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POLITICAL SCIENCE RESEARCH - MARCH 2010

From Public Opinion Quarterly

 

Social desirability bias in voter turnout reports

Allyson L. Holbrook and Jon A. Krosnick

March 2010

Surveys usually yield rates of voting in elections that are higher than official turnout figures, a phenomenon often attributed to intentional misrepresentation by respondents who did not vote and would be embarrassed to admit that. The experiments reported here tested the social desirability response bias hypothesis directly by implementing a technique that allowed respondents to report secretly whether they voted: the "item count technique." The item count technique significantly reduced turnout reports in a national telephone survey relative to direct self-reports, suggesting that social desirability response bias influenced direct self-reports in that survey. But in eight national surveys of American adults conducted via the Internet, the item count technique did not significantly reduce turnout reports. This mode difference is consistent with other evidence that the Internet survey mode may be less susceptible to social desirability response bias because of self-administration.

Direct Democracy, Public Opinion, and Candidate Choice

Daniel A. Smith and Caroline J. Tolbert

 

March 2010

 

Abstract  

We argue that the rich information environment created by ballot measures makes some policy issues more salient, shaping voters' positions on broad topics such as the importance of the economy. This in turn may affect candidate choice for national and statewide elected office. We theorize that the creation of state-specific issue publics may be the causal mechanism underlying this process. Using large-sample national survey data with robust samples from the 50 U.S. states, we test whether mass support for a specific policy--raising the minimum wage--is higher in states where the issue is on the ballot, whether being directly exposed to initiative campaigns elevates the importance of broad issues like the economy, and whether the economic-related ballot measures prime support for Democratic candidates. We find that exposure to minimum-wage ballot measure campaigns in 2006 modified support for the policy among partisan subsamples (with Democrats becoming more likely and Republicans less likely to support the measure), increased the saliency of the economy in general among these targeted populations, and primed support for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

U.S. Public Support for the United Nations

 

Gregory G. Holyk

 

March 2010

 

Abstract

In the aftermath of the failure to come to a diplomatic resolution regarding Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent military strike by the United States and its allies without United Nations (UN) approval, the usefulness and role of international diplomatic institutions such as the UN are undergoing a reexamination. The U.S. public has shown a high degree of general support for the UN since its inception. Although judgments of UN performance rose and fell over the years, support for strengthening the UN and for continued U.S. participation and cooperation with the UN remained strong and stable. Most notably, approval of UN performance dropped to an all-time low between 2003 and 2007, after the contentious debate over the use of force against Iraq. Nonetheless, support for the UN has remained strong because the U.S. public differentiates between criticism of UN performance and support for the general purpose and aims of the UN.

 

From Political Science Quarterly

 

Perception, Memory, and Partisan Polarization on the Iraq War

Gary C. Jacobson

March 2010

ABSTRACT 

GARY C. JACOBSON analyzes four surveys designed to investigate partisan polarization on the Iraq war. He finds that modes of motivated reasoning, including motivated skepticism and selective perception, selective memory, and selective exposure, contributed strongly to the emergence of the unusually wide differences of opinion on the war.

 

The Third Agenda in U.S. Presidential Debates: Debate Watch and

Viewer Reactions, 1996-2004 by Diana B. Carlin, Kelly M. McDonald,

Tammy Vigil, and Susan Buehler. Westport, CT, Praeger Publishers,

2008. 283 pp. $64.95.

 

Review by William L. Benoit

 

March 2010

 

The bookʼs title pays homage to the important concept advanced by Jackson-Beeck and Meadow that there are three agendas involved in debates: those of candidates, those of the media, and those of the public. This book is devoted to an appreciation of votersʼ perspectives on debates. It offers new data and a perspective (qualitative) on presidential debates that differs from most work in this area. Although some data in the book are from survey research, the heart of this enterprise consists of analysis of quotations from focus groups. Different kinds of data offer different advantages; the strengths of this form of data are seeing things from the participantsʼ (that is, votersʼ) perspective and greater depth of understanding (the corresponding limitation, of course, is that qualitative data are not optimal for supporting generalizations about populations). It is important that we have a variety of forms of data for informing our understanding of presidential debates. The book reports data from an impressive number of focus groups

concerning the presidential debates held in 1996, 2000, and 2004 (for example, 8,376 participants in 824 groups in 1996). Transcripts of the focus groupsʼ discussions were examined by the researchers and deployed to address a variety of topics: debate format, character, issues, vice presidents, third-party candidates, as well as the views of younger citizens and non-voters. The intent of the quotations used to explore each of these topics is to "represent a theme or finding" that reflects "ideas expressed by many others" (p. 6), although occasionally the book diverges from this approach to discuss "unique perspectives" (p. 52) or a "minority viewpoint" (p. 93). The emphasis on data from focus groups is noticeably less in the chapter on third-party candidates, because no specific questions in the DebateWatch protocols addressed this topic,

although some participants in focus groups volunteered opinions on it. These are important topics, and the book illuminates all of them with data representing the opinions of citizens.

Two limitations deserve mention. First, the utterances offered in focus groups (and on the limited survey data reported here) are self-report data. Self-report data can be very illuminating, particularly if one is seeking to understand the perspectives of voters. However, the fact that participants believe they learned from debates may not be the best evidence for the claim that viewers in fact do learn from debates (are "better informed" [p. 109]). As it turns out, I believe

that political debates do inform (many) viewers; my point is that readers must be aware of the limitations of self-report data. Second, I believe that the concept of the Debate Watch program--

encouraging voters to watch debates in groups and then discuss the debates without (or before) being exposed to comments from pundits--is worthwhile and healthy for democracy as well as for the citizens who participate in this activity. However, most voters do not experience debates in this fashion: too many do not watch debates; too many are exposed to instant commentary from pundits; too few discuss the debates with other citizens. This means we cannot automatically assume that reactions of those who participate in Debate Watch activities are like the reactions of those who are not part of a Debate Watch. Debate Watch is intentionally designed to be a different (and hopefully better) experience. Perhaps the book would best be considered an exploration of the potential of presidential debates when voters experience them through the mechanism of Debate Watch and as an extended (and persuasive) argument

for the utility of Debate Watches. There is no question that this book offers a unique and important contribution to the literature. It merits a place in libraries and on scholarsʼ bookshelves.

 

Can Welfare States Be Sustained in a Global Economy? Lessons from Scandinavia

 

Eric S. Einhorn and John Logue

 

March 2010

 

ABSTRACT

ERIC S. EINHORN and JOHN LOGUE argue that the European social model can be reformed without sacrificing its gains and that the Scandinavian states have already adapted their welfare state models to meet demographic, social, and economic challenges. They sketch the characteristics of the Scandinavian model, including its underpinnings in encompassing organizations of the less well off, the role of democratic corporatism in policymaking, and the importance of empiricism, social trust, and solidarity in the development of public policy.

 

From Public Opinion Quarterly

 

Wars, Presidents, and Popularity: The Political Cost(s) of War Re-Examined

Benny Geys

 

March 2010  

Extensive research demonstrates that war casualties depress incumbent popularity. The present study argues that one should also account for financial costs of wars, since a) such costs are substantial; b) such costs are publicly observed and understood; and c) fiscal policy affects incumbents' approval ratings. Empirical evidence using U.S. data for the period between 1948 and 2008 supports this theoretical claim: pecuniary costs of warfare either directly affect presidential popularity (e.g., in the Korean War) or their inclusion affects the predicted political cost of war casualties (e.g., in the Korean and Iraq/Afghanistan wars). Interestingly, the adverse effect of war spending is strongest under favorable economic conditions (i.e., low unemployment).

American Public Opinion on Immigrants and Immigration Policy

 

Francine Segovia and Renatta Defever

 

March 2010

Since the issue of immigration and its effects on the United States persists and discussions on the topic continue to intensify, this article reviews public opinion trends on immigrants and immigration. We review Americans' overall assessment of immigrants and immigration-related issues such as immigrant impact on the U.S. economy, perceptions of elected officials' performance on handling immigration issues, and preferred approaches to immigration policy. We draw our framework from Lapinski et al.'s 1997 Public Opinion Quarterly review of public attitudes and beliefs regarding immigrants and immigration. This study updates the trends presented in 1997, beginning in many cases with the final time point presented in that earlier article and including current national public opinion trends of questions not previously documented but which have become relevant to the current immigration debate. The current review reveals mixed attitudes, dualities in Americans' thinking, and splits on immigration issues. In the current review, public opinion is at times ambivalent, espousing certain attitudes that challenge others. In addition, less extreme attitudes are revealed in the public's view of certain policies as compared with Lapinski et al.'s piece. Spanning what will now be over a decade, public opinion indicates an increasing concern over immigration issues in addition to a lack of confidence in the ability of the country's leaders to address them. More than half of today's immigrants came to the United States in the 1990s, and their share of the population is at historically peak levels. Estimates indicate that between 1990 and 2000, the U.S. foreign-born population grew by more than 11 million. As the rise in the immigrant population has increased, so have debates over how best to handle immigration issues. Although policymakers have suggested a variety of possible solutions, public opinion seems deeply divided on how best to handle immigration.

Direct Democracy, Public Opinion, and Candidate Choice

Daniel A. Smith and Caroline J. Tolbert

 

March 2010

 

ABSTRACT

We argue that the rich information environment created by ballot measures makes some policy issues more salient, shaping voters' positions on broad topics such as the importance of the economy. This in turn may affect candidate choice for national and statewide elected office. We theorize that the creation of state-specific issue publics may be the causal mechanism underlying this process. Using large-sample national survey data with robust samples from the 50 U.S. states, we test whether mass support for a specific policy--raising the minimum wage--is higher in states where the issue is on the ballot, whether being directly exposed to initiative campaigns elevates the importance of broad issues like the economy, and whether the economic-related ballot measures prime support for Democratic candidates. We find that exposure to minimum-wage ballot measure campaigns in 2006 modified support for the policy among partisan subsamples (with Democrats becoming more likely and Republicans less likely to support the measure), increased the saliency of the economy in general among these targeted populations, and primed support for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

 

From Perspectives on Politics

 

It Takes a State: A Policy Feedback Model of Women's Political Representation

Eileen McDonagh

March 2010

Abstract

American women attain more professional success in medicine, business, and higher education than do most of their counterparts around the world. An enduring puzzle is, therefore, why the US lags so far behind other countries when it comes to women's political representation. In 2008, women held only 16.8 percent of seats in the House of Representatives, a proportion that ranks America lower than 83 other countries. This article addresses this conundrum. It establishes that equal rights alone are insufficient to ensure equal access to political office. Also necessary are public policies representing maternal traits that voters associate with women. Such policies have feedback effects that teach voters that the maternal traits attributed to women represent strengths not only in the private sphere of the home but also in the public sphere of the state. Most other democracies now have such policies in place, but the United States lacks such policies, which accounts for its laggard status with regard to the political representation of women.

What do Women Really Know? A Gendered Analysis of Varieties of Political Knowledge

Dietlind Stolle and Elisabeth Gidengil

March 2010

Abstract

While studies typically find that women know less about politics than do men, feminist scholars have argued that these findings reflect gender-biased measures that underestimate women's political knowledge. This article evaluates the feminist critique by taking a more expansive view of what constitutes political knowledge. Using data from a large Canadian urban sample, we show that gender gaps close or even reverse when people are queried about more practical aspects of political knowledge, such as government benefits and services. Our results also demonstrate that this type of knowledge is more equally distributed than its conventional counterpart, though the women who are the most likely to need government services and benefits are often the least likely to know about them. Finally, we show that knowledge of government services and benefits has a significant effect on women's intended vote choice. This article thus shows that more practical types of political knowledge might serve as meaningful additions to existing definitions and measures of political knowledge.

Staying the Course: Presidential Leadership, Military Stalemate, and Strategic Inertia

Andrew J. Polsky

March 2010

Abstract

Military stalemate in Iraq and Vietnam presents a puzzle: why do presidents persist in a strategic course that has failed to secure the goals they defined when they chose to embark upon war? In the face of a quagmire, presidents might choose among three broad strategic options--disengagement, escalation, or continuity. I argue that the first alternative, to withdraw, is made impossible by the inflated rhetoric presidents invoke to sell a skeptical public on the necessity for a limited war and by their own conviction (reinforced by core supporters) that the price of defeat is too great. At the opposite pole lies the possibility of full-scale mobilization. But because presidents during the Vietnam and Iraq wars believed they could also pursue expensive domestic agendas, they did not reserve the resources needed for large-scale escalation. In the both cases, too, civilian leaders were deeply skeptical about their military counterparts and discounted their caution that a greater military commitment would be needed. Finally, as wars drag on, public disenchantment prevents presidents from mustering the political support escalation would require. Their early decisions thus leave them with no alternative to their current strategic commitment.

Self-Segregation or Deliberation? Blog Readership, Participation, and Polarization in American Politics

Eric Lawrence, John Sides and Henry Farrell

March 2010

ABSTRACT

Political scientists and political theorists debate the relationship between participation and deliberation among citizens with different political viewpoints. Blogs provide an important testing ground for their claims. We examine deliberation, polarization, and political participation among blog readers. We find that blog readers gravitate toward blogs that accord with their political beliefs. Few read blogs on both the left and right of the ideological spectrum. Furthermore, those who read left-wing blogs and those who read right-wing blogs are ideologically far apart. Blog readers are more polarized than either non-blog-readers or consumers of various television news programs, and roughly as polarized as US senators. Blog readers also participate more in politics than non-blog readers. Readers of blogs of different ideological dispositions do not participate less than those who read only blogs of one ideological disposition. Instead, readers of both left- and right-wing blogs and readers of exclusively leftwing blogs participate at similar levels, and both participate more than readers of exclusively right-wing blogs. This may reflect social movement-building efforts by left-wing bloggers.

 

From The Quarterly Journal of Political Science

 

Democratic Accountability in Open Economies

Thomas Sattler, Patrick T. Brandt and John R. Freeman

 

March, 2010

 

ABSTRACT

We analyze democratic accountability in open economies based on different hypotheses about political evaluations and government responsiveness. Specifically, we assess whether citizens primarily rely on government policies or if they focus on economic outcomes resulting from these policies to evaluate governments. Our empirical analysis relies on Bayesian structural vector autoregression models for the British economy, aggregate monthly measures of public opinion, and economic evaluations from 1984 to 2006. We find that voters continuously monitor and strongly respond contemporaneously to changes in monetary and fiscal policies, but less to changes in macroeconomic outcomes. Voters also respond to policies differently when institutions change. When the Bank of England became politically independent, citizens shifted their attention toward fiscal policy, and the role of monetary policy in their evaluations decreased significantly. Finally, politicians respond to voting behavior by adjusting their policies in a sensible way. When vote intentions and approval decrease, the government reacts to the public by adjusting fiscal policy and, before the Bank of England became independent, also monetary policy.

 

From Political Research Quarterly

 

Changing Mass Attitudes and Democratic Deepening

Matthew D. Fails and Heather Nicole Pierce

 

March 2010

ABSTRACT

A large literature evaluates the correlates of mass attitudes toward democracy because such attitudes are regarded as critical for the stability and depth of democratic regimes. This article uses cross-national public opinion surveys to conduct the first comprehensive test of this conventional wisdom. The authors examine whether aggregate levels of democratic legitimacy are related to the level, stability, and deepening of democracy and find no empirical support for these theoretical expectations. Rather, the authors find evidence that legitimacy attitudes are significantly shaped by the prior institutionalization of democracy, suggesting that the existing literature may have reversed the direction of the causal arrow.

"Pretty Prudent" or Rhetorically Responsive? The American Public's Support for Military Action

A. Cooper Drury, L. Marvin Overby, Adrian Ang, and Yitan Li

ABSTRACT

In the United States, public support can play a crucial role in the decisions to initiate and terminate military action. Some scholars argue that the public holds "prudent" opinions regarding the use of the military--supporting efforts to stop aggression but not to engage in nation building. We argue that what seems like a "prudent" opinion may be driven more by the White House's rhetoric. Experimental tests show that the rhetorical complexity has a more powerful impact on the respondent's support for military action than the actual policy goal, although this result is substantially tempered by political awareness.