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Public responsiveness to policy is contingent on there being a sufficient amount of clear and accurate information about policy available to citizens. It is of some significance then, that there are increasing concerns about limits being placed on media outlets around the world. We examine the impact of these limits on the public’s ability to respond meaningfully to policy by analyzing cross-national variation in the opinion–policy link. Using new measures on spending preferences from Wave 4 of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, merged with OECD data on government spending and Freedom House measures of press freedom, we assess the role of mass media in facilitating public responsiveness. We find evidence that when media are weak, so too is public responsiveness to policy. These results highlight the critical role that accurate, unfettered media can play in modern representative democracy.
As spending on welfare in the United States has increased over time, preferences for more spending have remained fairly stationary. Given that previous research shows that the public adjusts its welfare spending preference thermostatically in response to welfare spending, the over-time pattern of preferences implies that something must be producing an increase in public support, but what? We address this question, focusing on individuals' demographics and a set of aggregate economic variables, both macroeconomic and distributional. Results reveal that individual-level factors matter little to the temporal variation and aggregate economics matter a lot: there are pro-cyclical and counter-cyclical elements in spending preferences and a dampening effect of income inequality over time. The combination of these variables accounts for the underlying trend in welfare spending preferences in the US, and the method used to reveal these dynamics can be used to analyze preference evolution in other spending domains and countries.
A considerable body of work in political science is built upon the assumption that politicians are more purposive, strategic decision makers than the citizens who elect them. At the same time, other work suggests that the personality profiles of office seekers and the environment they operate in systematically amplifies certain choice anomalies. These contrasting perspectives persist absent direct evidence on the reasoning characteristics of representatives. We address this gap by administering experimental decision tasks to incumbents in Belgium, Canada, and Israel. We demonstrate that politicians are as or more subject to common choice anomalies when compared to nonpoliticians: they exhibit a stronger tendency to escalate commitment when facing sunk costs, they adhere more to policy choices that are presented as the status-quo, their risk calculus is strongly subject to framing effects, and they exhibit distinct future time discounting preferences. This has obvious implications for our understanding of decision making by elected politicians.
Employing a comparative experimental design drawing on over 18,000 interviews across eleven countries on four continents, this article revisits the discussion about the economic and cultural drivers of attitudes towards immigrants in advanced democracies. Experiments manipulate the occupational status, skin tone and national origin of immigrants in short vignettes. The results are most consistent with a Sociotropic Economic Threat thesis: In all countries, higher-skilled immigrants are preferred to their lower-skilled counterparts at all levels of native socio-economic status (SES). There is little support for the Labor Market Competition hypothesis, since respondents are not more opposed to immigrants in their own SES stratum. While skin tone itself has little effect in any country, immigrants from Muslim-majority countries do elicit significantly lower levels of support, and racial animus remains a powerful force.
Do increasing, and increasingly diverse, immigration flows lead to declining support for redistributive policy? This concern is pervasive in the literatures on immigration, multiculturalism and redistribution, and in public debate as well. The literature is nevertheless unable to disentangle the degree to which welfare chauvinism is related to (a) immigrant status or (b) ethnic difference. This paper reports on results from a web-based experiment designed to shed light on this issue. Representative samples from the United States, Quebec, and the “Rest-of-Canada” responded to a vignette in which a hypothetical social assistance recipient was presented as some combination of immigrant or not, and Caucasian or not. Results from the randomized manipulation suggest that while ethnic difference matters to welfare attitudes, in these countries it is immigrant status that matters most. These findings are discussed in light of the politics of diversity and recognition, and the capacity of national policies to address inequalities.
Recent decades have been marked by increasingly divided partisan opinion in the US. This study investigates whether a similar trend might be occurring in Canada. It does so by examining redistributive preferences, using Canadian Election Studies data from every election since 1992. Results suggest that Canada has experienced a surge in partisan sorting that is comparable to that in the US. Over time, like-minded citizens have increasingly clustered into parties, with increasingly stark divisions between partisans.
Multicultural policy is an increasingly salient, and contested, topic in both academic and public debate about how to manage increasing ethnic diversity. In spite of the longstanding commitment to multiculturalism policy in Canada, however, we have only a partial understanding of public attitudes on this issue. Current research tends to look at general attitudes regarding diversity and accommodation–rarely at attitudes towards specific multicultural policies. We seek to (partly) fill this gap. In particular, we focus on how support for multiculturalism policy varies across benefit types (for example, financial and other) and the ethnicity/religiosity of recipient groups. Using a unique survey experiment conducted within the 2011 Canadian Election Study (CES), we examine how ethnic origin (Portuguese vs. Turkish) and religious symbols (absence and presence of the hijab) influence support for funding of ethno-religious group activities and their access to public spaces. We also explore whether citizens’ general attitudes toward cultural diversity moderate this effect. Results provide important information about the state of Canadian public opinion on multiculturalism, and more general evidence about the nature, authenticity and limits of public support for this policy.
This article offers a new approach to studying sex differences in responses to negative news, using real-time physiological responses as opposed to self-reports. Measurements of skin conductance and heart rate are used to examine whether there are differences in the extent to which women and men are aroused by and attentive to negative news stories. Like experiments that have relied on postexposure self-reports, we detect no sex differences in arousal in response to negative news stories. However, in contrast to those experiments, we find indications that women are more attentive than men to negative news content. We consider possible reasons for this difference in findings. We also discuss neuropsychological studies that are consistent with our finding of greater attentiveness on the part of women to negative stimuli. Finally, we consider the relationship between our work and evidence in the literature that women consume less news than men.
Is international migration a threat to the redistributive programmes of destination countries? Existing work is divided. This paper examines the manner and extent to which increases in immigration are related to welfare state retrenchment, drawing on data from 1970 to 2007. The paper makes three contributions: (1) it explores the impact of changes in immigration on social welfare policy over both the short and medium term; (2) it examines the possibility that immigration matters for spending not just directly, but indirectly, through changes in demographics and/or the labour force; and (3) by disaggregating data on social expenditure into subdomains (including unemployment, pensions, and the like), it tests the impact of immigration on different elements of the welfare state. Results suggest that increased immigration is indeed associated with smaller increases in spending. The major pathway is through impact on female labour force participation. The policy domains most affected are ones subject to moral hazard, or at least to rhetoric about moral hazard.
Sakit nang kalingkingan nararamdaman ng buong katawan. [Illness or pain in a small part (finger) is felt by the whole body.]
– Tagalog Proverb
The previous chapter demonstrated a negativity bias in media content. It also argued that the negativity bias is a product of our tendency to be more attracted to negative news – or, put more forcefully, it is a product of humans being hardwired to react more to negative than to positive information. This chapter explores this possibility further through two tests of our reactions to news content.
The tests take two (quite different) forms. First, I analyze data on newsstand magazine sales, weekly, over the past two decades, using sales data made available by Maclean's magazine in Canada. These data are matched to human-coded covers for every issue. Controlling for seasonal variation in magazine sales, as well as the subject matter of cover stories, the tone of cover stories/pictures appears to matter to newsstand sales: predictably, negative covers sell more than positive ones. This is taken as a first, aggregate-level indication that humans (or at least the media-consuming public) are indeed more interested in negative news content than in positive one.
The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interr'd with their bones
A set of new investigations into negativity biases in public opinion begins here, with an analysis of U.S. presidential evaluations, building directly on models of impression formation in the psychological literature discussed in Chapter 1. As past work in psychology suggests, negative domain-specific evaluations matter more to overall U.S. presidential assessments than do positive domain-specific evaluations. Analyses demonstrating this fact, which follow in this chapter, are partly a replication of past work, albeit with considerably more data and a somewhat different approach to modeling the asymmetry. But subsequent analyses then extend considerably what we know about political impression formation. First, comparative results make clear that the same dynamic is evident in other countries, supporting the notion that the negativity bias is not just a U.S. phenomenon. Subsequent analyses reveal heterogeneity in negativity biases as well. In short, they make clear that some people rely more strongly on negative information than do others. A final section then considers the difficulties in distinguishing “neutral” in interval-level measures – difficulties that make capturing the negativity bias difficult in some circumstances, and that point to the possibility that some past work finding a lack of evidence of a negativity bias may have been mistaken.
Each of these issues is dealt with in turn throughout this chapter. Demonstrations rely on individual-level survey data drawn primarily from the American National Election Studies, but also from a series of Australian National Election Studies. In sum, results make clear the connection between work on impression formation in psychology and public attitudes toward political candidates. Moreover, they provide strong illustrations of a negativity bias in political behavior.
This book explores the political implications of the human tendency to prioritize negative information over positive information. Drawing on literatures in political science, psychology, economics, communications, biology, and physiology, this book argues that 'negativity biases' should be evident across a wide range of political behaviors. These biases are then demonstrated through a diverse and cross-disciplinary set of analyses, for instance: in citizens' ratings of presidents and prime ministers; in aggregate-level reactions to economic news, across 17 countries; in the relationship between covers and newsmagazine sales; and in individuals' physiological reactions to network news content. The pervasiveness of negativity biases extends, this book suggests, to the functioning of political institutions - institutions that have been designed to prioritize negative information in the same way as the human brain.
You can't have a light without a dark to stick it in.
– Arlo Guthrie
A December 2012 op-ed in the Moscow Times described State Duma Deputy Oleg Mikheyev's proposal to force Russian media to report more good news. Mass media would have to shift the amount of positive information to 70 percent and restrict bad information to the remaining 30 percent. Too much bad information was said to damage the human psyche – indeed, it “weakens their ability to think and lowers their creative powers.” Michael Bohm, opinion editor of the Times, was of course critical of Mikheyev's (preposterous) bill. Among his reasons, Bohm wrote, “Mikheyev has got the cause-effect relationship of negative information all wrong. The media is much less a cause of society's ills than it is a mirror image of those ills.”
Media are certainly as much a reflection as they are a driver of public attitudes. For the most part, media do not make us negative – they reflect our negativity. But whether that negativity is an “ill” is another matter. Focusing on negative information may be a perfectly reasonable means for citizens to monitor their environment, and particularly their governments. Ongoing negativity in politics and political communication may be a problem, but it may also be effective and advantageous.