Stimson, James and Wager, Emily. Converging on Truth: A Dynamic Perspective on Factual Debates in American Public Opinion . 2020. Cambridge University Press.
Much of the science of public opinion focuses on individuals, asking do they perceive or misperceive and why? Pretty often this science will emphasize the misperception and the psychological processes that produce it. But political debates have outcomes in the aggregate. In this volume we turn to a more system level approach, emphasizing whole electorates and examining facts through a dynamic lens. We theorize that public opinion will converge toward truth over time. We find that, with exceptions, correct views of the facts grow stronger under information flow while misperception recedes.
The U.S. has experienced runaway economic inequality since the 1970s, yet there is not strong public support for government policies that serve to narrow the growing disparities between citizens. In my dissertation, I endeavor to develop a deeper understanding as to why. This research has been funded in part by a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant.
People Like Us? How Mass Preferences are Shaped by Economic Inequality and Racial Diversity
In this paper, I argue that the public's failure to respond to increasing inequality with demand for government should be partly attributed to rising racial diversity. Using states as the level of analysis, I suggest that in more racially diverse contexts citizens are less likely to share a common identity and in turn empathize with one another, leading to less support for policies that help others in response to inequality. However, in racially homogeneous contexts, where there is a stronger sense of shared identity, the opposite occurs: inequality is met with support for more government. Given that scholarship examining the consequences of diversity for redistributive politics often looks to policy output or government spending , I shift attention to the presumed intermediary between diversity and policy---aggregate preference. Under review
Understanding Declining Support for Redistribution among African Americans
There is less support for redistribution and race-targeted aid among blacks in the U.S. today than in the 1970s, despite persistent and enduring racial and economic disparities. Why? Prior scholarship explains that stereotypical perceptions of the beneficiaries of downward redistributive policies, particularly welfare, as lazy and black inform whites’ opposition to these policies. I argue these negative stereotypes have also shaped public opinion among blacks, the group they directly stigmatize. I frame this in the wider context of internalized racial oppression, which has led to a practice known as “defensive othering,” involving the acceptance of negative stereotypes of one’s own group while simultaneously distancing oneself from that stereotype. Importantly, internalized oppression is not an indication of weakness, ignorance or inferiority, but an inevitable condition of oppression that works to sustain inequality. To demonstrate the ways in which stereotypical narratives shape redistributive preferences among blacks, I rely on insights from qualitative interviews, as well as evidence from individual and aggregate level survey data. I find that shifting racialized media coverage of the poor as lazy contributed to the adoption of negative in-group stereotypes, leading to less support for redistributive spending.
- See paper here
Average Americans and Talking about Inequality
Public opinion research related to economic inequality in the U.S. has expanded drastically in the past decade. While some scholars often discuss the term "economic inequality" as though it is a tangible and widely understood concept, we know little about what average people actually see when they consider or are confronted with inequality. I shift away from assuming that average Americans have a strong and uniform conception of economic inequality, and instead listen to them discuss this phenomenon in their own words. To offer insights into how ordinary citizens conceive of inequality, this research relies on qualitative data from in-depth interviews and focus groups conducted during months of fieldwork across the U.S.
Exploring Confederate Monuments' Meanings and Consequences for Belonging in the American South (with Lucy Britt & Tyler Steelman)
How do citizens interpret contentious symbols that pervade their community? And what downstream effects does state protection of these symbols have on how citizens of different backgrounds feel they belong in their community? We approach these questions through the lens of race and Confederate monuments in the American South. We rely on two original surveys to illustrate the symbolic meanings Americans attach to these monuments and how state protection of them impact residents' feelings of belonging. We find that perceptions of Confederate monuments vary by race: Whites are drastically less likely to perceive them as symbolic of racial injustice than are African Americans. Further, state protection of Confederate monuments leads to a diminished sense of belonging among African Americans, while leaving Whites unaffected. This research moves beyond the literature that examines simple support or opposition toward contentious symbols, and instead develops a deeper understanding of what meaning symbols can hold for citizens and how they can have tangible consequences for how citizens engage in the political community. Under review
Works in Progress
"Image Classification Models for Political Science" (with Matt Kenney and Leah Christiani)
"Why Americans Don't Resent the Rich"
"White Saviors? How Increasingly Liberal Whites Are (not) Fighting Racism" (with Leah Christiani)