A few days after the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6th, 2020, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger published a video message on democracy. With reference to his experience of democratic breakdown in his native Austria, Schwarzenegger made an emotional appeal for democracy. At the time, this message was considered well crafted and highly persuasive. A best practice case for making the case for democracy. In a survey experiment, we put the persuasiveness of this video message to an empirical test (along with another prominent intervention, a speech by Mitch McConnell on the peaceful transfer of power). We find no effects of attitude change through exposure to any of these videos among Trump voters.
What can politicians, journalists and other actors with communicative power do to strengthen citizen commitment to democracy? In a new study, Florian Foos (LSE) and I propose „democratic persuasion“ as an actionable intervention to bolster the societal foundations of democracy. We tested the efficacy of democratic persuasion in a field experiment that we conducted in collaboration with several members of German parliaments from various democratic parties. Our results are promising. Here is the pre-print:
Political entrepreneurs put liberal democracy under pressure by fueling concerns and exploiting citizens’ fragile commitment to this system of government. As difficult trade-offs are made apparent in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, we investigate one communicative strategy that political elites who want to defend the principles and practices of self-governance in pluralist societies can pursue. We propose “democratic persuasion” as an actionable, theory-driven intervention to increase the resilience of citizens‘ commitment to liberal democracy. „Democratic persuasion“ requires that legislators actively make the case for democracy and discuss inherent trade-offs while engaging existing doubts and misperceptions. We invited citizens on facebook to attend one of sixteen Zoom townhalls organized in collaboration with members of the German parliament. Each legislator conducted two town halls and we randomly assigned the townhall, where they employed „democratic persuasion“. Results suggest that “democratic persuasion” increases support for liberal democracy among citizens in the short term.
The Journal of Deliberative Democracy has published a new study [Open Access], spearheaded by Lea Gärtner, in collaboration with Harald Schoen and myself: Who Talks and Who Listens? How Political Involvement Influences the Potential for Democratic Deliberation in Everyday Political Talk
In times of rising partisan polarization and increasing disenchantment with political elites, everyday political talk could constitute an important venue for citizen deliberation. Everyday political discussions offer ordinary people opportunities to strengthen deliberative skills, form considered preferences ,and hone political identities in relation to others. However, informal political discussions seldom follow the norms of formal deliberative fora, calling into question how often such everyday talk really enables democratic deliberation in the broader public. The answer is essential to assess the deliberative potential of everyday political talk and thus to understand its role in the deliberative system. Focusing on the democratic and deliberative standards of reason-giving, mutual respect, equality, and inclusion, we develop a multi-step model of democratic deliberation in everyday political talk, in which the potential for democratic deliberation depends on the presence of all four core standards. As individuals’ propensity for democratic deliberation is likely to vary with their level of political involvement, both in terms of how much they care about politics and how strongly they identify with political groups, we consider both dimensions when modeling democratic deliberation in individuals’ everyday political discussions. We test all steps of the model with data from a large panel survey tracing the informal political discussion networks of 18,079 German voters during the year leading up to the national elections in 2017. Our findings indicate that everyday political talk is more deliberative than expected, as the three core standards of democratic deliberation we can measure are largely upheld in people’s political exchanges.
Why do many populist movements manage to assemble coalitions of societal groups that cut across ideological and socio-economic divides? In a new Registered Report that has now received in-principle acceptance, Nils Steiner, Christian Schimpf and myself argue: All of the groups that constitute the populist coalition share a feeling of lacking societal recognition – but for very different reasons.
It is a curious aspect of today’s populism that its ideological core considers society as a homogenous entity but at the same time populist movements are particularly successful in uniting segments of the population that are very different from each other.
Our attempt at explaining this fact builds on the popular thesis that supporters of populist parties feel “left behind”, but we try to put it on more solid conceptual footing. We propose a more specific, inherently multidimensional conceptualization of feeling “left behind” as the perception of being denied the societal recognition one deserves. Our synthesis of literature from philosophy, psychology and the social sciences characterizes societal recognition as a fundamental human desire whose thwarting leads to self-defensive reactions with political implications such as populist attitudes. And because there are many pathways to the perception of lacking recognition, feeling “left behind” may unite different groups who have been characterized as supporters of populism: people in routine jobs who perceive a lack recognition for the work they do (Sandel, 2021), conservatives who feel alienated by cultural changes in society (Norris/Inglehart) or those living in “left behind” rural places (Broz, Frieden and Weymouth, 2021; Harteveld et al., 2021).
Besides the theoretical argument, what I personally like about this paper is the format: We test this proposition of lacking societal recognition as the common cause of populist sentiments in diverse segments of society in a Registered Report format as part of the GLES OpenScience challenge for the German Political Science Quarterly. This means that our study underwent the ordinary peer review process – but before data was even available. It was judged solely on theoretical merits and the appropriateness of the research design — not whether we generated spectacular, surprising or clean findings.
Happy to share a pre-print of one of the most fascinating projects I have been involved in.
With Nate Breznau and Eike Rinke we have coordinated the research efforts of 163 social scientists who simultaneously be independently investigated the same research question with the same data. The result of that exercise reveals a previously hidden universe of scientific uncertainty that changes how interpret and approach scientific inquiry more. More info below.
This study explores how analytical choices of researchers affect the reliability of scientific findings. Current lack-of-reliability discussions focus on systematic biases. We broaden the lens to include idiosyncratic decisions in data analysis that lead researchers to diverging results and conclusions. We coordinated and observed decisions among 73 research-teams as they independently tested the same hypothesis using the same data. Results show that in this typical secondary data research situation, the universe of pathways from data to results is so vast that each analysis was unique in some way. Teams reported divergent findings with contradictory substantive implications that could not be explained by differences in researchers’ expertise, prior beliefs, and expectations. This calls for greater humility and clarity in presentation of scientific findings. Idiosyncratic variation may also be a cause for why many hypotheses remain highly contested, particularly in large-scale social and behavioral research.
I have benefitted from others sharing their syllabi online, so I want to share mine as well. Syllabi on Democracy, Causal Inference, Electoral Behavior, and some random slides I use for teaching
We invite colleagues to participate in a collaborative research effort among scholars with conflicting viewpoints to jointly devise and conduct a quantitative survey on free speech on campus.
A recent study (Revers & Traunmüller 2020) claims to have found evidence for widespread support for restricting free speech on campus, experiences of conformity pressures, and self-censorship. The study attracted broad public interest (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) along with critical reactions from other scholars (1, 2, 3, 4, Reply). The criticism concerned issues of study design and item wording as well as the normative framing of the results. Some of the disagreement regarding the empirical findings seems to reflect differences in the researchers’ epistemic, methodological, and ideological backgrounds. This call and the proposed project are motivated by the desire to leverage this diversity of perspectives in a constructive way.
Specifically, we are looking for scholars to join the group of skeptics who do not agree with the original study’s conclusions. In the form of a pre-registered adversarial collaboration, the group of skeptics along with the group of proponents work to consent on a questionnaire and analysis plan for a new quantitative survey that is to be conducted in the German university context (and potentially beyond).
One result of political polarization is that citizens often react differently to new information, depending on whether they trust the communicator. Extensive evidence documents motivated reasoning and reliance on source cues for party communication. However, even in times of polarization and high political awareness citizens do not have strong attitudes towards all kinds of actors that engage in public communication. In particular, many low-profile interest groups are hardly known to the wider public. In a new study, recently published in the Journal of Communication, we (Jungherr, Wuttke, Mader, Schoen) argue that interest group communication follows different mechanisms than party communication which has previously been the focus of scholarly attention. Because most citizens lack crystallized attitudes towards low-profile interest groups, the persuasive effect of interest group communication is more homogenous than party communication so that interest groups are in a better position to persuade citizens with any political background.
One aspect I like about this study, which has been years in the making, is how the study investigates the effects of interest group communication. First, we conduct a large-scale combined field- and survey-experiment in which individuals are randomly assigned to interest group communication. We partnered up with „Arbeitgeberverband Gesamtmetall“ who at the same time was interested in the efficacy of advocating for the controversial free trade agreement TTIP. Whereas one-third of respondents received no communication, the remainder were exposed to a letter that argued for the interest group’s position on this issue. Interestingly, half of the individuals received the treatment embedded in a survey-experimental which is common practice in the social sciences and allows researchers to closely examine treatment effects in a controlled setting. Yet, the other half received the letter via postal mail without any reference to our study, allowing us the investigate the persuasive effects in a realistic setting. We saw that the interest group communication succeeded in changing minds on TTIP. For every 13 letters the interest group had sent out, one person was converted from opponent to supporter of TTIP. Notably, prior attitudes towards the interest group played no discernible role in how citizens reacted to the letter, neither in the field-experimental setting nor in the more controlled survey experiment.
Two additional studies extend this evidence to strengthen the finding that interest group communication works independently of prior credibility assessments of the source. Study 2 presents evidence in line with our pre-registered hunch that citizens have much weaker predispositions towards interest groups compared to political parties. Study 3 then puts our idea of differential effects across types of senders to a formal test in a pre-registered, highly powered survey experiment. We exposed 8,500 survey respondents to a communicative treatment where the sender cue was randomly varied. As expected, when the communication was ostensibly from a political party, the treatments only had a persuasive effect among respondents with favorable predispositions towards that party – whereas the treatment even backfired among respondents with negative attitudes towards the party. When the communication was from an interest group, prior attitudes made no difference.
What is Open Science? Why is openness an epistemological value? Does political science need to become more open and how can we put Open Science principles into practice, considering the diversity of the methods used and questions pursued in our discipline?
PS: Political Science & Politics has now published a symposium that gives answers to these questions and tries to push forward our collective discussion on how we as political scientists can promote openness in our work. In line with our understanding of Open Science as consisting of two principles – inclusiveness and transparency -, we as editors (Eike Rinke, Nate Breznau, Alexander Wuttke) sought to collate a symposium that reflects the breadth of political science research and the complexity of the discussions on Open Science we are having in our discipline.
This twitter thread by Eike Rinke succinctly summarizes the contributed assembled in the symposium:
A few days after my defense, the second paper of my dissertation was published at Politics and the Life Sciences. Because the following visualization, which summarizes the paper’s argument, has never made it into the final study, I will use this blog to suppress the feeling that making the plot was a waste of time: