric by both partisan and social forces, and that this constraint is conditional based on the recipient’s partisanship, the politician’s partisanship, the social context, and the value evoked. I make this case by first demonstrating that political values are party-owned—I conduct a content analysis of Senate and House races and then conduct two surveys (one with a sample from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and the other with a sample from Qualtrics). I then show through two survey experiments with two samples recruited from Survey Sampling International (SSI) that candidates are indeed disproportionately punished based on the recipient’s partisanship, the politician’s partisanship, the social context, and the value evoked. Findings suggest that while perhaps some value rhetoric is universally effective, political value rhetoric is not—and this is due to party ownership of political values.