Arquivo da tag: Ciência política

Como duas pesquisadoras estão derrubando clichês sobre a política no Brasil (BBC)

6 junho 2016

ciencia politica

Nara Pavão e Natália Bueno: pesquisadoras questionam chavões da política no Brasil 

O brasileiro é racista e privilegia candidatos brancos ao votar. Políticos corruptos se mantêm no poder porque o eleitor é ignorante. Quem recebe Bolsa Família é conivente com o governo. ONGs são um ralo de dinheiro público no Brasil. Será?

A julgar pelos estudos de duas jovens pesquisadoras brasileiras em ciência política, não.

Natália Bueno e Nara Pavão, ambas de 32 anos, se destacam no meio acadêmico no exterior com pesquisas robustas que desmistificam chavões da política brasileira que alimentam debates em redes sociais e discussões de botequim.

Natural de Belo Horizonte (MG), Natália faz doutorado em Yale (EUA), uma das principais universidades do mundo. Em pouco mais de oito anos de carreira, acumula 13 distinções acadêmicas, entre prêmios e bolsas.

A pernambucana Nara é pesquisadora de pós-doutorado na Universidade Vanderbilt (EUA). Soma um doutorado (Notre Dame, EUA), dois mestrados em ciência política (Notre Dame e USP), 16 distinções.

Em comum, além da amizade e da paixão pela ciência política, está o interesse das duas em passar a limpo “verdades absolutas” sobre corrupção, comportamento do eleitor e políticas públicas no Brasil.

Eleitor é racista?

O Brasil é um país de desigualdades raciais – no mercado de trabalho, no acesso à educação e à saúde. Atraída pelo tema desde a graduação, Natália Bueno verificou se isso ocorre também na representação política.

O primeiro passo foi confirmar o que o senso comum já sugeria: há, proporcionalmente, mais brancos eleitos do que na população, e os negros são subrepresentados. Por exemplo, embora 45% da população brasileira (segundo o IBGE) se declare branca, na Câmara dos Deputados esse índice é de 80%.

E como a diferença foi mínima na comparação entre população e o grupo dos candidatos que não se elegeram, a conclusão mais rasteira seria: o brasileiro é racista e privilegia brancos ao votar.

politica

Abertura dos trabalhos no Congresso em 2016; pesquisa investigou desigualdade racial na política nacional. FABIO POZZEBOM/AGÊNCIA BRASIL

Para tentar verificar essa questão de forma científica, Natália montou um megaexperimento em parceria com Thad Dunning, da Universidade da Califórnia (Berkeley). Selecionou oito atores (quatro brancos e quatro negros), que gravaram um trecho semelhante ao horário eleitoral. Expôs 1.200 pessoas a essas mensagens, que só variavam no quesito raça.

Resultado: candidatos brancos não tiveram melhor avaliação nem respondentes privilegiaram concorrentes da própria raça nas escolhas.

Mas se a discrepância entre população e eleitos é real, onde está a resposta? No dinheiro, concluiu Natália – ela descobriu que candidatos brancos são mais ricos e recebem fatia maior da verba pública distribuída por partidos e também das doações privadas.

A diferença média de patrimônio entre políticos brancos (em nível federal, estadual e local) e não brancos foi de R$ 690 mil. E em outra prova do poder do bolso nas urnas, vencedores registraram R$ 650 mil a mais em patrimônio pessoal do que os perdedores.

Políticos brancos também receberam, em média, R$ 369 mil a mais em contribuições de campanha do que não brancos. A análise incluiu dados das eleições de 2008, 2010 e 2014.

“Se a discriminação tem um papel (na desigualdade racial na representação política), ela passa principalmente pelas inequidades de renda e riqueza entre brancos e negros que afetam a habilidade dos candidatos negros de financiar suas campanhas”, diz.

Corruptos estão no poder por que o eleitor é ignorante?

A corrupção é um tema central no debate político atual no Brasil. E se tantos brasileiros percebem a corrupção como problema (98% da população pensa assim, segundo pesquisa de 2014), porque tantos políticos corruptos continuam no poder?

A partir de dados de diferentes pesquisas de opinião – entre elas, dois levantamentos nacionais, com 2 mil e 1,5 mil entrevistados -, a recifense Nara Pavão foi buscar respostas para além do que a ciência política já discutiu sobre o tema.

politica

Ato contra corrupção no Congresso em 2011; estudo investiga por que corruptos se mantêm no poder. ANTONIO CRUZ/ABR

Muitos estudos já mostraram que a falta de informação política é comum entre a população, e que o eleitor costuma fazer uma troca: ignora a corrupção quando, por exemplo, a economia vai bem.

“Mas para mim a questão não é apenas se o eleitor possui ou não informação sobre políticos corruptos, mas, sim, o que ele vai decidir fazer com essa informação e como essa informação vai afetar a decisão do voto”, afirma a cientista política.

A pesquisa de Nara identificou um fator chave a perpetuar corruptos no poder: o chamado cinismo político – quando a corrupção é recorrente, ela passa ser vista pelo eleitor como um fator constante, e se torna inútil como critério de diferenciação entre candidatos.

Consequência: o principal fator que torna os eleitores brasileiros tolerantes à corrupção é a crença de que a corrupção é generalizada.

“Se você acha que todos os políticos são incapazes de lidar com a corrupção, a corrupção se torna um elemento vazio para você na escolha do voto”, afirma Nara, para quem o Brasil está preso numa espécie de armadilha da corrupção: quão maior é a percepção do problema, menos as eleições servem para resolvê-lo.

Quem recebe Bolsa Família não critica o governo?

O programa Bolsa Família beneficia quase 50 milhões de pessoas e é uma das principais bandeiras das gestões do PT no Planalto. Até por isso, sempre foi vitrine – e também vidraça – do petismo.

Uma das críticas recorrentes pressupõe que o programa, para usar a linguagem da economia política, altera os incentivos que eleitores têm para criticar o governo.

Famílias beneficiadas não se preocupariam, por exemplo, em punir um mau desempenho econômico ou a corrupção, importando-se apenas com o auxílio no começo do mês.

politica

Material de campanha em dia de votação em São Paulo em 2012; receber benefícios do governo não implica em conivência com Poder Público, conclui estudo. MARCELO CAMARGO/ABR

Deste modo, governos que mantivessem programas massivos de transferência de renda estariam blindados contra eventuais performances medíocres. Seria, nesse sentido, um arranjo clientelista – troca de bens (dinheiro ou outra coisa) por voto.

Um estudo de Nara analisou dados do Brasil e de 15 países da América Latina que possuem programas como o Bolsa Família e não encontrou provas de que isso seja verdade.

“Em geral, o peso eleitoral atribuído à performance econômica e à corrupção do governo é relativamente igual entre aqueles que recebem transferências de renda e aqueles que não recebem”, afirma.

A conclusão é que, embora esses programas proporcionem retornos eleitorais para os governantes de plantão, eles não representam – desde que sigam regras rígidas – incentivo para eleitores ignorarem aspectos ddo desempenho do governo.

ONGs são ralo de dinheiro público?

Organizações de sociedade civil funcionam como um importante instrumento para o Estado fornecer, por meio de parcerias e convênios, serviços à população.

Diferentes governos (federal, estaduais e municipais) transferem recursos a essas entidades para executar programas diversos, de construção de cisternas e atividades culturais.

Apenas em nível federal, essas transferências quase dobraram no período 1999-2010: de RS$ 2,2 bilhões para R$ 4,1 bilhões.

ONGs

Cisterna em Quixadá (CE), em serviço que costuma ser delegado a organizações civis; pesquisadora estudou distribuição de recursos públicos para essas entidades. FERNANDO FRAZÃO/ABR

Esse protagonismo enseja questionamentos sobre a integridade dessas parcerias – não seriam apenas um meio de canalizar dinheiro público para as mãos de ONGs simpáticas aos governos de plantão?

Com o papel dessas organizações entre seus principais de interesses de pesquisa, Natália Bueno mergulhou no tema. Unindo métodos quantitativos e qualitativos, analisou extensas bases de dados, visitou organizações e construiu modelos estatísticos.

Concluiu que o governo federal (ao menos no período analisado, de 2003 a 2011) faz, sim, uma distribuição estratégica desses recursos, de olho na disputa política.

“A pesquisa sugere que governos transferem recursos para entidades para evitar que prefeitos de oposição tenham acesso a repasses de recursos federais. Outros fatores, como implementação de políticas públicas para as quais as organizações tem expertise e capacidade únicas, também tem um papel importante.”

Ela não encontrou provas, porém, de eventual corrupção ou clientelismo por trás desses critérios de escolha – o uso das ONGs seria principalmente parte de uma estratégia político-eleitoral, e não um meio de enriquecimento ilícito.

“Esse tipo de distribuição estratégica de recursos é próprio da política e encontramos padrões de distribuição semelhantes em outros países, como EUA, Argentina e México”, diz Natália.

Corrupção é difícil de verificar, mas a pesquisadora usou a seguinte estratégia: comparou ONGs presentes em cidades com disputas eleitorais apertadas, checou a proporção delas no cadastro de entidades impedidas de fechar parcerias com a União e fez uma busca sistemática por notícias e denúncias públicas de corrupção.

De 281 ONGs analisadas, 10% estavam no cadastro de impedidas, e apenas uma por suspeita de corrupção.

Hard-wired: The brain’s circuitry for political belief (Science Daily)

Date:
December 23, 2016
Source:
University of Southern California
Summary:
When people’s political beliefs are challenged, their brains become active in areas that govern personal identity and emotional responses to threats, neuroscientists have found.

The amygdala — the two almond-shaped areas hugging the center of the brain near the front — tends to become active when people dig in their heels about a political belief. Credit: Photo/Courtesy of Brain and Creativity Institute at USC

A USC-led study confirms what seems increasingly true in American politics: People become more hard-headed in their political beliefs when provided with contradictory evidence.

Neuroscientists at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC said the findings from the functional MRI study seem especially relevant to how people responded to political news stories, fake or credible, throughout the election.

“Political beliefs are like religious beliefs in the respect that both are part of who you are and important for the social circle to which you belong,” said lead author Jonas Kaplan, an assistant research professor of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “To consider an alternative view, you would have to consider an alternative version of yourself.”

To determine which brain networks respond when someone holds firmly to a belief, the neuroscientists with the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC compared whether and how much people change their minds on nonpolitical and political issues when provided counter-evidence.

They discovered that people were more flexible when asked to consider the strength of their belief in nonpolitical statements — for example, “Albert Einstein was the greatest physicist of the 20th century.”

But when it came to reconsidering their political beliefs, such as whether the United States should reduce funding for the military, they would not budge.

“I was surprised that people would doubt that Einstein was a great physicist, but this study showed that there are certain realms where we retain flexibility in our beliefs,” Kaplan said.

The study was published on Dec. 23 in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports. Study co-authors were Sarah Gimbel of the Brain and Creativity Institute and Sam Harris, a neuroscientist for the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Project Reason.

Brain response to belief challenges

For the study, the neuroscientists recruited 40 people who were self-declared liberals. The scientists then examined through functional MRI how their brains responded when their beliefs were challenged.

During their brain imaging sessions, participants were presented with eight political statements that they had said they believe just as strongly as a set of eight nonpolitical statements. They were then shown five counter-claims that challenged each statement.

Participants rated the strength of their belief in the original statement on a scale of 1-7 after reading each counter-claim. The scientists then studied their brain scans to determine which areas became most engaged during these challenges.

Participants did not change their beliefs much, if at all, when provided with evidence that countered political statements such as, “The laws regulating gun ownership in the United States should be made more restrictive.”

But the scientists noticed the strength of their beliefs weakened by one or two points when challenged on nonpolitical topics, such as whether “Thomas Edison had invented the light bulb.” The participants were shown counter statements that prompted some feelings of doubt, such as “Nearly 70 years before Edison, Humphrey Davy demonstrated an electric lamp to the Royal Society.”

The study found that people who were most resistant to changing their beliefs had more activity in the amygdalae (a pair of almond-shaped areas near the center of the brain) and the insular cortex, compared with people who were more willing to change their minds.

“The activity in these areas, which are important for emotion and decision-making, may relate to how we feel when we encounter evidence against our beliefs,” said Kaplan, a co-director of the Dornsife Cognitive Neuroimaging Center at USC.

“The amygdala in particular is known to be especially involved in perceiving threat and anxiety,” Kaplan added. “The insular cortex processes feelings from the body, and it is important for detecting the emotional salience of stimuli. That is consistent with the idea that when we feel threatened, anxious or emotional, then we are less likely to change our minds.”

Thoughts that count

He also noted that a system in the brain, the Default Mode Network, surged in activity when participants’ political beliefs were challenged.

“These areas of the brain have been linked to thinking about who we are, and with the kind of rumination or deep thinking that takes us away from the here and now,” Kaplan said.

The researchers said that this latest study, along with one conducted earlier this year, indicate the Default Mode Network is important for high-level thinking about important personal beliefs or values.

“Understanding when and why people are likely to change their minds is an urgent objective,” said Gimbel, a research scientist at the Brain and Creativity Institute. “Knowing how and which statements may persuade people to change their political beliefs could be key for society’s progress,” she said.

The findings can apply to circumstances outside of politics, including how people respond to fake news stories.

“We should acknowledge that emotion plays a role in cognition and in how we decide what is true and what is not true,” Kaplan said. “We should not expect to be dispassionate computers. We are biological organisms.”


Journal Reference:

  1. Jonas T. Kaplan, Sarah I. Gimbel & Sam Harris. Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidenceScientific Reports, December 2016 DOI: 10.1038/srep39589

Rise of the internet has reduced voter turnout (Science Daily)

Date:
September 16, 2016
Source:
University of Bristol
Summary:
During the initial phase of the internet, a “crowding-out” of political information occurred, which has affected voter turnout, new research shows.

The internet has transformed the way in which voters access and receive political information. It has allowed politicians to directly communicate their message to voters, circumventing the mainstream media which would traditionally filter information.

Writing in IZA World of Labor, Dr Heblich from the Department of Economics, presents research from a number of countries, comparing voter behaviour of municipalities with internet access to the ones without in the early 2000s. It shows municipalities with broadband internet access faced a decrease in voter turnout, due to voters suddenly facing an overwhelmingly large pool of information and not knowing how to filter relevant knowledge efficiently. Similarly, the internet seemed to have crowded out other media at the expense of information quality.

However, the introduction of interactive social media and “user-defined” content appears to have reversed this. It helped voters to collect information more efficiently. Barack Obama’s successful election campaign in 2008 set the path for this development. In the so-called “Facebook election,” Obama successfully employed Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, to lead his highly effective election campaign.

Using a combination of social networks, podcasts, and mobile messages, Obama connected directly with (young) American voters. In doing so, he gained nearly 70 per cent of the votes among Americans under the age of 25.

But there is a downside: voters can now be personally identified and strategically influenced by targeted information. What if politicians use this information in election campaigns to target voters that are easy to mobilize?

Dr Heblich’s research shows there is a thin line between desirable benefits of more efficient information dissemination and undesirable possibilities of voter manipulation. Therefore, policymakers need to consider introducing measures to educate voters to become more discriminating in their use of the internet.

Dr Heblich said: “To the extent that online consumption replaces the consumption of other media (newspapers, radio, or television) with a higher information content, there may be no information gains for the average voter and, in the worst case, even a crowding- out of information.

“One potential risk relates to the increasing possibilities to collect personal information known as ‘big data’. This development could result in situations in which individual rights are violated, since the personal information could be used, for example, to selectively disseminate information in election campaigns and in influence voters strategically.”

See the report at: http://wol.iza.org/articles/effect-of-internet-on-voting-behavior

The One Weird Trait That Predicts Whether You’re a Trump Supporter (Politico Magazine)

And it’s not gender, age, income, race or religion.

1/17/2016

 

If I asked you what most defines Donald Trump supporters, what would you say? They’re white? They’re poor? They’re uneducated?

You’d be wrong.

In fact, I’ve found a single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism.

That’s right, Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it’s very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow.

My finding is the result of a national poll I conducted in the last five days of December under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, sampling 1,800 registered voters across the country and the political spectrum. Running a standard statistical analysis, I found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate. Only two of the variables I looked at were statistically significant: authoritarianism, followed by fear of terrorism, though the former was far more significant than the latter.

Authoritarianism is not a new, untested concept in the American electorate. Since the rise of Nazi Germany, it has been one of the most widely studied ideas in social science. While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.

Not all authoritarians are Republicans by any means; in national surveys since 1992, many authoritarians have also self-identified as independents and Democrats. And in the 2008 Democratic primary, the political scientist Marc Hetherington found that authoritarianism mattered more than income, ideology, gender, age and education in predicting whether voters preferred Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama. But Hetherington has also found, based on 14 years of polling, that authoritarians have steadily moved from the Democratic to the Republican Party over time. He hypothesizes that the trend began decades ago, as Democrats embraced civil rights, gay rights, employment protections and other political positions valuing freedom and equality. In my poll results, authoritarianism was not a statistically significant factor in the Democratic primary race, at least not so far, but it does appear to be playing an important role on the Republican side. Indeed, 49 percent of likely Republican primary voters I surveyed score in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale—more than twice as many as Democratic voters.

Political pollsters have missed this key component of Trump’s support because they simply don’t include questions about authoritarianism in their polls. In addition to the typical battery of demographic, horse race, thermometer-scale and policy questions, my poll asked a set of four simple survey questions that political scientists have employed since 1992 to measure inclination toward authoritarianism. These questions pertain to child-rearing: whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious. Respondents who pick the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian.

Based on these questions, Trump was the only candidate—Republican or Democrat—whose support among authoritarians was statistically significant.

So what does this mean for the election? It doesn’t just help us understand what motivates Trump’s backers—it suggests that his support isn’t capped. In a statistical analysis of the polling results, I found that Trump has already captured 43 percent of Republican primary voters who are strong authoritarians, and 37 percent of Republican authoritarians overall. A majority of Republican authoritarians in my poll also strongly supported Trump’s proposals to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, prohibit Muslims from entering the United States, shutter mosques and establish a nationwide database that track Muslims.

And in a general election, Trump’s strongman rhetoric will surely appeal to some of the 39 percent of independents in my poll who identify as authoritarians and the 17 percent of self-identified Democrats who are strong authoritarians.

What’s more, the number of Americans worried about the threat of terrorism is growing. In 2011, Hetherington published research finding that non-authoritarians respond to the perception of threat by behaving more like authoritarians. More fear and more threats—of the kind we’ve seen recently in the San Bernardino and Paris terrorist attacks—mean more voters are susceptible to Trump’s message about protecting Americans. In my survey, 52 percent of those voters expressing the most fear that another terrorist attack will occur in the United States in the next 12 months were non-authoritarians—ripe targets for Trump’s message.

Take activated authoritarians from across the partisan spectrum and the growing cadre of threatened non-authoritarians, then add them to the base of Republican general election voters, and the potential electoral path to a Trump presidency becomes clearer.

So, those who say a Trump presidency “can’t happen here” should check their conventional wisdom at the door. The candidate has confounded conventional expectations this primary season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity. And the institutions—from the Republican Party to the press—that are supposed to guard against what James Madison called “the infection of violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or are asleep on the job.

It is time for those who would appeal to our better angels to take his insurgency seriously and stop dismissing his supporters as a small band of the dispossessed. Trump support is firmly rooted in American authoritarianism and, once awakened, it is a force to be reckoned with. That means it’s also time for political pollsters to take authoritarianism seriously and begin measuring it in their polls.

Matthew MacWilliams is founder of MacWilliams Sanders, a political communications firms, and a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he is writing his dissertation about authoritarianism.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/donald-trump-2016-authoritarian-213533#ixzz3xj06TM2n

In our world beyond nations, the future is medieval (New Scientist)

04 September 2014

Magazine issue 2985

Islamic State is more like a postmodern network than a nation state – so we’ll need new tactics to deal with it

FOR most of the past thousand years, there were no nations in Europe. It was a hotchpotch of tribal groupings, feudal kingdoms, autonomous cities and trading networks. Over time, the continent’s ever more complex societies and industries required ever more complex governance; with the French Revolution, the modern nation state was born.

Now the nation’s time may be drawing to a close, according to those who look at society through the lenses of complexity theory and human behaviour. There is plentiful evidence for this once you start looking (see “End of nations: Is there an alternative to countries?Movie Camera“). Consider the European Union, which is trying – much to the disapproval of many Europeans – to transcend its member nations.

Is this a prospect to welcome or dread? One possible reaction is a resurgence of nationalism, based in the desire to consolidate a perceived common identity. Russia’s bellicosity in eastern Ukraine, for example, was supposedly intended to protect the interests of Russian speakers – a transnational act in itself.

Some believe, instead, that the medieval way of running things is due for a comeback. For much of the Middle Ages, power was wielded by city states, like Florence and Hamburg, and by mercantile associations like the Hanseatic League. Reinventing this system might not sound like progress, especially to those who mistrust the overweening power of cities like London or bodies like the World Trade Organization, but it has its pluses. The governors of big cities oversee most of the world’s inhabitants, share many concerns and are often freer to act than national governments.

Small nations could also thrive, particularly if they distinguish themselves through high-tech expertise (New Scientist, 31 May 2014, p 12). Witness how talk of “going it alone” around the imminent Scottish referendum has often segued into talk of how a politically independent Scotland could maintain its links with England and the EU.

But post-nationalism has its ugly side, too. Islamic State, the extremist movement which has overrun northern Iraq and Syria, is usually described as medieval in a pejorative sense. But it is also hyper-modern, interested in few of the trappings of a conventional state apart from its own brutal brand of law enforcement. In fact, it is more of a network than a nation, having made canny use of social media to exert influence far beyond its geographical base.

Confronted with this post-national threat, the world’s most powerful nations have reacted with something approaching stunned silence. “We have no strategy,” said US president Barack Obama in a rare gaffe. The British government has resorted to “royal prerogative” – a medieval legal instrument if ever there was one – to provide a pretext for controlling the movements of British jihadis. It remains to be seen if this will work: any such action is fraught with complexity under international law.

Thirteen years ago this month, Al-Qaida’s attack on the World Trade Center demonstrated the shortcomings of conventional defences in the face of 21st-century threats. The response was a radical reshaping of the security and military landscape, with effects that are still playing out.

Today, Al-Qaida’s offspring pose a similarly acute challenge to the apparatus of international relations. Even if we decide not to embrace post-nationalism, we’ll have to figure out how to engage with those who do. And we don’t have a thousand years to do it.

This article appeared in print under the headline “State of the nation”

Political attitudes derive from body and mind: ‘Negativity bias’ explains difference between liberals and conservatives (Science Daily)

Date: July 31, 2014

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Summary: Neither conscious decision-making or parental upbringing fully explain why some people lean left and others lean right, researchers say. A mix of deep-seated psychology and physiological responses are at the core of political differences.


Pictured are University of Nebraska-Lincoln political scientists Kevin Smith, left, and John Hibbing, right. Credit: University Communications, University of Nebraska-Lincoln/Craig Chandler

Do people make a rational choice to be liberal or conservative? Do their mothers raise them that way? Is it a matter of genetics?

Two political scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a colleague from Rice University say that neither conscious decision-making nor parental upbringing fully explain why some people lean left while others lean right.

A growing body of evidence shows that physiological responses and deep-seated psychology are at the core of political differences, the researchers say in the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

“Politics might not be in our souls, but it probably is in our DNA,” says the article written by political scientists John Hibbing and Kevin Smith of UNL and John Alford of Rice University.

“These natural tendencies to perceive the physical world in different ways may in turn be responsible for striking moments of political and ideological conflict throughout history,” Alford said.

Using eye-tracking equipment and skin conductance detectors, the three researchers have observed that conservatives tend to have more intense reactions to negative stimuli, such as photos of people eating worms, burning houses or maggot-infested wounds.

Combining their own results with similar findings from other researchers around the world, the team proposes that this so-called “negativity bias” may be a common factor that helps define the difference between conservatives, with their emphasis on stability and order, and liberals, with their emphasis on progress and innovation.

“Across research methods, samples and countries, conservatives have been found to be quicker to focus on the negative, to spend longer looking at the negative, and to be more distracted by the negative,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers caution that they make no value judgments about this finding. In fact, some studies show that conservatives, despite their quickness to detect threats, are happier overall than liberals. And all people, whether liberal, conservative or somewhere in between, tend to be more alert to the negative than to the positive — for good evolutionary reasons. The harm caused by negative events, such as infection, injury and death, often outweighs the benefits brought by positive events.

“We see the ‘negativity bias’ as a common finding that emerges from a large body of empirical studies done not just by us, but by many other research teams around the world,” Smith explained. “We make the case in this article that negativity bias clearly and consistently separates liberals from conservatives.”

The most notable feature about the negativity bias is not that it exists, but that it varies so much from person to person, the researchers said.

“Conservatives are fond of saying ‘liberals just don’t get it,’ and liberals are convinced that conservatives magnify threats,” Hibbing said. “Systematic evidence suggests both are correct.”

Many scientists appear to agree with the findings by Hibbing, Smith and Alford. More than 50 scientists contributed 26 peer commentary articles discussing the Behavioral and Brain Sciences article.

Only three or four of the articles seriously disputed the negativity bias hypothesis. The remainder accepted the general concept, while suggesting modifications such as better defining and conceptualizing a negativity bias; more deeply exploring its nature and origins; and more clearly defining liberalism and conservatism across history and culture.

Journal Reference:

  1. John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Alford. Differences in negativity bias underlie variations in political ideology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2014; 37 (03): 297 DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X13001192

Contrary to image, city politicians do adapt to voters (Science Daily)

Date: July 29, 2014

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Summary: Political scientists have long wondered whether city governments in the U.S. are really responsive to their voters. Aren’t local governments simply mired in machine politics, or under the sway of local big-money interests? Does ideology matter? Now a uniquely comprehensive study has produced a pair of distinctive findings: first, that the policies of city governments do closely match the politics of their citizens, and second, that this occurs regardless of the exact form of government than a city has.


Political scientists have long wondered whether city governments in the U.S. are really responsive to their voters. Aren’t local governments simply mired in machine politics, or under the sway of local big-money interests? Does ideology matter?

Now a uniquely comprehensive study co-authored by an MIT political scientist has produced a pair of distinctive findings: first, that the policies of city governments do closely match the politics of their citizens, and second, that this occurs regardless of the exact form of government than a city has.

That means that urban governance is more flexible, adaptable, and representative than the popular image might suggest. It also indicates that the link between public opinion and policy outcomes in municipal government is independent of whether it is led by a mayor, a town council, or selectmen, or uses direct referendums as opposed to indirect representatives.

“Politics doesn’t look quite as different at the local level as people thought it did,” says Chris Warshaw, an assistant professor of political science at MIT, and an author of a new paper detailing the findings of the study.

The research is singularly broad, examining the policies of every U.S. city and town with a population of 20,000 or more. It breaks new ground by extensively examining, on the municipal front, what researchers have found to be true of federal and state governments: that the views of the people usually matter significantly in shaping political action.

Or, as the researchers say in their new paper on the subject, there is a “robust role for citizen policy preferences in determining municipal policy outcomes.”

All politics is not just local, but ideological

The paper, “Representation in Municipal Government,” appears in the latest issue of the American Political Science Review. It was written by Warshaw and Chris Tausanovitch, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California at Los Angeles.

The study links data from seven large-scale surveys, taken from 2000 through 2011, each of which asked 30,000 to 80,000 American voters their views on a wide range of policy questions. To further enhance the measurement of policy preferences among voters, the researchers also incorporated models that estimate preferences based on demographic and geographic information, and looked at other data, such as on presidential vote results in cities and towns.

The study examined 1,600 American municipalities. San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington ranked as the most liberal cities with 250,000 or more people, while Mesa, Ariz., Oklahoma City, and Virginia Beach, Va., were rated as the most conservative.

To see if voter preferences matched the policies that municipal governments enacted, Warshaw and Tausanovitch used a wide variety of data sources to rate the policy choices enacted by local governments, often involving spending and taxes. “The substantively consequential policies are the ones we look at,” Warshaw says.

The researchers also controlled for cities’ fiscal health, since well-off municipalities can afford to spend more on public projects and regulations than poorer towns and cities.

Even accounting for such factors, Warshaw and Tausanovitch found that liberal cities tend to both tax and spend more, while having “less regressive tax systems,” with a lower share of revenues from sales taxes. This strong correlation, they found, persists whatever the form of local government.

So while people like to say that “all politics is local,” Warshaw thinks we should amend that view. The notion that “idiosyncratic local political battles, about zoning, land, growth, and fixing potholes, is the core of city politics,” as he puts it, is not quite wrong; it’s just that the battles over such things also occur within the same ideological spectrum that applies to state and federal politics.

Room for more research

Warshaw notes that more research could be conducted on the causal mechanisms that make cities broadly responsive to public opinion. “My hope is this will inspire other people to go out and fill in those mechanisms,” he says.

Methodologically, he suggests, the variation in the structures of city governments, among other things, might allow scholars to further compare and contrast otherwise similar groups of municipalities.

“Given that we know the powers of cities vary a lot in different states, an obvious piece of variation to explore is that in states that give more discretion to cities, you [might] get different outcomes,” Warshaw says. “By utilizing that variation across the country, you can start to get into those questions.”

Extreme Political Attitudes May Stem from an Illusion of Understanding (Science Daily)

Apr. 29, 2013 — Having to explain how a political policy works leads people to express less extreme attitudes toward the policy, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research suggests that people may hold extreme policy positions because they are under an illusion of understanding — attempting to explain the nuts and bolts of how a policy works forces them to acknowledge that they don’t know as much about the policy as they initially thought.

Psychological scientist Philip Fernbach of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder and his co-authors were interested in exploring some of the factors that could contribute to what they see as increasing political polarization in the United States.

“We wanted to know how it’s possible that people can maintain such strong positions on issues that are so complex — such as macroeconomics, health care, foreign relations — and yet seem to be so ill-informed about those issues,” says Fernbach.

Drawing on previous research on the illusion of understanding, Fernbach and colleagues speculated that one reason for the apparent paradox may be that voters think they understand how policies work better than they actually do.

In their first study, the researchers asked participants taking an online survey to rate how well they understood six political policies, including raising the retirement age for Social Security, instituting a national flat tax, and implementing merit-based pay for teachers. The participants were randomly assigned to explain two of the policies and then asked to re-rate how well they understood the policies.

As the researchers predicted, people reported lower understanding of all six policies after they had to explain them, and their positions on the policies were less extreme. In fact, the data showed that the more people’s understanding decreased, the more uncertain they were about the position, and the less extreme their position was in the end.

The act of explaining also affected participants’ behavior. People who initially held a strong position softened their position after having to explain it, making them less likely to donate bonus money to a related organization when they were given the opportunity to do so.

Importantly, the results affected people along the whole political spectrum, from self-identified Democrats to Republicans to Independents.

According to the researchers, these findings shed light on a psychological process that may help people to open the lines of communication in the context of a heated debate or negotiation.

“This research is important because political polarization is hard to combat,” says Fernbach. “There are many psychological processes that act to create greater extremism and polarization, but this is a rare case where asking people to attempt to explain makes them back off their extreme positions.”

In addition to Fernbach, co-authors include Todd Rogers of the Harvard Kennedy School; Craig R. Fox of the University of California, Los Angeles; and Steven A. Sloman of Brown University.

Journal Reference:

  1. P. M. Fernbach, T. Rogers, C. R. Fox, S. A. Sloman.Political Extremism Is Supported by an Illusion of UnderstandingPsychological Science, 2013; DOI:10.1177/0956797612464058