Current Research

“Political Consequences of Partisan Prejudice.”

Political conflict sometimes spills over into unrelated areas of our lives. A growing literature documents examples of partisan considerations influencing judgments and behaviors in ostensibly-nonpolitical contexts such as the workplace, academia, and romance, among others. To date, the focus has been on demonstrating these phenomena, with scant consideration of their downstream effects. When politics spills over into nonpolitical settings – that is, when political considerations influence nonpolitical judgments or behaviors – what are the consequences? I address this question with a novel theory and a nationally-representative survey experiment. I find that norms exist regarding the spillover of political considerations into nonpolitical matters – and that spillover can have its own political consequences. When one’s copartisans discriminate against members of the other party, it can lead to decreased partisan identification and depolarization. Partisan discrimination in nonpolitical settings can – in some sense ironically – reduce affective polarization. That said, partisans also appear to hold a double standard: they expect copartisans to give an edge to fellow copartisans.

“Political Considerations in Nonpolitical Decisions: A Conjoint Analysis of Roommate Choice.”

Research shows the increasing tendency of partisan considerations to influence decisions outside the context of politics, including residential choice. Scholars attribute this tendency to affective distaste for members of the other party. However, little work has investigated the relative influence of political and nonpolitical factors in these situations – nor has it sufficiently ruled out alternative explanations for these phenomena. Do people mainly choose to socially avoid members of the other party for political reasons, or is partisanship simply perceived to be correlated with relevant nonpolitical considerations? In some settings, political affiliation may serve primarily as a cue for other factors. As a result, studies that manipulate partisanship but fail to include other individuating information may exaggerate partisanship’s importance in these decisions. To address this shortcoming, I assess the impact of political and nonpolitical considerations on roommate selection via conjoint analysis. I find that partisanship strongly influences this social decision even in the presence of nonpolitical-but-politically-correlated individuating information. Partisan preferences are also moderated by roommates’ perceived levels of political interest. Finally, other social traits do matter, but how they matter depends on partisanship. Specifically, partisans report increased willingness to live with counter-stereotypic out-partisans. This suggests that partisan social divides may be more easily bridged by individuals with cross-cutting identities.

“The Intersection of Racial and Partisan Discrimination: Evidence from a Correspondence Study of Four-Year Colleges.” With James N. Druckman.

Social decisions are often imbued with various types of biases. The consequence can be discrimination against certain groups of people. One of the more widely documented types of discrimination is race-based – racial minorities frequently find themselves at a disadvantage. Recent work also reveals partisan bias such that members of one political party unfairly favor their co-partisans or discriminate against members of the other party in social and economic decisions. In this paper, we use a correspondence study to explore the independent and intersectional impact of racial and partisan discrimination in higher education. Specifically, we investigate responsiveness to e-mail requests for information sent to admissions departments at four-year colleges in the United States. While we find some evidence for partisan discrimination, our central finding is that African-Americans who reference politics of any sort receive substantially fewer responses. This coheres with the theory of racial threat: members of a majority group are averse to minorities who might threaten their political, economic, or social status.

“The ‘Politics of Envy’? Exploring Envy’s Relationship with Partisanship, Policy Preferences, and Participation.”

When the national debate turns to issues of economic inequality, conservative commentators and politicians often rebut calls for redistribution with references to envy: liberals, they say, are simply jealous of the rich. It is clear that there are stark differences between liberals and conservatives in terms of economic policy preferences, but are there real differences in terms of envy? Does envy correlate with liberalism, and do individuals high in dispositional envy disproportionately favor redistributive policies? When envy enters the conversation, is it an effective counter-argument to calls for redistribution – do references to envy delegitimize concerns about inequality? Finally, is the emotional experience of envy mobilizing, demobilizing, or does it have no effect on participation? This paper draws on survey and experimental evidence to examine the political impact of envy.

“Let’s Agree to (Not) Disagree: A New Look at Conflict Orientations and Participation.” With Ethan Busby and Josh Pasek.

Conflict and politics go hand in hand, as different sides negotiate, compete, and compromise over political issues, programs, and goals. Prior work thus connects conflict aversion to diminished political participation. However, while this relationship has sometimes been taken for granted, it has a mixed record across various strands of research. Further, different studies make different measurement choices regarding conflict aversion, leading to additional ambiguity. To clarify this literature, we use two separate surveys conducted in 2014 and 2017 and multiple measures of conflict aversion to attempt to replicate the oft-cited negative relationship between conflict aversion and participation. Using various operationalizations of conflict aversion and participation and both surveys, we are completely unable to do so – we either observe a null or a positive association between conflict aversion and political participation. This remains the case even when specifying a variety of possible moderating relationships. Finally, we explore the psychometric properties of several measures of conflict aversion; the results of these analyses suggest they are not all tapping the same underlying construct. Our findings show the need to reconsider conclusions drawn by prior research in this area. At the least, conflict aversion seems to have a variable relationship with participation, sometimes motivating political action and sometimes discouraging it. Researchers should make careful measurement choices in this area and revisit the concept of conflict aversion.

“Neither ‘Us’ nor ‘Them’: Stereotypes of Political Independents.” With Ethan Busby, Adam Howat, and Jacob Rothschild.

Research on partisanship has begun to explore the social-psychological dynamics of party affiliation, including the role played by stereotypes of rank-and-file party supporters. For the most part, however, this work has focused on partisan identifiers, with less attention paid to those who eschew party labels. We help to fill in this gap with a series of novel surveys measuring top-of-the-head considerations regarding both partisans and political independents. We utilize open-ended survey items and structural topic modeling to document stereotypes of people who identify as political independents. We present a descriptive overview of the stereotypes people hold about independents and examine their correlates among other political perceptions and outcomes.

“The Nature of Partisan Stereotypes and Mass Polarization, 1984-2016.” With Ethan Busby, Adam Howat, and Jacob Rothschild.

Recent research suggests that people’s mental images of the parties matter for partisan polarization. While important, this work has not yet considered trends over time, or how party images might fluctuate with different political environments. We look to fill this gap and explore what the public thinks about the two major American political parties, how those images vary with, time, and how these ideas relate to mass polarization. To do so, we employ structural topic modeling to examine open-ended responses regarding both major political parties from the 1984-2016 American National Election Studies. While some people have little to say about either party, we uncover themes relating to the values of the parties, relevant issue positions, references to elites, and mention of class-based groups. We consider the ways in which these themes correlate with key political and demographic variables. This research advances our understanding of partisan polarization by helping to clarify mass conceptions of partisanship itself, the relationship between stereotypes of the parties and attitudes toward those parties, and the temporal dimension of these relationships. We discuss the implications of this research for the study of partisanship, polarization, and political behavior.

Other ongoing research:

“The Normative Boundaries and Conceptual Scope of the Political.”

“Partisan Bias in Social Science Graduate Programs.” With James N. Druckman.

“Partisan Preferences in the Rental Housing Market: Evidence from Craigslist.”