“How Partisans Choose When to Follow Politics and Its Implication for Polarization” with Jin Woo Kim (Under Review)
Partisan selective exposure is a familiar culprit of mass polarization. Yet previous studies using behavioral measures of media consumption show limited evidence of ideologically skewed media diets. Why do partisans have polarized perceptions even when their media diets are relatively balanced? We suggest that alternative conceptualization of selective exposure can shed light on this puzzle: Partisans select when to pay attention to politics, instead of which ideological sources to follow. We find that partisans modify their political attentiveness in response to whether the flow of information is congenial to their party over the past six decades. We find the same pattern exploiting a dramatic change in the news environment induced by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Using a simulation approach, we demonstrate that choosing when to tune out the news can lead partisans to polarize over time even if they share the same media diet.
— Presented at APSA 2017, ICA 2018
— Top Paper Award from International Communication Association's Political Communication Division
Americans have long believed in upward economic mobility and the narrative of the American Dream. Even in the face of rising income inequality, and substantial empirical evidence that economic mobility has declined in recent decades, most Americans remain convinced in the prospects for upward mobility. What explains this disconnect? I argue that Americans’ media diets play an important role in explaining this puzzle. Specifically, contemporary Americans are watching a record number of entertainment TV programs emphasizing “rags-to-riches” narratives. Using detailed Nielsen ratings data and original content analyses, I demonstrate that such shows have become a ubiquitous part of the American media landscape over the last two decades. In three national surveys—one original, two nationally representative—I find that exposure to these programs increases viewers’ beliefs in the American Dream; for heavy viewers, this effect is as powerful as that of having immigrant parents. Experiments conducted both online and in a lab-in-the-field setting establish that these media effects are causal, and stronger among Republicans. My results underscore the long overdue need to expand the scope of political communication research in a high choice media environment. To the extent that belief in economic mobility can legitimize income inequality, my findings also have implications for the study of redistributive democracy and American public opinion more generally.
— University-wide winner, 2018 GAPSA-Provost Fellowship Award for Interdisciplinary Innovation ($6,000)
— Featured in Philadelphia Inquirer
“The Racialization of International Trade” with Diana C. Mutz and Edward Mansfield (Under Review)
Despite their less vulnerable economic status, white Americans’ attitudes toward overseas trade have become more protectionist than those of economically disadvantaged minorities. We hypothesize that this pattern is due to four well-documented differences in the psychological attitudes of whites and low-status minorities in the US. These include lower levels of racial prejudice, social dominance, and nationalism among minorities, as well as rising ingroup racial consciousness among whites. Each of these characteristics has been independently linked to trade support in a direction encouraging greater support for trade among low-status minorities. We examine the extent to which attitudes toward trade have become “racialized.” First, we examine the extent to which a person’s racial identity is associated with levels of trade support. Second, we examine whether the predominant race and ethnicity of a potential trading partner country influences Americans’ willingness to trade with that country. Using various surveys and multiple experiments conducted over the past twelve years, we find that white Americans are more likely than minorities to favor trade with highly similar countries. As the United States grows ever closer to becoming a “majority minority” nation, the racialization of trade attitudes may stimulate shifts in the likely future of America’s trade relationships.
— Presented at APSA 2017.
— Featured in Chicago Council on Global Affairs
“Identifying the Downstream Effect of First Time Presidential Voting on Trust in Government” with Jin Woo Kim
What do first-time voters learn after participating in a presidential election? Democratic theorists relish political participation for its benefits in promoting a sense of political legitimacy. Yet these benefits are theorized in a small-scale self-government setting, and it is unclear whether similar effects can be found in a representative democracy, where many citizens participate only through voting. We argue that presidential voting typically results in eventual disappointment—either because preferred candidate loses or because the elected president’s big promises are under-delivered—, which may have long-term consequences on political trust. Applying a regression discontinuity design to the ANES time-series data (1974 to 2008), we find that being just eligible to vote in a presidential election undercuts political trust 2 or 4 years down the road by several percentage points—a tendency that is more pronounced under a failing economy. We discuss the implications of our findings for political socialization.
— Presented at PolMeth 2017 (poster), AAPOR 2017, MPSA 2017.
— Top Student Paper Award from the DC-Chapter of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR)
“Misunderstanding Income Inequality and Its Policy Consequences” with Rasmus T. Pedersen and Diana C. Mutz.
Existing studies that explain why rising income inequality does not result in further demand for redistribution typically focus on public misperceptions, in which people know little about the extent of income inequality. We propose an alternative argument that misunderstanding what inequality means in the first place serves as a huddle. Using a population-based survey experiment, we find that Americans fundamentally misunderstand income inequality, because they have a poor understanding of variance and because they want to misunderstand it in order to align inequality perceptions with existing policy preferences. Most people are unable to differentiate policies that address poverty from those that reduce inequality. They generally favor raising everyone’s income rather than decreasing inequality, and if they favor redistributive policies at all, they are in favor of raising the incomes of the poor. In the minds of most Americans, inequality in the sense of income variance is not the central problem.
— Presented at MPSA 2016.
“The Implications of Partisan Media for Economic Perceptions” with Diana C. Mutz.
The rise of partisan media in the United States raises new questions about the extent to which retrospective national economic perceptions change based on the particular sources of news citizens use. To the extent that economic perceptions are mere extensions of partisan identity and partisan media consumption, this change in the media environment diminishes the potential for democratic accountability. We use a unique collection of six waves of panel data including repeated measures of both retrospective national economic perceptions and exposure to partisan and nonpartisan television programs to examine this question. We find that partisan media have the capacity to influence retrospective national economic perceptions over time, beyond the anticipated effects from partisan rationalization and real economic change. These effects are particularly strong for consumption of outparty media. As outparty television consumption increases, its viewers come to perceive the economy as moving in an increasingly negative direction.
— Presented at APSA 2016.
WORK IN PROGRESS
“The Apprentice: The TV Show That Made Donald Trump” with Heyu Xiong
”Observing Income Inequality and Its Political Consequences” with Sara Kirshbaum and Brian Hamel