Working Papers

Does Talking to the Other Side Reduce Inter-Party Hostility? Exploring the Effects of Offline and Online Heterogeneous Political Discussion on Affective Polarization

(with Eric Merkley and Peter Loewen)

Abstract: A growing body of evidence indicates that affective polarization, defined as a growing sense of dislike and distrust toward members of the opposing political party, is on the rise in various Western democracies. While past research demonstrates that political communication processes play a critical role in determining levels of inter-party hostility, the literature has so far focused almost exclusively on mass-mediated forms of communication. We argue here that affective polarization might also be determined by the prevailing nature of one’s interpersonal political discussions. Specifically, we hypothesize that “heterogeneous” discussions—those transcending partisan and ideological lines—decrease hostility toward the other side. Testing this hypothesis with a sample of 3,596 respondents surveyed during the 2019 Canadian election campaign, we find that heterogeneous discussion indeed is associated with reduced polarization, a result that holds across three different indicators of affect and obtains for both offline and online discussions. These findings inform scholarly debates about the antecedents of affective polarization and are congruent with deliberative accounts emphasizing the benefits of cross- cutting interpersonal discussion for democracy.

 

Personality and the Policy Positions of Politicians

(with Lior Sheffer)

Abstract: Politicians’ support of or opposition to concrete policies is uniquely consequential for policymaking, public opinion, and a host of other societal outcomes. Explaining their policy positions is therefore a major research agenda in political science. Here, we evaluate the role of politicians’ personality traits, measured with the Big Five typology, in shaping how liberal or conservative their economic and social policy positions are. While existing research establishes this link among non-elites, it is far from obvious that the same holds for politicians, who have systematically different personality profiles, and whose positions are constrained by party sorting. Using an in-person study of 895 incumbents in five countries who completed personality questionnaires and provided detailed issue positions, we find that Openness to Experience is a consistently strong and significant predictor of politicians’ positions, but a null effect for Conscientiousness. We discuss implications for the role of elites’ individual characteristics in policymaking.

 

Citizens’ Perceptions of the Ideal Politician: Evidence from Three Countries

(with Jeroen Joly)

Abstract: Existing evidence establishes that citizens attach high importance to the personality characteristics of individual politicians. Yet which traits are more important to voters than others, and why, remains unclear. Analyzing survey data from Belgium, Canada, and Israel (N = 4,543) and using the Big Five model of personality as our conceptual framework, we ask (1) what profile of core personality traits citizens perceive as ideal for a politician and (2) what the individual-level origins of these preferences are. Across countries, personality instruments, and modeling strategies, we find two highly consistent patterns. First, in contrast to the findings of some recent studies, citizens rate personality traits attesting to politicians’ competence and performance as more desirable than traits pertaining to their sociability and interpersonal orientations. Second, the strongest predictor of a citizen’s elite trait preference is his or her own score on that trait; in other words, citizens prefer politicians who resemble them in terms of personality. Our results shed light on the standards by which citizens evaluate candidates and leaders in an era when politics becomes increasingly personalized.

 

How Long Should Rating Scales Measuring Attitudes Be? Evidence from A Meta-Analysis and a Large-Scale Experiment

(with Sowmya Anand, David Yeager, Sophia Yang, Alex Tahk, and Jon Krosnick)

Abstract: When designing rating scales for questionnaires, researchers must decide how many points to include. But there appears to be no consensus among researchers about optimal scale length. This paper offers a theoretical perspective on the influence of scale length on measurement quality and tests the theory with two studies. Study 1 is a meta-analysis of 39 prior scale-length experiments. Study 2 is the largest experiment to date, done with a nationally representative panel of American adults who are experienced at completing online surveys (N = 6,055). In the experiment, respondents were randomly assigned to one of ten scale lengths (2- to 11-points), twenty opinions were measured, and the influence on several data quality measures was evaluated. In both studies, measurement quality improved as scales lengthened up to 7 points for bipolar constructs and up to 4 points for unipolar constructs, and no substantial benefit was gained from lengthening scales more.