THE PARTISAN MIRROR:
THE EFFECTS OF INFORMATION AND PARTISANSHIP ON VOTERS’ PERCEPTIONS OF CANDIDATES’ IDEOLOGY
In a political environment where information competes with “fake news” and partisanship dictates what is believed, voters must separate the two or be deceived. Though accurate information about politicians and policies is available, misperceptions persist, and increasing polarization in the government and the electorate exacerbate the reluctance to consume information that conflicts with existing attitudes. In this paper I identify the sources of information that affect people’s ability to correctly place Congressional candidates on the ideological spectrum and the factors that are associated with misperceptions of ideology. I draw on Bawn and Zaller’s notion of the electoral blind spot to illustrate the degree and skew of misperception in the electorate. I do this for incumbents and challengers in the 2010 and 2012 House of Representatives elections. Results suggest that voters are generally unable to discern degrees of partisanship in their candidates. Voters tend to believe candidates are more moderate than they are in reality, and this effect is greater if a candidate is a voter’s co-partisan. Additionally, voters project their own ideological self- identification onto their candidates: The distance a voter considers themself to be from the ideological center influences, proportionally, how far the voter perceives candidates from either political party to be from the center. The heterogeneity of misperception and the projection of one’s own ideology onto candidates are inconsistent with the conception of the electoral blind spot as a set of policies over which the voter is indifferent, reflecting instead a strong partisan mirror effect on voters’ interpretation of political information.
GOLDWATER’S REVENGE: CONSERVATIVE INSURGENTS FROM GOLDWATER TO TRUMP
In this paper we argue anti-establishment, conservative voters have influenced US political dynamics by supporting presidential candidates atypical among partisan elites, across eras when these voters were predominantly Democratic as well as when they were predominantly Republican. We use opinion polling data to model particular ideological and demographic characteristics that predicted support for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election. With Trump Supporters as a model for voters with conservative, populist, and nationalistic attitudes, we use ANES data to identify similar voters from 1964 to the present and investigate whether those voters tend to support similarly unconventional presidential candidates.
My research agenda broadly covers American political behavior, congressional elections, and public opinion through examination of the characteristics of voters, politicians, and the electoral process. I am interested in questions concerning the relationships between knowledge, perception, and political attitudes; and in the intersection between partisanship and orientation on social issues. I seek to better understand how voters form their attitudes and positions on political issues and candidates
LOOKING FOR AN ELECTORAL BLIND SPOT:
THE EFFECTS OF INFORMATION AND PARTISANSHIP ON PERCEPTIONS OF CANDIDATES’ IDEOLOGY AND ON ELECTORAL OUTCOMES
My dissertation asks whether and how voters misperceive candidate ideology. The question is drawn directly out of Bawn and Zaller’s (2012) theoretical work suggesting an electoral “blind spot” in which voters’ assessments of candidates’ ideology is blurred by indifference to the space that is blinded. Bawn and Zaller do not offer a mechanism for the misperception and that is what I set out to uncover.
My work demonstrates that there is in fact a blurring of candidate placements but it is not in the manner Bawn and Zaller suspected. The shape and placement of the electoral blind spot seems to be driven by one particular thing: partisanship. There is a connection between voters’ perceptions – and misperceptions – of candidates and the partisanship of those candidates.
I develop a model of electorate awareness of candidate partisanship and determine what candidate, electorate, and campaign characteristics predict a more informed constituency. I explore possible mechanisms for why the parties in Congress have been becoming increasingly polarized. One possibility is that parties are nominating more extreme candidates because voters are demanding these candidates. My work suggests this may not be true. I view my findings as important part of the conversation about whether the polarization in Congress is being driven from the ground up or the top down. These findings are squarely in the top down category.