The Only Thing We Have to Fear

By Michael A. Smith of Emporia State University

The Only Thing We Have to Fear

Senator and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey‘s nickname was The Happy Warrior. He worked tirelessly on behalf of causes he championed, and usually seemed joyful when doing so, even though he lived through and served during one of the most divisive periods in modern American history, taking his fair share of abuse in the process.

Perhaps political science can teach us all how to be happy warriors. No realistic observer of today’s politics in the United States, or worldwide, can seriously say “don’t worry, be happy,” as in the song from the 1980s. Democracy and diversity are under a great deal of stress at home and abroad. However, political science remains a useful tool to help stay centered.

Political science is an analytical tool that enables readers to sift through this nonsense, identifying what is important and tossing out the rest. - Michael A. Smith

About two years ago, I wrote a blog post here arguing that like meditation, political science could be an important tool for relaxation. In brief, my point was that there is a lot of hue and cry about politics on social media and elsewhere. Political science is an analytical tool that enables readers to sift through this nonsense, identifying what is important and tossing out the rest. Real-world politics is often a great deal less dramatic than all the carrying on that we see on the social media, cable TV, and perhaps even the family reunion.

Since I wrote, circumstances have overtaken me. Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, surprising a lot of observers, forcing us to re-examine our assumptions, and leading to a new era in American politics. Or, is it an aberration? Time will tell. At any rate, my message two years ago needs a re-do. Democracy is in danger in the United States and around the world, with the “strong man” style of leadership becoming increasingly popular, while pluralistic democracy is in peril. What to do?

It is important for citizens to be informed, vote, and take thoughtful, conscientious action, both political and non-political. However there are still a lot of things that many of us do which are a waste of time. Even some political scientists do this, and we should know better. What follow are a number of suggestions to use political science, be happier, and use time more effectively. That includes time spent being active in politics.

Lesson #1: Stop Ranting on Social Media

Nothing characterizes the dysfunctional politics of our age better than social media rants. Give yourself a break. Get off social media, or just use it to keep up with old friends. Do not rely on it for news — it is unreliable, fact-checking is time-consuming, and there is nothing you need to know that cannot be found out from a more traditional news outlet. More importantly, social media rants are ineffective, and here’s why. Long before Facebook, research revealed that people tend to group together with the like-minded. All the way back in 1940, the famous Erie County studies revealed this, while also noting that some people like to rant about politics because they gain “psychic rewards” from doing so. This is really the only benefit, and it can quickly turn into negative energy.

Most of your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat friends probably have similar views to yours. When you rant on social media, all you do is give them something to “like.” The few social media friends you still have that disagree with your politics are extremely unlikely to change their minds. They may unfriend you, they may rant back, or they may ignore you, but they will not shift their opinions. Just let it be.

Lesson #2: A Vote is a Vote

On the eve of the ultra-close 2000 Presidential election, my satirical horoscope in The Onion was as follows, “your carefully considered, policy-based vote will be canceled out by a hairdresser who likes the other guy’s ties.”

So true, although somewhat unfair to hair care professionals, whose votes are presumably no more and no less carefully-considered than those working in other professions. It is important to be a frequent voter, and even consider taking other political action, such as volunteering or giving money to an interest group, candidate, or party that advocates for something about which you are passionate. This time is well-spent, and can help change election outcomes and give a feeling of doing civic duty. However, once you have voted, you have voted. Intense feelings about the election do not increase your vote.

A case in point is the difference between supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, and those backing Secretary Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination. Bernie had the energy — his supporters appeared more passionate than Hillary’s, which gave him an advantage in caucus states. However, Bernie supporters also made the classic mistake of conflating intensity with number of votes. The outcome of the 2016 Democratic primaries and caucuses was not close. Clinton captured 55% of the popular vote, to 43% for Sanders, all before a single superdelegate cast a convention ballot. This is not to dismiss Sanders or his supporters — in another blog post, I challenged them to start a political movement like the conservative Young Americans for Freedom in the 1960s and 70s, but on the liberal side this time. Sanders’ supporters have a lot to contribute. My point is not to dismiss them, but to point out while they had passion, Hillary had the numbers. Unfortunately, because her supporters were less enthusiastic and outspoken, many Sanders supporters interpreted that to mean that Clinton only gained the Democratic nomination due to superdelegates, which is incorrect. She won more votes — over 3 and a half million more — from her often low-key supporters than Sanders did from his.

A vote counts the same, no matter the voter’s intensity. It is especially important not to forget those low-turnout elections like local races, party primaries, and the midterm elections happening right now, when your vote really does count for more, because it is one of a smaller number. Get informed, get involved, and vote. Then, get on with life. A vote will still count the same whether the voter obsesses about it or not. You voted. You did your civic duty. Time to get on with life.

Lesson #3: Strategize

It is a truism of effective campaigning, and effective lobbying, to identify those who are undecided and target the message to them. In the case of voters, there are really two groups of undecideds: those who have not yet decided whether or not they are going to vote, and those who have not yet decided for whom they are going to vote. Appeals directed at anyone else are a waste of time. When a candidate is campaigning, she is either getting out the vote, or persuading voters. Period. There is nothing else to do. Patting supporters on the back is smug and self-righteous. Ranting at your opponent is a waste of time, unless doing so motivates your base or persuades undecideds, which it often does not.

Take political action, but take smart political action. That starts with identifying what you want to get done, and then identifying those who are undecided or inactive, and either persuading them, getting them to be active, or both. Neither preaching to the choir nor ranting and raving is time well spent. Take a nap or go for a walk instead.

Lobbying is the same way, as is legislative leadership. It begins by identifying the strong supporters, the strong opponents, and the undecideds. Then comes the time for political action: smart political action. There is no other kind. If it is not precisely targeted, then don’t bother.

Lesson #4: Look at the Big Picture

President Donald Trump won the state of Kansas, where I teach, by a comfortable 20 points. However, this does not mean Kansans endorse the more disturbing aspects of his unusual political campaign, and now his presidency. I consult for a poll called Kansas Speaks, run by the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State University. Our pre-election, 2016 data was very clear. In this heavily Republican state, Kansans did not like Donald Trump, rating him very low on two particular categories: trustworthiness, and understanding people like me. How did he win here? Simple. Besides not having the Republican label, Hillary Clinton was also rated even lower by the voters on these same categories. Many political scientists, such as me, seriously underestimated Hillary Clinton‘s personal unpopularity with voters. However, this does not mean that the American people gave Donald Trump a sweeping endorsement of his more-disturbing campaign promises. It is important to look at the big picture. The midterm elections going on right now will tell another important part of the story: one which is ever-evolving.

Lesson #5: FDR was Right

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Indeed.

Political and social scientists are quick to point out that much of our time spent in fear is wasted time. Human beings have evolved in such a way as to become particularly concerned with so-called “focusing events” in which a lot of destruction happens in a single space, particularly a one which can be shot on video. The recent massacre at a  Pittsburgh synagogue is a case in point. It was a horrible tragedy, in which 11 people, including a Holocaust survivor, lost their lives to murder. The coming together of the people of Pittsburgh and across the nation has been heartwarming, and it should continue. This coming Saturday has been declared a special day, in which non-Jews are encouraged to attend synagogue to learn about the Jewish faith and show solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters. What a great cause!

As a matter of fact, this is exactly the right thing to do; go to service. Religious services, and other public activities, are still relatively safe. The horror in Pittsburgh and other mass shootings are heartbreaking. It is good to honor the victims and call for interfaith understanding and healing. On the other hand, one thing not to do is live in fear.

As social scientists remind us, the probability of an American being killed in a domestic or international terrorist attack is very low. How low? Lower than the probability of being killed by one’s own clothes. It is much lower than the probability of a shorter life due to heart disease, undetected cancer, or untreated diabetes: the real killers. In fact, the situation is so extreme, the one social scientist estimated that more Americans died after the September 11 attacks than during the attacks themselves because, due to fear, they drove instead of flying (auto travel is much more dangerous than flying.) Now, get back on that plane.

FDR nailed it. Do not be afraid. And, get a colonoscopy. Eat healthy, exercise, and get plenty of sleep and outdoor time. Wear safety equipment when operating motor vehicles, including seatbelts, helmets, and life vests, depending on the vehicle. If you have suicidal ideations, get help immediately. On the other hand, the probability is really quite low that you will die in a commercial airline crash (small aircraft are another matter), a terrorist attack, or any other focusing event. But, be careful with those clothes!

Fear is what domestic and foreign terrorists want. Don’t let them win. Take care of yourself, and that includes not spending time on irrational fears or pointless political rants.

My blog post from a few years ago was a bit Pollyanna-ish. Things have, indeed,             deteriorated in the United States and elsewhere, since I posted. There are things to worry about. However, many people who are upset about these developments are still spending their time very unproductively. Venting to kindred spirits or ranting at political opponents will not win hearts and minds. Certain targeted comments and directed political activity, such as being a reasonably well-informed frequent voter are well worth doing. Taking it to the next level with intentional political activity, such as spending Election Day walking door-to-door for a Get Out The Vote campaign, or giving money to a favorite political cause, are also good.

The bottom line is, political science can still find a way to a better life, by showing how much of our psychic energy is being wasted on unproductive political rants and irrational fears. This is no time to say “don’t worry, be happy.” It is a time for thoughtful, carefully-focused political action, focused on where it will do the most good, and casting out those activities which cause a great deal of pain and are highly unproductive. There is still time for relaxation and meditation, and political science can still help you live a better life.

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

Generation Z voters could make waves in 2018 midterm elections

By Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Tufts University

Unlike the much-studied millennials, we don’t know much about Generation Z, who now make up most of the 18- to 24-year-old voting bloc.

These young people started first grade after 9/11, were born with the internet, grew up with smartphones and social media and practiced active-shooter drills in their classrooms.

In 2018, they have taken an active role in political activism on issues like gun control, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. For example, Parkland high school students started the movement against gun violence and named voting as a way to support the movement.

Yet, many people are skeptical about Generation Z’s commitment to voting. For instance, The Economist explained, in a piece titled “Why Young People Don’t Vote,” that “young people today do not feel they have much of a stake in society.”

Will Generation Z affect the midterm elections?

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The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, where we do research, has been watching young people’s civic and political behaviors for nearly 20 years. This fall, my colleagues and I are conducting two large-scale national surveys of 2,087 Americans ages 18 to 24 to document and understand what Gen Zs are thinking, feeling and doing when it comes to politics.

So far, the data point to a surge in political engagement, intention to vote and outreach between friends to encourage voting. Gen Zers may be voting for the first time, but they are certainly not new to politics.

All signs point to youth wave

Young voters have a reputation of not showing up to the polls, especially in midterm elections. This trend goes back 40 years.

There are a few ways we can find out how likely it is that people in Generation Z will turn out to vote.

First, we can just ask. In our survey, 34 percent of youth said they are “extremely likely” to vote in November. While a survey can’t predict exact turnout numbers, data from previous surveys we’ve done using this approach have been close to actual turnout numbers. Other evidence supports this measure of intent to vote: Voter registration among young people is up in key battleground states and overall.

Research also shows that activism and intent to vote are strongly correlated. So, in our survey we also asked young people about activism, such as participating in protests, union strikes, sit-ins and walk-outs.

The proportion of young people who join protests and marches tripled since the fall of 2016, from 5 percent to 15 percent. Participation is especially high among young people who are registered as Democrats.

Finally, we found that young people are paying attention to politics more than they were in 2016. In 2016, about 26 percent of young people said they were paying at least some attention to the November elections. This fall, the proportion of youth who report that they are paying attention to the midterm races rose to 46 percent.

It’s clear that more young people are actively engaged in politics this year than 2016.

Why?

Cynicism and worry aren’t obstacles

To learn more about what might be motivating Generation Z to vote, we asked our survey participants to rate their level of agreement with three statements.

“I worry that older generations haven’t thought about young people’s future.”

“I’m more cynical about politics than I was 2 years ago.”

“The outcomes of the 2018 elections will make a significant impact to everyday issues involving the government in my community, such as schools and police.”

In this year’s survey, we found that young people who feel cynical are far more likely to say they will vote. Other research has found that cynicism about politics can suppress or drive electoral engagement depending on the contexts.

Among young people who said “yes” to all three of those questions, more than half – 52 percent – said they are extremely likely to vote. Among young people who said “no” to all three of those questions, only 22 percent were extremely likely to vote.

Our poll results suggest political involvement in this generation is far above the levels we usually see among youth, especially in midterm election cycles.

In fact, almost 3 out of 4 youth – 72 percent – said they believe that dramatic change could occur in this country if people banded together. Gen Z is certainly aware of the challenges ahead but they are hopeful and actively involving themselves and friends in politics. Beyond almost any doubt, youth are involved and feel ready to make a dramatic change in the American political landscape.The Conversation


Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

MPSA Roundtable: The Path to Full

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This MPSA roundtable session on “MPSA Roundtable: The Path to Full”, hosted by the Midwest Women’s Caucus and chaired by Tiffany Barnes of the University of Kentucky, features James Adams of University of California, Davis, Leslie Schwindt-Bayer of Rice University, and Miki Kittilson of Arizona State University, Tempe.

This panel examines the path to full professorship by facilitating a discussion of the participants’ journeys to become full professors.

Highlights from the discussion include important points in the transition between the associate and full professor levels, including the importance of career mentoring during this time, and advice on moving from the associate to full professor level. Questions discussed during the roundtable address what it means to be a full professor, what this looks like at different institutions, and what being a full professor means to each of the panelists.

Topics of discussion include:

  • New opportunities for longer term or higher risk projects.
  • Advocating for junior faculty members.
  • Responsibilities toward departmental infrastructure development.
  • Additional administrative and service responsibilities that come with becoming a full professor.

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Listen to the panel on Soundcloud.

MPSA Members can log in to access a variety of recordings from highlighted MPSA conference presentations. Additional podcasts from select MPSA conference roundtables are also available.

You can trust the polls in 2018, if you read them carefully

By Josh Pasek, University of Michigan and Michael Traugott, University of Michigan

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A Michigan township collects votes in 2016.
Barbara Kalbfleisch/shutterstock

On the morning of Nov. 8, 2016, many Americans went to bed confident that Hillary Clinton would be elected the nation’s first female president.

Their confidence was driven, in no small part, by a pervasive message that Clinton was ahead in the polls and forecasts leading up to the election. Polling aggregation sites, such as Huffington Post’s Pollster and The New York Times Upshot blog, reported that Clinton was virtually certain to win. It soon became clear that these models were off the mark.

Since then, forecasters and media prognosticators have dissected what went wrong. The finger-pointing almost inevitably landed on public opinion polling, especially at the state level. The polls, critics argued, led modelers and the public to vastly overestimate the likelihood of a Clinton win.

With the 2018 elections coming up, many in the public have expressed their skepticism that public opinion polls can be trusted this time around. Indeed, in an era where a majority of American adults no longer even have landline telephones, where many people answer only when calls originate from a known number, and where pollsters’ calls are sometimes flagged as likely spam, there are lots of reasons to worry.

But polling firms seem to be going about their business as usual, and those of us who do research on the quality of public opinion research are not particularly alarmed about what’s going on.

Looking back

One might be tempted to think that those of us in the polling community are simply out to lunch. But the data from 2016 tell a distinctly different story.

The national polls were fairly accurate both in their national estimate of the popular vote in 2016 and in historical perspective. In the average preelection national poll, Clinton was ahead of Donald Trump by 3.3 percentage points. She proceeded to win the popular vote by 2.1 percentage points. Pollsters missed the mark by a mere 1.2 percentage points on average.

The polls in the Upper Midwest states missed by larger margins. These polls were conducted in ways that pollsters widely know to be suboptimal. They relied heavily on robocalls; on surveys of people who volunteer to take surveys on the internet; and on samples of respondents from voter files with incomplete information.

What went wrong

So why was the 2016 election so shocking? The big reason wasn’t the polls, it was our expectations.

In the last few years, members of the public have come to expect that a series of highly confident models can tell us exactly what is going to happen in the future. But in the runup to the 2016 election, these models made a few big, problematic assumptions.

For one, they largely assumed that the different errors that different polls had were independent of one another. But the challenges that face contemporary polling, such as the difficulty of reaching potential respondents, can induce small but consistent errors across almost all polls.

When modelers treat errors as independent of one another, they make conclusions that are far more precise than they should be. The average poll is indeed the best guess at the outcome of an election, but national polling averages are often off by around 2 percentage points. State polls can be off by even more at times.

In addition, polling aggregators and public polling information have been flooded by a deluge of lower-quality surveys based on suboptimal methods. These methods can sometimes produce accurate estimates, but the processes by which they do so is not well-understood on theoretical grounds. There are lots of reasons to think that these methods may not produce consistently accurate results in the future. Unfortunately, there will likely continue to be lots of low-quality polls, because they are so much less expensive to conduct.

Research out of our lab suggests yet another reason that the polls were shocking to so many: When ordinary people look at the evidence from polling, just as with other sources of information, they tend to see the results they desire.

During the 2016 election campaign, we asked Americans to compare two preelection polls – one where Clinton was leading and one where Trump was ahead. Across the board, Clinton supporters told us that the Clinton-leading poll was more accurate than the Trump-leading poll. Trump supporters reported exactly the opposite perceptions. In other studies, we saw the same phenomenon when people were exposed to poll results showing majorities in favor of or opposed to their own views on policy issues such as gun control or abortion.

What polls really say

So, what does this all mean for someone reading the polls in 2018?

You don’t have to ignore the results – just recognize that all polling has some error. While even the experts may not know quite which way that error is going to point, we do have a sense of the size of that error. Error is likely to be smaller when considering a polling average instead of an individual poll.

It’s also a good bet that the actual result will be within 3 percentage points for an averaging of high-quality national polls. For similarly high-quality state polls, it will likely be within more like 5 percentage points, because these polls usually have smaller sample sizes.

What makes a high-quality poll? It will either use live interviewers with both landlines and cellphones or recruit respondents using offline methods to take surveys online. Look for polls conducted around the same time to see whether they got the same result. If not, see whether they sampled the same kind of people, used the same interviewing technique or used a similar question wording. This is often the explanation for reported differences.

The good news is that news consumers can easily find out about a poll’s quality. This information is regularly included in news stories and is shown by many poll aggregators. What’s more, pollsters are increasingly transparent about the methods they use.

Polls that don’t use these methods should be taken with a big grain of salt. We simply don’t know enough about when they will succeed and when they will fail.The Conversation

 

About the Authors:  Josh Pasek, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan and Michael Traugott, Research Professor at the Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan.


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

Humanities for All: Political Science and International Relations

By Daniel Fisher, Project Director, National Humanities Alliance

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As campuses across the country fill with the renewed energy of the fall semester, it is a good time to pause to reflect on how we make the case for the value of the humanities at institutions of higher education. The question is particularly pressing in light of newly-released data from the Pew Research Center that shows that roughly six-in-ten Americans (61 percent) believe U.S. higher education is “headed in the wrong direction.” Among a range of concerns, 73 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of Democrats believe that students are not being prepared to succeed in the workplace.

While the Pew survey was not focused on the humanities specifically, its results highlight the challenges that advocates for the humanities in higher education face today. To combat concerns about preparation for the workforce, we can and should show that studying the humanities cultivates critical skills that have led to success in a wide range of career paths—with strong earnings and high levels of job satisfaction. It is also important to show that the benefits of studying the humanities extend beyond the market—facilitating engaged citizenship and a life well-lived.

At the same time, the Pew survey results point to a more general need to reframe the conversation about the value and direction of higher education: to make the claim that higher education institutions serve not just individual students but also, and increasingly, their surrounding communities. Case-making for the humanities should include rich examples of how publicly-oriented humanities projects enrich life in the U.S.: building and strengthening communities; creating innovative and practical learning experiences for students and people of all ages and backgrounds; and broadening our understanding of ourselves, our nation, and our world.

To highlight the public impact of the humanities in higher education, the National Humanities Alliance recently launched Humanities for All: a website that documents the past 10 years of publicly engaged humanities research, teaching, and programming in universities and colleges across the U.S. The website presents a cross-section of over 1,400 projects, searchable, sortable, and illustrated with 51 in-depth profiles. When viewed together, these initiatives illustrate the broad impact of the humanities beyond higher education.

Humanities for All not only seeks to broaden narratives about the humanities in higher education but also to deepen the practice of public engagement in the humanities. We at NHA have a stake in encouraging more of this work, which provides more opportunities for members of the public to have humanities experiences and appreciate the significance of the humanities in higher education. In addition, when integrated into coursework, engaged humanities projects can provide meaningful and practical learning experiences that prepare students for the workforce. To this end, we present these examples as a resource for all who would like to begin or deepen their practice of public engagement.

Examples of engagement abound in Political Science and International Relations,  all of which can inform our humanities case-making and practice.

Consider “The United States and the Middle East: Using the Lessons of History to Engage Policymakers” an in-class production of a policy brief on US involvement in the Middle East directed by Annie Tracy Samuel at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga which was sent to local senators and representatives.

Another example is “The Great Society Congress” an online exhibit from the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress which partnered with the University of Georgia, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Virginia, the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, the University of Kansas, West Virginia University, New York University, the University of Delaware, Indiana University, the University of South Carolina-Columbia, Middle Tennessee State University, National Archives and Records Administration, Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, and the United States Senate Historical Office.

We encourage you to visit Humanities for All to explore engaged humanities projects like these. To help us present the breadth of the field, Humanities for All also welcomes users to contribute new examples of publicly engaged humanities work in the U.S. via the website’s submissions portal. More broadly, we would appreciate your consideration: How can Humanities for All inform your humanities case-making and practice?

About the Author: Daniel Fisher is a project director and postdoctoral fellow at the National Humanities Alliance Foundation. Prior to joining NHA, he held fellowships at the École Biblique and the Albright Institute in Jerusalem. He holds a B.A. from McGill University, an M.A. from Vanderbilt University, and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught and co-curated a publicly-engaged research-driven exhibition. Fisher can be reached at dfisher@nhalliance.org.

Blue is Black and Red is White? Affective Polarization and the Racialized Schemas of U.S. Party Coalitions

By Nicholas A. Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov

 

Affective polarization – the mutual partisan antipathy expressed by both Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. – has increased dramatically over the last 30 years. Both real-life political processes and their reflections in social media offer anecdotal evidence for this conjecture, as demonstrated by declining civility in political debates. Systematic evidence for this disturbing trend also comes from the ANES time series, as documented by Iyengar, Sood, and Lelkes (2012).

What are the root causes of this process? One of the most influential approaches to affective polarization emphasizes the changing social compositions of the two parties (Mason 2018). Over the last decades, sorting rendered Democrats and Republicans relatively homogeneous and distinct on a number of non-ideological dimensions, from religious affiliation to place of residence. For example, whereas both conservatives, moderates, and even some liberals once identified with the Republican party, now the vast majority are conservative. While Democrats once included highly religious as well as secular adherents, most fundamentalists have now departed for the Republicans.

However, we think another dimension is most important. Race/ethnicity now cleaves the parties more neatly than ever, and not simply because Democrats and Republicans disagree in their attitudes about race itself. In fact, whites are sorting out of the Democratic party at a significant rate while minorities are standing pat. Figure 1 presents evidence in this regard using the American National Election Studies time-series data starting from 1952. The growing racial gap between the two parties is evident. As the share of Whites among self-identified Democrats is rapidly decreasing (outpacing demographic changes in the country as a whole), the Republican Party remains overwhelmingly White. Our conjecture is that it is these changes in race and ethnicity that drive most of the affective polarization we have witnessed over the last 30 years.

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Figure 1. Changing racial compositions of the U.S. electorate and the two major parties

If we are correct we would expect that American voters have begun to develop much more highly racialized mental images of political parties. Furthermore, these racialized images should be much more politically consequential than partisan schemas linked to religion, class, or other dimensions.

To explore this possibility, we conducted two survey studies based on interviews with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) workers. In the first study, we relied on implicit methods to measure respondents’ associations between the two major parties on the one hand and Blacks and Whites on the other hand. Specifically, we used a timed image sorting task similar in architecture to the well-known implicit association test (IAT). However, unlike the standard IAT our task did not include an affective component – instead, it simply measured the strength of associations between racial and partisan groups via objective reaction times (transformed into the IAT D-scores according to the respective guidelines).

Figure 2 presents the results. On average, respondents’ racialized schemas about partisan coalitions were consequential. White respondents who thought of the Democratic Party as Black reported clear affective preference for the Republican Party. Furthermore, this effect was moderated by racial resentment: racialized schemas about the two parties were consequential for those high in racial resentment but not for the racially liberal respondents.

Figure 2. Implicit racial schemas about the two parties, racial resentment, and affective polarization
Figure 2. Implicit racial schemas about the two parties, racial resentment, and affective polarization

In the second study, we asked explicit questions about supporters of the two parties. Specifically, we wanted our respondents to tell us their best guess about the race/ethnicity of “the typical Democrat/Republican.” We found that even in the MTurk sample, which is known to be more liberal than the U.S. general population, as much as 25% of respondents thought of the modal Democratic voter as Black or African American. This is clearly a misperception: even though the Democratic Party indeed draws a substantial share of its electoral support from minority groups, Whites still comprise the plurality of Democratic supporters.

As with implicit schemas, explicit ones were politically consequential. Even controlling for issue positions and demographics, respondents who perceived themselves to “match” with one of the two parties in terms of race exhibited significantly more polarized partisan feelings than those who did not feel they matched one or both of the parties in terms of race. Moreover, partisan identity matching with other groups, namely religious denomination and social class, had almost no effect on affective polarization. Results are presented in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Perceived identity match with the two parties and affective polarization
Figure 3. Perceived identity match with the two parties and affective polarization

Our findings have important implications for the study of affective polarization and for the subfield of American political behavior more generally. We suspect that Americans now see the partisan coalitions in racial terms and that these racialized images are highly consequential for how people feel toward the parties. In comparative politics, the “ethnicization” of political parties is associated with a host of negative system-level outcomes, such as bad governance and political instability. If the process that we highlight continues, the American political system may experience problems much worse than Twitter brawls between fans of Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity.

About the Authors: Nicholas A. Valentino is a Research Professor at the Center for Political Studies and a Professor in the Departments of Political Science and Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. Kirill Zhirkov is a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Michigan. Valentino and Zhirkov received the Best Paper in Political Behavior award for their study “The Images in Our Heads: Race, Partisanship and Affective Polarization” presented at the 2017 MPSA conference.

References
Iyengar, Shanto, Gaurav Sood, and Yphtach Lelkes. 2012. “Affect, not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization.” Public Opinion Quarterly 76 (3): 405–31.

Mason, Lilliana. 2018. Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

MPSA Membership – Get a FREE trial this weekend!

MPSA Trial Membership Weekend (1)
Members of the discipline are invited to try a complimentary MPSA Membership through Monday, September 3, 2018 (Labor Day), just by signing up at www.MPSAnet.org.

As MPSA members, political science scholars from every state and more than 100 countries have access to a wide range of benefits and services.

Benefits available for preview in your trial membership include:

  • Online access to the current volume of the American Journal of Political Science (AJPS), as well as a searchable database of AJPS volumes back to 2003.
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Mentors play Critical Role in Quality of College Experience, New Poll Suggests

By Leo M. Lambert, Elon University; Jason Husser, Elon University, and Peter Felten, Elon University This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In order to have a rewarding college experience, students should build a constellation of mentors.

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Strong relationships with professors are key to a rewarding college experience, a new poll finds. VGstockstudio/www.shutterstock.com

This constellation should be a diverse set of faculty, staff and peers who will get students out of their comfort zones and challenge them to learn more – and more deeply – than they thought they could. Students should begin to build this network during their first year of college.

Those are some of the key takeaways from a new Elon University Poll of a nationally representative sample of more than 4,000 U.S. college graduates with bachelor’s degrees. These are points two of us plan to explore more deeply as co-authors of a forthcoming book on mentoring in college.

We bring different perspectives to this project. One of us is a former college president. Another is a scholar of undergraduate education. The third author of this article is a political scientist who directs the Elon Poll.

The Elon University Poll and the Center for Engaged Learning examined the nature and qualities of relationships that matter most for college students. The poll found that graduates who had seven to 10 significant relationships with faculty and staff were more than three times as likely to report their college experience as “very rewarding” than those with no such relationships. Similar effects were found for peer relationships in college.

The first year of college is crucial in establishing the foundation for these relationships, which will not only influence students’ time in college but a large part of the rest of their lives. In the Elon Poll, 79 percent of graduates reported meeting the peers who had the biggest impact on them during their first year of college. And 60 percent reported meeting their most influential faculty or staff mentors during that first year.

A new Elon University Poll shows students with larger peer networks find college more rewarding. – Chubarov Mikhail/www.shutterstock.com

The classroom is the most common place that students say they encountered both influential faculty members and peers.

This Elon Poll builds on a rich body of research on the power of relationships with peers, faculty, advisers and other mentors, and how those relationships influence student learning, a sense of belonging and achievement.

For instance, in the landmark 1977 work “Four Critical Years,” Alexander Astin of UCLA noted that “student-faculty interaction has a stronger relationship to student satisfaction with the college experience than any other student involvement variable.” Another pioneering researcher, Vincent Tinto of Syracuse University, documented how the most effective undergraduate experiences “enable the faculty and staff to make continuing, personal contact with students.” Sociologists Daniel Chambliss and Christopher Takacs offered this sage message after their 10-year examination of students at Hamilton College: “Spend your time with good people. That’s the most important thing.”

Relationships make a big difference

Following up on a 2014 Gallup-Purdue national survey, the Elon Poll found that more than 80 percent of respondents reported their most important faculty or staff relationship formed in college was with someone who made them excited about learning, cared about them as a person and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

Having even a very small number of meaningful relationships made a big difference. Forty-six percent of respondents with just one or two significant faculty or staff relationships rated college as “very rewarding,” as compared to just 22 percent of those with no such relationships. Similarly, 48 percent of respondents with one or two significant peer relationships rated college as “very rewarding,” as compared to 25 percent who lacked those types of connections. When it comes to relationships in college, quality matters more than quantity.

These findings make plain that the best undergraduate education – for all students at all types of institutions — is one in which students form sustained relationships with peers, faculty, staff and other mentors.

What colleges and universities do matters

Unfortunately, not all students form the kind of relationships that are key to a rewarding college experience. Indeed, the Elon Poll suggests that some who are the first in their family to attend college often don’t have as strong of a mentoring constellation as those with at least one parent who attended college.

Significantly, 15 percent of first-generation graduates reported zero influential relationships with faculty or staff while in college, as compared to only 6 percent of those with a college-educated parent. And 29 percent of graduates with a college-educated parent reported more than seven significant relationships with faculty or staff, compared to 17 percent for first-generation students.

Students have an important role in building these constellations, but so do colleges and universities.

Initiatives like Elon University’s Odyssey Scholars program for first-generation students put faculty, staff and peer mentors in place from the start of college. Odyseey Scholar director Jean Rattigan-Rohr reports an 89 percent four-year graduation rate for the two most recent groups of scholars. This rate exceeds the rate for the student body as a whole. Similarly, but at a much bigger institution, the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan (TIP) at the University of Texas at Austin provides peer mentoring and expert advising to at-risk incoming students. Thanks in part to these relationships, more TIP students have GPAs above 3.0 than their non-TIP peers.

Since contact with faculty early on is critical for all students, the Elon Poll reinforces existing scholarship that urges colleges to place their best teaching faculty in first-year classes. A study of some two dozen colleges and universities demonstrates that frequent and meaningful student-faculty interactions significantly improves student motivation and achievement.

You can find mentors in many places

The poll also found that not all of the most influential mentors are professors. Notably, one-third of our respondents identified a staff member – that is, an administrator, student life worker or support staff – rather than a professor as their most influential mentor.

Every staff person on a college campus – from gardeners and janitors to secretaries and office assistants – shapes the learning environment and many have significant contact with students. In an effort to recognize and celebrate the contributions these personnel make to students’ lives, Georgetown alumnus Febin Bellamy founded Unsung Heroes in 2016. The program should remind students to look in unexpected places for people who can make a difference in their lives.

Find your people

Establishing a network of mentors takes a sense of purpose and initiative. Granted, forming relationships with mentors and peers may come more easily to some students than others. But a constellation of mentors does not need to have dozens of people in it. Instead, a few positive relationships with peers, faculty and staff will make a powerful difference for the college experience and beyond.

To make this happen, students should make simple gestures to connect with potential mentors. Talk with a faculty member after class. Invite a professor to have coffee. Ask an advanced student in your major for advice. Small steps like these can uncover mutual interests and shared passions and, ultimately, lead to the kinds of relationships that make a big difference in college – and for a lifetime.

About the Authors: Leo M. Lambert, President Emeritus and Professor, Elon University; Jason Husser, Director of the Elon University Poll, Elon University, and Peter Felten, Assistant Provost for Teaching and Learning and Executive Director, Center for Engaged Learning, Elon University