“Wanting What is Fair: How Party Cues and Information about Income Inequality Affect Public Support for Taxes.” (with Scott A. MacKenzie) Under review.
Abstract: Income inequality has risen dramatically in the United States, with potentially negative social, economic, and political consequences. Governments can use redistributive taxes to combat inequality, but doing so requires public support. When will voters support redistributive taxes? Using the dual-process framework, we make predictions about the conditions under which party cues and/or information about rising income inequality affect support for redistributive taxes. We test these predictions by conducting survey experiments in a real-world electoral context. We find that although citizens underestimate the extent of income inequality, information that corrects their misperceptions helps them express tax policy opinions that are consistent with their preferences for lower levels of inequality. We also find that citizens who are motivated to process inequality information systematically respond to it even when it conflicts with their party’s position. These results identify conditions under which efforts to inform the electorate about inequality can increase support for taxes.
“Party versus Principle: How Competing Parties and Frames Affect the Consistency between Citizens’ Values and Policy Views.” Under review.
Abstract: In representative democracies, political parties and candidates seek to influence public opinion by publicizing their policy positions and framing them to appeal to citizens’ values. What effects do these competing positions (i.e., party cues) and frames have on the consistency between citizens’ opinions and values? I address this question by conducting survey experiments where citizens express opinions about policies that involve a conflict between two values. I manipulate whether they receive party cues, competing frames, both, or neither type of information. I find that citizens do not blindly follow their party when its position is inconsistent with their values. Further, when their party’s inconsistent position is countered by a frame that resonates with their values, respondents follow the frame as long as it is not sponsored by the opposing party. These results identify conditions under which party cues and frames help citizens express opinions that are consistent with their values.
“Racial or Spatial Voting? The Effects of Candidate Ethnicity and Ethnic Group Endorsements in Low-Information Elections.” (with Christopher S. Elmendorf and Scott A. MacKenzie) Under review.
Abstract: With the rapid growth of the Latino and Asian American populations, candidates must appeal to increasingly diverse electorates. Strategies for doing so include emphasizing candidates’ racial/ethnic identity and securing endorsements from groups that “represent” racial/ethnic communities. While many scholars focus on candidates’ racial/ethnic attributes, few study ethnic group endorsements. Thus, whether such endorsements induce voters to choose ideologically-similar candidates (spatial voting), or choose based on race/ethnicity (racial voting) is unclear. We disentangle these effects by examining local elections where race/ethnicity and ideology are weakly correlated. Using original surveys and exit polls, we create comparable measures of candidate and voter ideology, and examine how race/ethnicity and ideology affect voters’ choices. We also embed experiments that manipulate ethnic group endorsements. We find that ideology powerfully shapes voters’ choices, but that ethnic group endorsements diminish spatial voting. The latter effect among whites is driven by racial/ethnic stereotypes, raising potentially troubling concerns for representation.
“Roadmaps to Representation: An Experimental Study of How Voter Education Tools Affect Citizen Decision Making.” (with Christopher S. Elmendorf and Scott A. MacKenzie) Working paper, University of California, Davis.
Abstract: Civic organizations’ efforts to educate citizens about candidates and issues at stake in elections are widespread. These efforts include providing voter guides that contain information about candidates’ policy views and interactive tools that convey similar information. Do these voter education resources help voters choose candidates who share their policy views? We address this question by conducting survey experiments that randomly assign voters to receive either 1) a nonpartisan voter guide, 2) party endorsements, 3) a spatial map showing voters their own and candidates’ ideological positions, 4) a spatial map and party endorsements, or 5) no information at all. We find that voter guides, party endorsements, and spatial maps all strengthen the relationship between voters’ policy views and those of the candidates they choose. These effects are largest for the least knowledgeable voters. However, when spatial maps and party endorsements are provided together, they cancel each other out for voters whose policy views and partisanship conflict. These results contribute to scholarly debates about citizen competence, and provide evidence for the efficacy of practical efforts to inform electorates.
“Dissension in the Ranks? An Experimental Test of Rationality and Spatial Voting in Local Elections.” (with Christopher S. Elmendorf and Scott A. MacKenzie) Working paper, University of California, Davis.
Abstract: Formal theories of voter decision making assume that preferences for political candidates are rational and, therefore, can be represented by a utility function. They also frequently assume that ideology is a major factor that informs voters’ utility functions. To date, there are no studies of whether these assumptions are met in low-information local elections. We fill this gap by conducting a written exit poll during a mayoral election that asks voters to express their preferences for five leading candidates, considered pairwise. We also experimentally manipulate information shortcuts to examine their effects on voters’ preferences. We find that a large majority of voters’ preferences are rational even in this low-information context. We also show that ideology strongly influences voters’ preferences. However, political party and ethnic group endorsements weaken rather than strengthen the influence of ideology. These results indicate that most voters’ preferences satisfy the basic assumptions that formal models make and that spatial models can be usefully applied to local elections.