Jones, Calvert W. and Celia Paris. 2018. “It's the End of the World and They Know It: Effects of Dystopian Pop Culture on Political Attitudes.” Perspectives on Politics 16(4). Published online 11/23/18.
Given that the fictional narratives found in novels, movies, and television shows enjoy wide public consumption, memorably convey information, minimize counter-arguing, and often emphasize politically-relevant themes, we argue that greater scholarly attention must be paid to theorizing and measuring how fiction affects political attitudes. We argue for a genre-based approach for studying fiction effects, and apply it to the popular dystopian genre. Results across three experiments are striking: we find consistent evidence that dystopian narratives enhance the willingness to justify radical—especially violent—forms of political action. Yet we find no evidence for the conventional wisdom that they reduce political trust and efficacy, illustrating that fiction’s effects may not be what they seem and underscoring the need for political scientists to take fiction seriously.
Paris, Celia. 2017. “Breaking Down Bipartisanship: When and Why Citizens React to Cooperation across Party Lines.” Public Opinion Quarterly. Published online May 8, 2017.
There are currently two competing accounts of how citizens react to bipartisanship. Some scholars claim that citizens desire greater bipartisanship in Congress and punish legislators who are too partisan, while others argue that citizens evaluate bipartisanship in an inconsistent fashion, even to the point of punishing same-party politicians for engaging in bipartisan cooperation. However, neither account actually clarifies when and why citizens value bipartisanship, because existing work has been unable to disentangle the mere fact of bipartisan cooperation from two associated phenomena (legislative accomplishment and civility) and has not identified citizens’ reasons for valuing bipartisanship. To address this, I run a national survey experiment through YouGov’s online panel varying four aspects of the legislative process: the bipartisanship of a bill’s coalition, whether the bill passes or fails, the civility of the debate, and the party affiliation of the bill’s sponsor. I find that bipartisanship increases confidence in Congress only when it is paired with legislative accomplishment, but citizens reward bipartisanship by individual legislators regardless of bill passage or failure. Moreover, citizens perceive opposite-party legislators who act in a bipartisan manner to be more public spirited, suggesting that bipartisan cooperation can break down negative stereotypes of the opposite party. My results indicate that legislators who engage in bipartisan cooperation may gain at least a few votes from opposite-party citizens without damaging their standing among same-party citizens, suggesting that the public as a whole should not be blamed for the lack of bipartisanship in Congress.
Huber, Gregory A. and Celia Paris. 2013. “Assessing the Programmatic Equivalence Assumption in Question Wording Experiments: Understanding Why Americans Like Assistance to the Poor More Than Welfare.” Public Opinion Quarterly 77(1): 385-397.
In trying to understand why Americans display relatively high levels of opposition to welfare, scholars have frequently turned to the analysis of a canonical experiment reported in this journal (Smith 1987; Rasinski 1989) in which subjects were asked about their support for either “welfare” or “assistance to the poor.” This experiment consistently shows that Americans are substantially less supportive of welfare than of assistance to the poor. This difference has been interpreted as evidence that simply describing the same core programs as welfare rather than assistance to the poor depresses support. The key assumption in these analyses is one of programmatic equivalence: relative to the words “assistance to the poor,” the word “welfare” describes the same programs, but differs in which considerations it brings to mind. This research note examines the validity of this key assumption. Analyses of novel experimental data show that there appear to be basic differences in which programs Americans consider to be welfare and which they consider to be assistance to the poor. We discuss the implications of our research for interpreting prior studies that rely upon this experiment to test theories of framing, and we suggest broader implications for survey experimental designs.
Green, Donald P., Peter M. Aronow, Daniel E. Bergan, Pamela Greene, Celia Paris, and Beth I. Weinberger. 2011. “Does Knowledge of Constitutional Principles Increase Support for Civil Liberties? Results from a Randomized Field Experiment.” Journal of Politics 73(2): 463-476.
For decades, scholars have argued that education causes greater support for civil liberties by increasing students’ exposure to political knowledge and constitutional norms, such as due process and freedom of expression. Support for this claim comes exclusively from observational evidence, principally from cross-sectional surveys. This paper presents the first large-scale experimental test of this proposition. More than 1000 students in 59 high school classrooms were randomly assigned to an enhanced civics curriculum designed to promote awareness and understanding of constitutional rights and civil liberties. The results show that students in the enhanced curriculum classes displayed significantly more knowledge in this domain than students in conventional civics classes. However, we find no corresponding change in the treatment group’s support for civil liberties, a finding that calls into question the hypothesis that knowledge and attitudes are causally connected.
Book Project: Madison’s ABCs: Why the Public Still Values Accomplishment, Bipartisanship, and Civility in Congress
The American political system is currently bedeviled by rampant partisanship, incivility, and gridlock. We seem to be very far from the kind of politics that James Madison and the Founders hoped for: a politics where elected representatives engage in reasoned deliberation and work collaboratively to serve the common good. Instead, we have a Congress that appears to be little more than an arena for partisan combat, where relentless opposition, political point-scoring, obstruction, and expressions of outrage are the norm. Similar trends can be seem among the public: Americans express strong, negative feelings towards the opposite party, and uncivil outbursts by elected officials yield an outpouring of donations from their supporters. Could it be that Madisonian ideals for politics have lost their appeal?
In this book, I argue that the desire for a more Madisonian approach to politics is alive and well in the American public, contrary to common portrayals of citizens as hopelessly polarized. Specifically, I draw on survey data, original survey experiments, and a series of focus groups to examine if, when, and why the public is willing to reward legislative accomplishment, bipartisan behavior, and civil debate in Congress. My results show that citizens do value what I call “Madison’s ABCs” (accomplishment, bipartisanship, and civility) but often not for the reasons that we might assume. I find that the appeal of bipartisan, civil behavior is strongest not among political independents or self-identified moderates but rather among partisans evaluating a legislator of the opposite party—and such cooperation is typically not penalized by same-party voters. Moreover, the passage of a bipartisan bill on a consensus issue significantly increases confidence in Congress even among partisans.
All of this suggests that rather than destroying the appeal of Madisonian ideals, our polarized politics heighten the need for and the value of a more collaborative approach. If legislators were to act in a more Madisonian fashion, it could help counteract some of the worst effects of polarization. Just as importantly, the public is willing to reward such behavior, which implies that current levels of partisan conflict have more to do with institutional barriers that disempower the public at large than with deficiencies in the citizenry. This book thus departs from the thrust of current political science research, which tends to emphasize the extent to which citizens are reflexively partisan, polarized, and driven by profound dislike of the opposite party. I do not deny that partisanship powerfully shapes reasoning and attitudes—indeed, my results show that partisanship powerfully conditions citizens’ evaluations—but I show that this is far from the whole story, and that even a mostly partisan public can still appreciate collaboration in Congress.
Madison’s ABCs builds on the insights of work on the public’s process preferences, particularly Hibbing and Theiss-Morse’s Stealth Democracy, but departs from this scholarly tradition in emphasizing features of the process directly linked to partisan conflict and collaboration. I develop a theoretical justification for this approach by drawing on the writings of James Madison and other classic theorists of representative government. While Madison is more commonly associated with the constitutional structure of government than with the process of political decision-making, I show that his arguments reveal a a deep interest in promoting deliberative and collaborative interactions among representatives. Accomplishment, bipartisanship, and civility are crucial to a more Madisonian process, not only because they are inherently valuable for deliberation and collaboration, but also because they serve as visible markers of a well-functioning process. I show that this Madisonian perspective on the importance of the ABCs in particular and deliberative and collaborative behavior in general is echoed in more recent empirical treatments of Congress and in media coverage of Congressional debates.
Despite the persistence of Madisonian ideals in our political culture, little attention has been paid to measuring how the public actually interprets and reacts to accomplishment, bipartisanship, and civility in Congress. While these three features are closely related, they are conceptually and empirically distinct, but existing work rarely distinguishes among them. Furthermore, traditional approaches to studying public opinion have offered little leverage on what appears to be a central contradiction in political behavior: people say they prefer a more collaborative politics when asked, but they vote for partisan candidates, donate to uncivil representatives, and appear to punish legislative accomplishment. Listening to what people say versus watching what they do seems to lead to radically different conclusions about the public’s appetite for a more Madisonian approach to politics.
This book addresses these gaps in our knowledge by bringing together multiple types of survey data, including traditional polls and original survey experiments, with in-depth analysis of focus group data. The design of the survey experiments ensures that the independent causal effects of accomplishment, bipartisanship, and civility can be measured, distinguished, and compared, while minimizing any potential bias from social desirability and demand effects. Through the focus group data, I probe the role of tradeoffs and mitigating factors in shaping public priorities for Congressional decision-making, and illustrate the extent to which publicly stated preferences match, help explain, and occasionally contradict the private reactions captured in the survey experiments. Both sets of data also capture the important and previously unrecognized role of individual heterogeneity, by showing that the strength of partisan identification shapes which facets of Madisonianism people are inclined to prioritize.
I show that the apparent contradiction between what people say and how they actually react is mostly illusory. People do sincerely value successful collaboration in Congress, in part because they interpret collaboration as a sign that representatives are more likely to be listening to each other and less likely to be driven by self-interest. Strong partisans are inclined to worry more about potential policy tradeoffs, especially on hot-button issues, but are not opposed to bipartisan cooperation as such. This implies that legislators benefit from partisan, uncivil, and/or obstructionist behavior primarily when they are insulated from accountability to the public as a whole. If we want to encourage more collaboration in Congress, then we should look to institutional structures that empower combative minorities, like the closed primary system, rather than blaming the public at large.
My findings also shed light on why citizens have become increasingly dissatisfied with Congress over the last few decades. Even for an increasingly partisan public, one’s own party passing bills through a partisan process does not seem to promote confidence in Congress. While people naturally prefer that their own party controls Congress, they believe that the institution functions poorly without effective collaboration and resent that legislators appear more interested in their own electoral and financial fortunes than in seeking common ground. The good news is that even a small dose of cooperation in Congress can help bolster public trust. For example, a single example of a civil Congressional debate on a consensus issues causes partisan-leaning independents to be express greater trust in politicians in general—which is especially striking given that leaners tend to have exceptionally negative attitudes towards politics.
By testing the public’s commitment to Madison’s ABCs—accomplishment, bipartisanship, and civility—in Congress, my book speaks to important questions about public opinion, Congressional approval, polarization and trust in government, and prospects for reform. My results offer hope for our political system by illustrating that even in this era of partisan conflict, the public as a whole still values and is willing to reward legislative accomplishment, bipartisanship, and civility in Congress. That does not mean that reform will be straightforward—public attitudes towards this civic trifecta are more nuanced and heterogeneous than they have commonly been portrayed, and the institutional barriers are daunting—but it does point to an important source of resilience and strength in our civic culture.
Articles Under Review and Working Papers
- Paris, Celia and Daniel Feder. “Candidate Qualifications as Cues for Competence.” In revision.
- Book project. Working title: Madison’s ABCs: Why the Public Still Values Accomplishment, Bipartisanship, and Civility in Congress
- “Reputation Depreciation and Intertemporal Electoral Accountability.” With George Krause.