Dissertation

Committee members:

Dissertation Papers:

(Revise and Resubmit, Political Behavior; 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 independent of social context. 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 attempting to recreate the transmission of political values and an observational analysis of the effect of politically homogeneous social networks on political value endorsements. Results suggest that, indeed, political values are socially reinforced. Findings imply the need to reevaluate our current conception of political values and the strength of social influence in politics.

Partisan polarization is a growing concern in American democracy. This piece pits social versus elite forces in determining the source of partisan polarization. Using observational data on social networks, I find that the media’s role in issue polarization pales in comparison to the effect of everyday social interactions. Both homogeneous social networks and political discussions with family and friends are much more likely to affect issue polarization than exposure to even the most partisan media and news coverage. Further, I find that social influence is strongest for those who care least about reputation management (i.e., low self-monitors). While high self-monitors do not tow the party line because it is socially undesirable to do so, low self-monitors use political discussions as a way to efficiently follow politics. In caring less about self-image, they use a non-ideal—yet an efficient—method of making political decisions: following their co-partisans. Findings imply the strength of social influence in political polarization, as well as the motivation behind this effect.

Politicians often use value rhetoric—either to win an election or to persuade constituents towards a policy position. Relying on a series of experiments with national samples, in this piece I show three important findings in regards to political value rhetoric. First, I find that political values are party-owned. Next, I show that people punish politicians who rely on values that aren’t associated with their party. Lastly, I find that people are especially likely to punish candidates for breaking with a party’s values when they are informed that a candidate has, indeed, abandoned a party’s values. This piece uses campaign rhetoric to reinforce the idea that political values are a function of social influence, rather than stable forces guiding people’s political predispositions. Further, it indicates nuances in the effects of political value rhetoric on voter evaluations.