Do White In-group Processes Matter, Too? White Racial Identity and Support for Black Political Candidates

We find that in biracial elections (i.e., a Black candidate and a White candidate compete in an election) in the United States, in-group processes among Whites significantly decrease votes for African-American candidates and approval of the first Black president. As expected by Social Identity Theory and the existing literature, we also find that out-group processes (specifically racial resentment) are more influential when a Black candidate and a White candidate compete in an election. Importantly, the in-group processes significantly affect vote choice above and beyond the out-group processes that have garnered so much scholarly attention. We also find that white racial identity reduced President Obama’s approval, in turn reducing the vote shares of Democrats in Congressional elections across the country.

Using the full Social Identity Theory (SIT) framework, beyond the out-group negativity previously studied, provides new insights. Social Identity Theory focuses on both in-group processes and out-group processes. However, most political science research on group conflict focuses on out-group processes, the processes that result when people see “them” less positively than “us”; factors such as racial resentment and negative stereotyping of African-Americans. In contrast, we test whether in-group processes (specifically strength of White racial identity among self-reported Whites) influence vote choice in seven electoral settings.

Our findings relate to previous research. Considering such in-group processes helps political science move beyond yes or no, and gets to when, regarding debates about race of candidate effects and whether the major parties have become ‘racialized’ (i.e. perceived as the pro/anti-Black and anti/pro-White). In particular scholars have debated whether the Democratic Party was ‘racialized.’ We find that the degree to which in-group processes lead Whites to vote against Democrats varies depending on the race of the candidates. While it remains to be demonstrated if advertising and/or campaign messages can make White in-group identity influential, we show that a Black candidate can activate this in-group process. Furthermore, future research about race of candidate should consider both in-group and out-group processes.

Do Individuals Value Distributional Fairness? How Inequality Affects Majority Decisions

Jan Sauermann

Social choice theory casts serious doubts on the viability and meaning of democracy. As an example, imagine a group of three friends who want to go on a joint vacation. However, they disagree on three possible destinations: a beach vacation, a city trip, or to go hiking in the mountains. Anne prefers the beach, followed by the city trip and then the mountains. For Paul, a city trip would be the best option. Hiking is his second-best alternative and the beach is his least-preferred destination. Emily favors the mountains followed by the beach and a city trip. Of course, the decision problem of Anne, Paul, and Emily resembles the well-known Condorcet paradox. If they vote on their common destination, every alternative will beat one of the other two alternatives in a pairwise majority vote and loose against the remaining alternative. In this case, voting will not result in a meaningful collective decision, because a majority favors the beach over a city trip, the city beats the mountains, and the mountains are majority-preferred in comparison to the beach.

Several classical social choice theorems like Arrow’s Impossibility theorem have demonstrated the generic instability of majority rule. Hence, in almost all situations, majority decisions exhibit voting cycles like in the example above. In the resulting absence of an unambiguous voting equilibrium any alternative in the policy space can be reached, given the appropriate agenda. From the perspective of social choice theory, democracy could result in highly arbitrary decisions with frequent radical policy changes. Hence, the important question arises how to explain the apparent stability of real democratic decisions.

While traditional explanations highlight the importance of institutions for inducing stability in majority decisions, more recent contributions analyze how social preferences might help to overcome democracy´s theoretical instability problem. Individuals motivated by social preferences such as fairness or reciprocity maximize not only their own well-being, but also take the well-being of other actors into account. Consequently, if group members are motivated by social preferences, alternatives offering a fair distribution of benefits among group members become more popular and provide stable equilibria in otherwise unstable democratic decisions. However, there is little research on the influence of social preferences in majority decision-making.

In my article in Political Behavior I present results from laboratory experiments examining whether social preferences influence majority decisions in committees. In the experiment, five-member groups have to select points from a two-dimensional policy space. Treatments of the experiment systematically vary the fairness properties of the alternatives in the policy space by manipulating subjects’ payout functions. The experiment is designed as a hard test for the influence of social preferences. For one, participants play for money in the experiment. Group members have ideal points in the policy space and earn more the smaller the distance between their ideal point and the outcome chosen by the committee. Secondly, subjects interact anonymously via a computer network preventing direct face-to-face communication among committee members. Thirdly, all subjects are students, most of them students of economics or related fields. All three design features should promote the influence of egoistic motivations and weaken the influence of social preferences in the decisions. However, the results clearly show that distributional concerns have an important influence on majority decisions. Committees systematically choose fair points during the experiment. Hence, my main conclusion from the experiment is that democratic theory in general and social choice theory in particular could profit considerably from systematically incorporating social preferences in their analyses.


A Behavioral Theory of Electoral Structure

Till Weber & Mark Franklin

Imagine an alien visitor sent to Earth to observe three indigenous rituals of leadership selection: the US presidential election of November 2016, the UK general election of June 2017 and the German federal election of September 2017. Our visitor knows from alien intelligence that the first-mentioned country has just undergone a campaign with the most-hated pair of candidates for its top office since the beginning of mass polling; that the second country has just dissolved its highest decision-making body in the midst of the gravest national crisis most people alive have experienced; and that the third country, infamous for its genocidal racism, has just taken in the largest number of foreign refugees in its history.

Yet our visitor finds that the organizations entrusted with governing these three countries are the same ones as before, and not even the relative level of popular support shows much sign of transformation. Earthlings, our visitor concludes, highly value order and stability in their political life.

In a recent article we aim to assist alien intelligence with explaining the surprising robustness of party systems in human democracies. The short answer to our visitor’s conclusion is that at the time of leadership selection, electoral democracy is indeed quite orderly and stable. However, this is not naturally so. Human society harbors a great deal of complexity, as can be observed whenever the quest for executive office is not on people’s minds. Party systems and electoral institutions function to restore order right in time for important leadership contests.

More technically, we theorize patterns of electoral competition as the outcome of a struggle between entropy and structure. Forces of entropy entail idiosyncratic voting behavior guided by subjective evaluations, while forces of structure entail coordinated behavior emerging from objective aspects of party preference. Our model locates determinants of party preference on a continuum spanning subjective and objective concerns. Entropy is endemic but elections for nationwide executive office periodically prime objective concerns, reinstating structure in party systems. We demonstrate the cyclical pulse of national elections in a comparative analysis of pseudo-randomized survey data from the European Election Studies since 1989. We also show how feedback from differently-sized party systems consolidates different working equilibria.

After presenting our findings at the annual meeting of the Galactic Political Science Association, we received critical feedback from alien intelligence. Apparently our visitor had also observed the French elections of 2017, and this case didn’t seem to fit our theory at all.

Fortunately we were able to dispel the doubts. Our theory posits (and our empirical evidence shows) that the forces of structure appear in different guises in differently-sized party systems. While in fragmented systems cyclical structuring is clearly visible, in systems dominated by two parties the obvious focus on which of the two will control the executive is generally sufficient to maintain structure. French two-round presidential elections have traditionally ensured the same focus, and spillover from the presidential race has structured ensuing legislative elections as well. Electoral institutions play a role here as they deter entry by third-party candidates, a phenomenon that can be most cleanly observed in the US. In France, our alien visitor was lucky enough to catch a peculiarity of the electoral system in action: An Earthling named Macron won a place on the second-round ballot with as little as 24% of first-round support. From there on the focus on executive power reliably summoned the forces of structure to chase off the forces of entropy, giving the highflyer 66% of second-round votes with close to the same turnout. Spillover to the legislative arena, another unmistakable sign of structuring, then awarded the party of the new president an absolute majority in parliament.

Party systems do change; more striking for the outside observer, however, appears to be their puzzling robustness—their seeming ability to retain structure even under adverse circumstances, absorbing pressure toward disintegration by channeling it into confined fluctuations in relative party strengths. We believe that this is an important insight for anyone interested in contemporary electoral democracy, wherever they are from.

Political Behavior seeks a new editor(s)

The deadline for submissions is January 1, 2018

APSA Organized Section 32: Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior Invites Nominations and Applications for Editor of Political Behavior

Professor Michael Martinez, Chair of APSA Organized Section 32: Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior (EPOVB), has appointed a Search Committee to select a new Editor for the Section’s affiliated journal, Political Behavior. Published by Springer Science+Business Media, the journal receives approximately 400 manuscript submissions per year, publishes four issues per year, and has a five-year Impact Factor of 2.6.

The members of the Search Committee are:

  • Cindy Kam (Vanderbilt University), Chair
  • Richard Johnston (University of British Columbia)
  • Jan Leighley (American University)
  • Alex Pacek (Texas A&M University)
  • Dave Peterson (Iowa State University, ex officio)

The Search Committee invites nominations and applications for the Editorship of Political Behavior. The incoming Editor will succeed current Editor David Peterson, whose term will end on December 31, 2018. The new Editor will serve a renewable four-year term, from January 1, 2019 through December 31, 2022. The Search Committee welcomes both individual Editor and Editorial Team candidacies.

The Editor/Editorial Team will be expected to:

  • Sustain and build Political Behavior‘s current high stature as a preeminent publication outlet within political science
  • Ensure that Political Behavior be open to submissions from all areas within the study of political behavior and to innovative work that may span traditional disciplinary boundaries
  • Handle the review process and adjudicate publication decisions in a discerning, fair, timely, and equitable manner
  • Work within the available resources to maintain journal operations and the editorial office
  • Appoint and consult with the Editorial Board as needed, and convene a meeting of the Editorial Board during the annual APSA general meeting
  • Give a brief report on the “state of the journal” at the annual business meeting of the EPOVB section (held during the annual APSA general meeting)
  • Join and continue membership in the EPOVB Section of APSA

Nominations and applications for the Editorship of Political Behavior should be sent via e-mail to the Search Committee Chair, Cindy Kam (E-mail:

A complete application for the Political Behavior Editorship should consist of a single .pdf containing the following four elements:

  1. Application Letter: The application letter should discuss aspects of the candidate’s professional and scholarly experiences that will enable the candidate to succeed in the position.
  2. Vita: A complete vita should be provided by each individual candidate or each individual member of a proposed editorial team.
  3. Support Plan: Candidates should outline their plan to support Political Behavior while it is housed at their institution(s). Candidates for the Editorship are expected to receive some support from their home institution for the editorial duties. This typically includes: (1) a partial release from teaching responsibilities; (2) a graduate research assistant; and (3) summer support for the graduate student. Additional support, in the form of an online editorial management system and a yearly stipend for the editor, is provided by the publisher.
  4. Management Plan: The application should include a formal statement laying out plans for managing Political Behavior. Candidates should address the issues they believe to be relevant to the intellectual content and/or management of the journal. An effective management plan might engage questions such as:

(a) Would you initiate any new editorial policies, modify old policies, or redirect emphasis on distinctive features of the journal? In what directions do you wish to take the journal? How would you ensure attention to the diverse areas of interest within the subfield of political behavior?

(b) If you are proposing an Editorial team, what would be the division of labor among the individuals that comprise the team? How would the final editorial decisions be made on submitted manuscripts?

(c) What is your view of desk rejections? How will you select reviewers for manuscripts? How will you handle refusals and nonresponses from potential reviewers? How will you augment the reviewer pool?

(d) What strategies and procedures will you employ to encourage individuals to return high-quality reviews in a timely manner? How important do you believe turnaround time is, as an element of the review process?

(e) What policies for data accessibility and research transparency will you have as editor?

(f) How will you plan to use social media to increase the visibility of the journal?

(g) At the end of your tenure as Editor, what benchmarks would you use to evaluate your performance during your term?

To ensure full consideration, applications must be submitted by January 1, 2018. The Committee will work closely with the publisher, Springer Science+Business Media, to make every effort to select the new Editor by May 1, 2018.


Ideology and Vote Choice in U.S. Mayoral Elections: Evidence from Facebook Surveys

Michael Sances

Are city elections about policy? While some may see the answer to this question as obvious, it turns out to be a rather tricky question to answer. Some urban politics scholars conclude city elections are apolitical, given voters have already “voted with their feet” by deciding where they wish to live; others argue urban elections are about conflicts between social groups. Yet it has been hard to answer this question definitively, given the difficulty of surveying local voters. At the same time, evidence is growing that city officials behave ideologically when they make policy decisions, and that city policies overall tend to reflect what voters say they want. These recent findings regarding city responsiveness, as well as advances in survey recruitment technology, prompt me to take a fresh look at the role of policy voting in city elections.
Using Facebook advertisements targeted to particular local audiences, I recruit samples of hundreds of voters during the 2015 mayoral elections in Memphis and Nashville, TN, as well as an additional sample of over 1,000 voters from smaller cities in Illinois. These data allow me to estimate the relationship between voter ideology and candidate choice, adjusting for other observable and unobservable determinants of voting. Across a variety of samples and estimation strategies, I find ideology has a strong influence on local vote choice.
First, in cross-sectional analyses, I find that ideology is a powerful predictor of vote choice in Memphis and Nashville, controlling for demographic characteristics such as race. This provides suggestive evidence that ideology matters; however, given I am working with observational data, alternative explanations are possible. Thus, to further disentangle ideology from other factors, I next conduct an analysis of voter learning in the Nashville mayoral election. Using a panel design where the same respondents are interviewed before and after the election, I show that voter knowledge of candidates’ ideological positions increases significantly over the course of the election campaign. Further, this learning causally impacts voters’ choices, with liberals (conservatives) who learn becoming more (less) likely to vote for the liberal candidate.
Of course, it may be that ideology operates differently in large cities, or in cities in Tennessee. To test the generalizability of these results, I field a survey experiment to voters in smaller Illinois cities, presenting them with hypothetical candidates for village and city mayors. As in the big-city studies, I find these small-city voters also weight ideology heavily in their voting decisions, more than any other factor.
These results show that electoral accountability for policy is indeed possible in both large and small U.S. cities, and offer an explanation for recent evidence of municipal responsiveness. Yet they also showcase the potential of using geotargeted online surveys to study local political behavior – a subject which scholars know surprisingly little about compared to national-level behavior. A recent count of election-related articles published in major journals over 20 years shows less than 1% focus on local elections. This is due in part to the relative difficulty of collecting original survey data from local contexts. By introducing a new, relatively low-cost method of collecting geographically targeted data, my article breaks down barriers that have long kept the study of local elections separate from research conducted at other levels of government.

From Respondents to Networks: Bridging Between Individuals, Discussants, and the Network in the Study of Political Discussion

Matthew T. Pietryka, Florida State University,

Jack Lyons Reilly, New College of Florida,

Daniel M. Maliniak, College of William & Mary,

Patrick R. Miller, University of Kansas,

Robert Huckfeldt, University of California, Davis,

Ronald B. Rapoport, College of William & Mary,

Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election left many journalists scrambling to explain how he won—and why so few liberals saw it coming. Many outlets advanced a common explanation: we are all living in political bubbles. We are surrounded by people who look and think like us. Social media algorithms accentuate that similarity by highlighting posts we are likely to enjoy and concealing messages that might draw our ire. As a result, we only see our views expressed by people we respect and we encounter opposing views only when they are shared derisively by our friends.

The assumption underpinning this logic is that is that many of us are susceptible to influence by a wide range of associates extending well beyond our closest connections. Had liberals only interacted with more Trump supporters, the logic goes, they would have been less surprised in the outcome and, perhaps, less aggrieved. This assumption may hold in online social networks, but previous research provides little insight into whether we are influenced by individuals beyond our few closest friends and family. In our article in Political Behavior, we examine this assumption.

Most previous research has been unable to address this question because real-world social networks are so difficult to measure. Typically, scholars measure social networks using a survey battery, which asks respondents to describe the handful of people they talk to most frequently. To avoid exhausting respondents, the surveys rarely ask them to describe more than five associates. As a result, we have learned much about how these closest associates influence people’s political attitudes and behavior, but we know little about how these outcomes are shaped by their more casual acquaintances.

To overcome this problem, we invited all students at College of William & Mary to respond to a survey asking about their political views and asking them to name their closest friends at the school. By focusing on this small, closed community, we were able to explore the role of these immediate friends as well as second-order contacts—associates identified by their friends. Thus we are able to examine how the views expressed in the broader social network help us understand and predict students’ awareness of local issues and participation in politics.

We show that, indeed, the broader social network may act as a filter, insulating students from important campus issues. But it can also act as a megaphone, exposing individuals to issues they and their closest friends have not experienced firsthand. The network also seems to condition the potential influence of individual friends, magnifying some voices while muting others. And while we show that immediate friends have the strongest relationship with individual attitudes, less immediate associates adds further explanatory power to our models.

We hope our work provides insight for scholars pondering how political bubbles and social interaction contribute to individual votes and beliefs. Together, our results suggest that models of political attitudes and behavior will gain additional traction if they can focus not only on immediate relationships, but also the broader network. Scholars should consider not just who individuals are connected to, but how they are connected and where those connections are situated in broader social environments.


What Draws Politicians’ Attention? An Experimental Study of Issue Framing and its Effect on Individual Political Elites

Stefaan Walgrave, Julie Sevenans, Kirsten Van Camp & Peter Loewen

Political attention is scarce and consequential. Policy change only happens when political elites attend to the policy issue at hand. But, the number of problems vying for politicians’ attention is too large given the time they have to attend to these problems. Politicians lack the time, resources, staff, cognitive capacities and motivation to attend to all, or even many, problems. This turns the political game into a bottleneck of attention. Many societal signals simply do not get through, but are filtered out and ignored. Politicians are highly selective in the signals they attend to. This study investigates some features of societal signals and examines which features contribute to the underlying information being noticed by politicians.

Following ample research on the attention ordinary citizens spent to media signals, the study examines three features of an incoming signal that may increase the attention politicians give to the signal. We examine (1) whether the message deals with conflict, (2) whether it deals more specifically with political conflict, and (3) whether it refers to who is politically responsible for the problem in the first place. Do politicians react in the same way, and do they devote more attention to signals displaying these features?

By and large, the answer is ‘yes’. Just like ordinary citizens, politicians prioritize information that has certain features or that, technically put, is ‘framed’ in a certain way. We come to this conclusion by examining 410 national and regional politicians in three countries, Belgium, Canada and Israel. These countries were chosen because they are so different. Their electoral systems—how politicians are elected—differs strongly. This means that re-election, this is what politicians probably value most, depends on different things. For example, since Canadian politicians are elected in a district that only counts one representative, Canadian representatives have strong incentives to only look at their constituency and to ignore signals from the rest of the country. This is very different in Israel, for example, were politicians are elected in a nationwide district. Still, notwithstanding these strong system differences, we find almost identical attention devotion patterns in the three countries under study. This makes us conclude that the found framing effects are due to politicians being human and being politicians, they are not due to their operating under a certain electoral system.

More concretely, we confronted each politician that participated in our research with a number of so-called “story titles” that contained a short piece of information (e.g. about down-payment requirements for buying property). We told our politicians that this was a fictional title of an email they received and asked them how likely it was that they would read the full story. The self-reported likelihood that they would read the full story is our measure of the attention politicians devote to the signal. The story titles were manipulated and different versions of a similar story title were made, one containing conflict and the other consensus, one containing political conflict and the other non-political conflict, and one containing a political responsibility attribution and the other a non-political responsibility attribution.

Conflict draws more attention than consensus, the results show, but it mainly draws more attention by opposition politicians, less by government politicians. Political conflict, in contrast, draws more attention in general, but the effect is stronger for government party members than for opposition members. When a signal contains a reference to the political responsibility for a problem, finally, all politicians’ attention is drawn, from government and opposition, and in all countries. This makes a political responsibility frame the strongest of the three frames we investigated. It is a potent driver of political attention.