Recent Faculty Publications

Social Distraction? Social Media Use and Political Knowledge in Two U.S. Presidential Elections
Michael Xenos with Sangwon Lee

With increasing numbers of people using social media to get news and political information, whether social media helps users learn about politics has become an important question. Intrigued by the potential of social media to politically educate people, researchers have begun to explore the effects of social media on political knowledge. However, the findings from these studies have been far from conclusive. Drawing on both cross-sectional and panel data from two recent United States presidential elections, this study examines how political social media use and general social media use influence political knowledge. Overall, the results of the cross-sectional and panel analyses lead to the same conclusions. Both show that political social media use does not have a significant effect on political knowledge, while general social media use has a moderately negative effect on political knowledge. Thus, on balance, the overall impact of social media on political knowledge appears to be negative. Implications and directions for future research are discussed.

Lee, S., & Xenos, M. (2019). Social distraction? Social Media Use and Political Knowledge in Two US Presidential ElectionsComputers in Human Behavior90, 18-25.

“Little Marco,” “Lyin’Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” and the “Biased” Media: How Trump Used Twitter to Attack and Organize
Ayellet Pelled and Dhavan Shah with Josephine Lukito, Fred Boehm, and JungHwan Yang

Donald Trump received an unprecedented amount of news coverage during his presidential campaign, on occasions drawing as much as five times more volume than all of the other candidates combined. Trump, the controversial contender, a reality-television celebrity and media persona, mainly known for his business empire, has been an object of public interest for decades. Long before The Apprentice even aired, Trump had been dabbling in the entertainment arena, promoting his hotels, casinos, and golf courses, alongside his products, programs, and events (Yanofsky, 2015). His presidential candidacy reflects the quintessential intersection between media, politics, and entertainment.

Pelled, A., Lukito, J., Boehm, F., Yang, J., & Shah, D. (2018). “Little Marco,” “Lyin’Ted,” “Crooked Hillary,” and the “Biased” Media: How Trump Used Twitter to Attack and Organize. In Digital Discussions (pp. 186-206). Routledge.

22 Media and Civic Engagement
Lewis Friedland with Chris Wells

The meaning and forms of civic engagement have changed significantly from the end of WWII to the present. This chapter charts civic engagement through a broader framework for understanding community and civil society. The meanings of civic engagement have changed through three periods: from World War II to the 60s; large collective movements from the 60s to the 90s; and the rise of “post-materialism” from the 90s on. We pay particular attention to the rise and impact of new communication technologies on civic and public life, and the theory of “actualizing citizenship.” The chapter concludes with a discussion of “blended” media and civil activism, arguing that the new communication ecology both shapes and is shaped by citizen action. We distinguish between the different ecological configuration of the contemporary right and left, arguing that contemporary media-centricanalysis of civic engagement should yield to more integrated analytical, sociological, and historical accounts.

Friedland, L., & Wells, C. (2018). 22 Media and Civic Engagement. Mediated Communication. Boston, MA: De Gruyter.

Polls and Elections: Institutional Dynamics and Nominating Processes: The Latest Twists on a Familiar Story or the Emergence of a Brave New World?
Byron E. Shafer with Elizabeth M. Sawyer

The presidential nominating contests of 2016 were extremely fertile ground for hypothesizing by media analysts about alternative outcomes. Lacking much theoretical grounding, most of these were almost destined to be embarrassed by actual events—and 2016 proved extremely good at that. Yet the practical collapse of these journalistic hypotheticals does raise insistent theoretical questions, most of which are variants of one central puzzle: Were the nominating dynamics of 2016 ever very different from those of previous years? If so, how? If not, why not? There is, in fact, an established theoretical approach in political science with which to frame some answers. This article sets out to embed those answers within that established wisdom.

Sawyer, E. M., & Shafer, B. E. (2018). Polls and Elections: Institutional Dynamics and Nominating Processes: The Latest Twists on a Familiar Story or the Emergence of a Brave New World?Presidential Studies Quarterly48(3), 586-610.

Who Gets Covered? Ideological Extremity and News Coverage of Members of the U.S. Congress, 1993 to 2013
Michael W. Wagner with Mike Gruszczynski

Does the news media cover ideological extremists more than moderates? The authors combine a measure of members of Congress’ ideological extremity with a content analysis of how often lawmakers appear in the New York Times from the 103rd to the 112th Congresses and on CBS and NBC’s evening newscasts in the 112th Congress. They show that ideological extremity is positively related to political news coverage for members of the House of Representatives. Generally, ideological extremity is not related to the likelihood of coverage for senators. Finally, they show that extreme Republicans are more likely to earn media attention than extreme Democrats.

Wagner, M. W., & Gruszczynski, M. (2017). Who Gets Covered? Ideological Extremity and News Coverage of Members of the US Congress, 1993 to 2013Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 670-690

Campaigns, Inc.
Robert Yablon

Election campaigns have become the domain of a thriving industry of paid political service providers. While leading scholars in other fields regard the rise of the campaign industry as a defining feature of our nation’s politics, the industry is strikingly absent from the legal literature. This Article seeks to bring the campaign industry into election law discourse and contends that doing so has important practical and theoretical payoffs.

The Article begins by adding legal texture to existing accounts of the campaign industry’s development. It observes that the industry emerged partly as an unintended consequence of efforts to reform political parties and campaign finance. The Article then considers the industry’s repercussions. For campaigners and political donors, campaign professionals can provide tremendously valuable services, but they can also generate substantial countervailing agency costs. Widening the lens, the campaign industry has significant systemic effects on the pool of candidates who seek office, on the nature of campaigning, on substantive policy decisions, and more. Building on this descriptive account, the Article explores the industry’s implications for ongoing jurisprudential and policy debates about money in politics and the role of political parties. The Article concludes by surveying potential public and private interventions to address the campaign industry’s drawbacks.

Yablon, R. (2018). Campaigns, Inc. Minnesota Law Review.

The Stealth Media? Groups and Targets Behind Divisive Issue Campaigns on Facebook
Young Mie Kim, Jordan Hsu, and Levi Bankston with David Neiman, Colin Kou, Soo Yun Kim, Richard Heinrich, Robyn Baragwanath, and Garvesh Raskutt

In light of the foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, the present research asks the question of whether the digital media has become the stealth media for anonymous political campaigns. By utilizing a user-based, real-time, digital ad tracking tool, the present research reverse engineers and tracks the groups (Study 1) and the targets (Study 2) of divisive issue campaigns based on 5 million paid ads on Facebook exposed to 9,519 individuals between September 28 and November 8, 2016. The findings reveal groups that did not file reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC)—nonprofits, astroturf/movement groups, and unidentifiable “suspicious” groups, including foreign entities—ran most of the divisive issue campaigns. One out of six suspicious groups later turned out to be Russian groups. The volume of ads sponsored by non-FEC groups was four times larger than that of FEC- groups. Divisive issue campaigns clearly targeted battleground states, including Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where traditional Democratic strongholds supported Trump by a razor thin margin. The present research asserts that media ecology, the technological features and capacity of digital media, as well as regulatory loopholes created by Citizens United v. FEC and the FEC’s disclaimer exemption for digital platforms contribute to the prevalence of anonymous groups’ divisive issue campaigns on digital media. The present research offers insight relevant for regulatory policy discussion and discusses the normative implications of the findings for the functioning of democracy.

Kim, Y. M., Hsu, J., Neiman, D., Kou, C., Bankston, L., Kim, S. Y., … & Raskutti, G. (2018). The Stealth Media? Groups and Targets Behind Divisive Issue Campaigns on FacebookPolitical Communication, 1-29.

Learning from Recounts
Barry Burden and Kenneth Mayer with Stephen Ansolabehere and  Charles Stewart III

This paper compares the results of two recent statewide recounts in Wisconsin—the 2011 Supreme Court election and the 2016 presidential election. Using the measure of absolute differences between the original tally and the recount, they find an error rate at the reporting unit level of 0.21% in 2011 and 0.59% in 2016. The 2016 error rate drops to 0.17% when write-in votes are removed from the analysis. The authors also find that paper ballots originally counted with optical scanners were counted more accurately than ballots originally counted by hand. To reach these conclusions, they address the methodology of measuring differences in election night and recounted vote tallies. The most commonly used measure to compare election-night and recounted tallies, the net difference, significantly understates the magnitude of errors in the original tally. The authors also develop a regression-based technique that estimates what the error rate should be if a ballot-by-ballot recount were possible. They conclude by discussing the implications for requiring post-election audits.

Ansolabehere, S., Burden, B. C., Mayer, K., & Stewart III, C. (2017). Learning from RecountsElection Law Journal.

The Effects of Malapportionment on Cabinet Inclusion: Subnational Evidence from India
Rikhil Bhavnani

Malapportionment doubly penalizes people from relatively large electoral districts or constituencies by under-representing them in the legislature and in the political executive or cabinet. The latter effect has not been studied. This article develops theoretical reasons for large constituency disadvantage in the cabinet formation process, and tests them using a new repeated cross-sectional dataset on elections and cabinet formation in India’s states, from 1977–2007. A one-standard-deviation increase in relative constituency size is associated with a 22 per cent fall in the probability of a constituency’s representative being in the cabinet. Malapportionment affects cabinet inclusion by causing large parties to focus on winning relatively small constituencies. These effects are likely to hold in parliamentary systems, and in other contexts where the legislature influences cabinet inclusion.

Bhavnani, R. R. (2018). The Effects of Malapportionment on Cabinet Inclusion: Subnational Evidence from IndiaBritish Journal of Political Science48(1), 69-89.

Political Behavior of the American Electorate
Michael W. Wagner with Elizabeth Theiss-Morse

The 2016 elections took place under intense political polarization and uncertain economic conditions, to widely unexpected results. How did Trump pull off his victory?

Political Behavior of the American Electorate, Fourteenth Edition, attempts to answer this question by interpreting data from the most recent American National Election Study to provide a thorough analysis of the 2016 elections and the current American political behavior. Authors Elizabeth Theiss-Morse and Michael Wagner continue the tradition of Flanigan and Zingale to illustrate and document trends in American political behavior with the best longitudinal data available. The authors also put these trends in context by focusing on the major concepts and characteristics that shape Americans’ responses to politics.

In the completely revised Fourteenth Edition, readers will explore get-out-the-vote efforts and the reasons people voted the way they did, as well as the nature and impact of partisanship, news media coverage, and other issues in 2016—all with an eye toward understanding the trends that led up to the historic decision.

Theiss-Morse, E. A., Wagner, M. W., Flanigan, W. H., & Zingale, N. H. (2018). Political Behavior of the American Electorate (14th ed.). Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

Do the Effects of Temporary Ethnic Group Quotas Persist? Evidence from India
Rikhil Bhavnani

Do electoral quotas for ethnic groups continue to improve their chances of winning elections after quotas are withdrawn? This is an important question since ethnic group quotas are common, and are often intended to be temporary. Using natural experiments, Rikhil Bhavnani finds that electoral quotas for India’s “scheduled castes” (SCs) fail to boost SCs’ chances of winning office after they are discontinued. These results contrast with the significant positive effects of past women’s quotas found in similar contexts.

Bhavnani, Rikhil R. 2017. Do the Effects of Temporary Ethnic Group Quotas Persist? Evidence from India.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics9(3): 105-23.

The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake
Kenneth R. Mayer with Amnon Cavari, and Richard J. Powell

The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake critically analyzes the 2016 presidential election. The chapters in this book identify key factors behind the election of Donald J. Trump, explore the unconventional campaign, analyze the unexpected election result, evaluate the forecasting models, and speculate on the effect of the election outcome on politics and governance in the Trump Administration.

Amnon, C., Powell, R. J., Mayer, K. R. (2017) The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake. Lexington Books.

The Fact of Experience: Rethinking Political Knowledge and Civic Competence
Kathy J. Cramer with Benjamin Toff

In the study of political knowledge, the emphasis on facts is misplaced. Evidence has grown that predispositions and social contexts shape how individuals are exposed to and interpret facts about politics, and the ready availability of information in the contemporary media environment may exacerbate these biases.

We reexamine political knowledge from the bottom up. We look at what citizens themselves treat as relevant to the task of understanding public affairs and how they use this information. We draw upon our research in three different projects involving observation of political talk and elite interviews to do so. We observe that people across a range of levels of political engagement process political information through the lens of their personal experience. Failing to acknowledge this aspect of the act of using political information presents an incomplete empirical understanding of political knowledge. We propose an Expanded Model of Civic Competence that presents an alternative interpretation for what it means to be an informed citizen in a democracy. In this model, the competence of listening to and understanding the different lived experiences of others cannot be considered separately from levels of factual knowledge.

Cramer, K. J., & Toff, B. (2017). The Fact of Experience: Rethinking Political Knowledge and Civic CompetencePerspectives on Politics15(3), 754-770.

Campaign Finance Reform Without Law
Robert Yablon

Conventionally understood, campaign finance reform is a matter of public regulation. Reformers believe that, without adequate government intervention, wealthy individuals and entities are destined to exert outsized influence over elections and governance. Propelled by that belief, they have spent decades advocating regulatory fixes, with relatively little to show for it. Many existing regulations are watered down and easy to circumvent. Efforts to bolster them have repeatedly hit doctrinal and political roadblocks — obstacles that are more formidable today than ever before.

This Article seeks to shift campaign finance discourse toward private ordering. Because scholars and reformers have long focused on public regulation, they have largely overlooked possible private correctives. The Article maps that uncharted terrain, revealing an array of extra-legal mechanisms that at least somewhat constrain money’s electoral clout. This survey suggests that numerous private actors have incentives and capacities to implement additional extra-legal reform. The Article then sketches several potential private interventions, and it assesses the interplay between public regulation and private reform. Private reform is no silver bullet, but to ignore private ordering even as public regulation flounders makes little sense. Especially given the significant constraints on public intervention, it is vital for campaign finance scholars and reformers to look beyond the law.

Yablon, R. (2017). Campaign Finance Reform Without LawIowa L. Rev.103, 185.

Revising the Communication Mediation Model for a New Political Communication Ecology
Michael W. Wagner with Dhavan V. Shah, Douglas M. Mcleod, Hernando Rojas, and Jaeho Cho

A long tradition of research focuses on conversation as a key catalyst for community integration and a focal mediator of media influence on participation. Changes in media systems, political environments, and electoral campaigning demand that these influences, and the communication mediation model, be revised to account for the growing convergence of media and conversation, heightened partisan polarization, and deepening social contentiousness in media politics. We propose a revised communication mediation model that continues to emphasize the centrality of face-to-face and online talk in democratic life, while considering how mediational and self-reflective processes that encourage civic engagement and campaign participation might also erode institutional legitimacy, foster distrust and partisan divergence, disrupting democratic functioning as a consequence of a new communication ecology.

Shah, D. V., McLeod, D. M., Rojas, H., Cho, J., Wagner, M. W., & Friedland, L. A. (2017). Revising the Communication Mediation Model for a New Political Communication EcologyHuman Communication Research43(4), 491-504.

The Complicated Partisan Effects of State Election Laws
Barry C. Burden, David T. Cannon, Kenneth R. Mayer, and Donald P. Moynihan

Conventional political wisdom holds that policies that make voting easier will increase turnout and ultimately benefit Democratic candidates. We challenge this assumption, questioning the ability of party strategists to predict which changes to election law will advantage them. Drawing on previous research, we theorize that voting laws affect who votes in diverse ways depending on the specific ways that they reduce the costs of participating. We assemble datasets of county-level vote returns in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections and model these outcomes as a function of early voting and registration laws, using both cross-sectional regression and difference-in-difference models. Unlike Election Day registration, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the results show that early voting generally helps Republicans. We conclude with implications for partisan manipulation of election laws.

Burden, B. C., Canon, D. T., Mayer, K. R., & Moynihan, D. P. (2017). The Complicated Partisan Effects of State Election LawsPolitical Research Quarterly70(3), 564-576.