Reading While Reacting To Political Cultures: Study in Political Association


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The subjects were asked to discuss contentious political issues, including climate change, affirmative action, and same-sex partnerships. Glaeser and Sunstein emphasize that confidence and polarization increase even when the deliberation process results in very little new information. Thus people insufficiently adjust for the fact that information sources in the group are dependent, that the group may not be a representative sample of the population, and that people may strategically manipulate the messages they send to the group.

This phenomenon is also known as correlation neglect Ortoleva and Snowberg Thus far we have examined how individuals and groups respond to informational inputs. Here we consider the supply side of the information market—the media—and ask whether it is likely to provide an accurate picture of environmental risks. It is thus important to understand how these factors might affect the quality of reporting about environmental risks. Economists have studied how supply-driven biases in reporting may arise in models of media capture by governments or special interests Besley and Prat and in models of the economic incentives and ideological preferences of journalists Baron Both of these effects can lead to persistent biases in coverage.

However, competition in media markets can help to alleviate these problems Gentzkow and Shapiro In addition to these purely economic motivations, the norm of journalistic balance may lead to slanted coverage of environmental issues. For example, Boykoff and Boykoff argue that the adoption of this norm in the U.

The demand side of the media market may induce its own distortions. For example, confirmation bias—the fact that people prefer to receive information that confirms their prior beliefs—has been observed directly in news markets Gentzkow and Shapiro The implications of confirmation bias for media markets have been studied by Mullainathan and Shleifer They show that if consumers prefer to hear news that confirms their prior beliefs, and have diverse beliefs about a given topic, competitive media firms will slant their coverage towards extreme positions.

More optimistically, if the number of market participants in their model is very large, it is possible that even though individual outlets are biased, an individual who reads all sources may nevertheless be able to piece together accurate information. Given that most people consume a small sample of media, however, it seems unlikely that individuals will receive accurate information about complex environmental problems.

Gentzkow and Shapiro consider a related model of demand-driven media bias and show that even rational Bayesian consumers will believe that information that confirms their prior beliefs is of high quality.

Victorian Political Culture: ‘Habits of Heart and Mind’ | Reviews in History

Thus the media have incentives to pander to the beliefs of consumers in order to demonstrate their quality. Gentzkow and Shapiro also show that media bias can be ameliorated if it is possible to explicitly verify a story after the fact. They emphasize, however, that this is much more likely to be feasible for short-run events sports outcomes, weather forecasts than complex long-run issues. This discussion suggests that although competitive media markets may provide checks on bias for some issues, it is unlikely that these checks will be effective at ruling out informational distortions for complex environmental problems.

Since the media play such an important part in deciding who gets elected, and which policies governments are likely to implement, this is a telling finding. The previous section highlighted the facts that 1 individuals are unlikely to process the information they receive in a Bayesian manner, 2 group interactions can reinforce individual biases, and 3 the most important source of information on environmental problems—the media—is subject to bias.

These biases only matter if they translate into inadequate policy choices. In order to understand how this might occur, we need to understand how public decision-making is affected by the distribution of beliefs in society. Beliefs influence policy through many channels in modern democracies. We usually delegate decision-making power to our elected representatives, and their beliefs and political incentives will have a major impact on which policies are implemented. Finally, we examine the supply side of the information market in the political process—experts and lobbies.

Politicians are influenced by these persuasive actors, and we ask whether competition between opposing viewpoints is likely to result in unbiased information being provided to policymakers. One of the advantages of democratic systems of government over more autocratic alternatives is that they provide a mechanism for bringing information that is dispersed across the population into the political process. The argument goes that since the public knows more about how a policy will affect them than distant government officials, centralized decision-making is informationally inefficient Hayek Suppose that beliefs about the severity of an environmental problem can be mapped into preferences over a one-dimensional policy variable e.

The theorem states that the unique equilibrium of this electoral game is for both parties to announce that they will implement the preferred policy of the median voter. Let us take the median voter result at face value for the moment and ask what it means for the belief aggregation properties of elections. The result provides an optimistic view of the ability of elections to balance out opposing extreme viewpoints. As long as there are equal numbers of people with opposing biases some overestimating and some underestimating environmental risks , their beliefs will have no effect on the electoral outcome.

Thus the median voter theorem provides only a partial antidote to voter bias—we need biases to be symmetrically distributed if they are to cancel out.


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This symmetry assumption is strong. Voluminous behavioral evidence, some of which we have discussed here, suggests that people are prone to common biases in assessing and understanding environmental risks Margolis ; Weber and Stern This means that we cannot say whether the heterogeneity in their preferences derives from differing tastes e. Surprisingly, they find that elections can aggregate information more effectively, and lead to better policy choices, when voters are subject to correlation neglect 10 than when they are strict Bayesians.

This is because biased voters overreact to information, causing their policy preferences to be more dependent on their information than on their ideological preferences. Ashworth and Bueno de Mequista also emphasize that in order to understand how behavioral biases affect democratic outcomes, we must understand how these biases affect the behavior of strategic political parties. Political parties often possess their own information about the benefits of policies. Anticipating that this will occur changes the electoral incentives of strategic parties, as they know that any platform they choose will convey information to the voter, thus changing the nature of the electoral contest.

A growing literature examines such electoral signaling games. This suggests that office-seeking behavior by political parties that have private information can result in a substantial loss of information in equilibrium. Rather, they vote for representatives to a legislative body who then decide on policies on their behalf.

In the discussion that follows, we investigate how political outcomes might be affected by such behaviors.

First, let us consider a very simple model of a legislative assembly voting on an environmental policy initiative. Will the legislature make the right choice about whether to implement the policy? We have already discussed one approach, the CJT, which suggests that groups of individuals with heterogeneous beliefs will make more accurate choices on average than any single individual. We noted, however, that strategic behavior could alter the conclusions of the CJT if votes are cast sequentially rather than simultaneously.

This issue may be of less concern for votes in parliaments or congresses, which are nearly simultaneous. Nevertheless, strategic behavior can strongly influence electoral outcomes even in simultaneous voting contexts. Austen-Smith and Banks show that even if everyone has the same objectives, truthful revelation of private information by all voters in a majority rule contest is not necessarily an equilibrium outcome. They go so far as to show that accounting for strategic behavior can in fact lead to group decisions being less accurate on average than simply allowing a single individual to decide, thus overturning the CJT results.

Another feature of information aggregation in legislative bodies is the ability of representatives to abstain from voting on policy initiatives. The option to simply remove oneself from the policy decision clearly has consequences for information aggregation. Feddersen and Pesendorfer show that when representatives are informed to different degrees, those who believe themselves to be less informed than others will strategically abstain from voting on policy measures. Representatives with well thought out beliefs, who nevertheless are more uncertain about policy consequences than their more confident peers, may choose to abstain.

Strategic abstention may thus moderate the effectiveness of voting as an information aggregation mechanism. This discussion shows that even if we assume that elected representatives act for the common good, strategic behavior can disturb the information aggregation properties of the CJT.

This conclusion is not based solely on theoretical models. The empirical literature suggests that people do indeed act strategically when voting Guarnaschelli et al. Thus far we have assumed that the policies voted on by legislatures are exogenously given. However, policy proposals are generally endogenous outcomes of the political process and are thus also subject to strategic effects and informational distortions. Long-run policymaking in democracies requires incumbents to deal with a time-inconsistency problem: This lack of control over future policy choices creates a strategic incentive for current governments to choose policies that influence both who gets elected in the future and the policies future governments will implement.

Why identity politics benefits the right more than the left

These strategic policy manipulation effects have traditionally been studied by assuming that different parties have common beliefs, but heterogeneous objectives e. However, heterogeneous beliefs also give rise to strategic incentives for policy manipulation. The intuition behind this is simple: Incumbents prefer to face opponents with beliefs closer to their own in future political contests, as this reduces the time-inconsistency problem. They thus have an incentive to use current policy choices to reduce the disagreements between parties, hence they overexperiment. To illustrate this mechanism, consider the case of fracking, which provides short-run economic benefits, but uncertain long-run environmental costs.

These could arise due to groundwater contamination from the chemicals used in the fracking process. These costs depend on the chemical mix in the fracturing fluid and the geology of the site, and are difficult to predict ex ante. The only sure way to resolve uncertainty about costs is to observe them ex post.

The strategic overexperimentation effect predicts that if parties disagree on the likely magnitude of these costs, even well-intentioned incumbents will have an incentive to regulate fracking less stringently than they would prefer.

How America's identity politics went from inclusion to division

Having less stringent regulation will reveal more information about costs, thus allowing incumbents to avoid future political contests against opponents whose beliefs about the costs of fracking are very different from their own. Where do policymakers get their information? Although communities of experts such as the National Academy of Sciences or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provide the scientific background for policy debates on environmental issues, politicians are also strongly influenced by lobby groups. The difficulty for the politician is that she knows that everyone wants something from her.

A large literature in economics addresses precisely this kind of strategic information transmission problem. Although the receiver knows that the sender aims to manipulate her actions, some information can still be revealed in equilibrium. This classic result suggests that we need not be entirely pessimistic about the possibility of information transmission between strategic parties with different objectives, provided those objectives are not too different.


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More optimistically, Krishna and Morgan show that when the decision maker can sequentially consult multiple informed experts with opposing objectives, she may be able to extract all their information. Battaglini produces a similar result when policies are multidimensional. These results assume that experts have reliable information that the planner would actually find useful.

Alternatively, they may have fringe views based on dubious science but which policymakers are unable to distinguish from scientifically sound opinions. In the past, the Republican and Democratic parties attracted supporters with different racial, religious, ideological and regional identities, but gradually Republicans became the party of white, evangelical, conservative and rural voters, while the Democrats became associated with non-whites, non-evangelical, liberal and metropolitan voters.

This lining up of identities dramatically changes electoral stakes: This social sorting has led partisans of both parties to engage in negative stereotyping and even demonization. Once the other party becomes an enemy rather than an opponent, winning becomes more important than the common good and compromise becomes an anathema.

Such situations also promote emotional rather than rational evaluations of policies and evidence. Making matters worse, social scientists consistently find that the most committed partisans, those who are the angriest and have the most negative feelings towards out-groups, are the most politically engaged. What does all this mean for those who oppose Trump and want to fight the dangerous trends his presidency has unleashed? Paradoxically, then, it would seem that we can best limit intolerance of difference by parading, talking about, and applauding our sameness … Nothing inspires greater tolerance from the intolerant than an abundance of common and unifying beliefs, practices, rituals, institutions and processes.

Relatedly, research suggests that calling people racist when they do not see themselves that way is counterproductive. As noted above, while there surely are true bigots, studies show that not all those who exhibit intolerant behavior harbor extreme racial animus. This has obvious implications for recent debates about civility. Since this has become such a hot-button topic on the left, it is worth being clear what incivility is. There is no definition of democracy that does not accept peaceful protest and other forms of vociferous political engagement.

Incivility is about form — not substance; it is consistently defined by scholars as including invective, ridicule, emotionality, histrionics and other forms of personal attacks or norm-defying behavior. Of course, there is a double standard here and this, along with the psychic release that comes with venting the anger and grievances that have been building over the past year, are the rationales given by the left for incivility.

However, while Gash provided a snapshot of politics over a relatively limited period, by taking the century as a whole Hawkins presents a more dynamic picture of the long-term shifts in political culture over time. An opening chapter on the primacy of parliamentary government at the start of the century is succeeded by four chapters on the Great Reform Act and its aftermath.

Author's Response

This is followed by three chapters on the origins and outcomes of the second reform act of , while a final chapter examines the changing political landscape from to the First World War. The general outline of the picture revealed will be reasonably familiar to most scholars of Victorian political history, though it is stated with great clarity here. The Great Reform Act was never intended by its Whig authors as a revolutionary measure, at least in the post meaning of that word.

To use an organic metaphor that would have had a familiar ring to contemporaries, its authors hoped to restore to vitality a branchy tree in danger of being smothered by the clinging vines of corruption and neglect and consequently vulnerable to the revolutionary axe of plebeian discontent. They aimed to admit within the pale of the constitution new commercial interests, particularly in the ports and industrial towns, while defending aristocratic privilege and the primacy of the land. In the latter they largely succeeded, though this is not to say that the political landscape was entirely unchanged or that all the consequences were intended: In parliament it also seemed at first that the political polarisation caused by the Reform debates would generate a firmer two-party system than the shifting pattern of alliances based on patronage and personal loyalty that had previously held sway.

Where Norman Gash plundered the reports of select committees on disputed elections to reveal the seamy side of early Victorian politics, Hawkins dips liberally into the abundant research of the History of Parliament project to reveal something of the endless variety of politics at the constituency level. At the election of February , the Leeds Liberals made a virtue of eschewing the usual practice of using bands and banners to attract supporters and non-electors to the nomination of candidates in the hope of underlining the seriousness with which they exercised their public duties.

The Tories, having no such qualms, so effectively rallied their troops that, to Liberal outrage, they easily won the show of hands in what was supposedly a solidly Liberal borough. The lesson was learned and at the next election the following year Liberal bands and banners were much in evidence and used to good effect. As Fraser demonstrated, parliamentary elections were merely the tip of the political iceberg: The real caesura in Victorian politics was the second Reform Act of While acknowledging their power, Hawkins punctures Liberal, Conservative and Radical myths of its origin: Together with anti-corruption legislation, the introduction of the secret ballot in , and the reform and redistribution acts of —5, it left the political landscape irrevocably changed.

Parliamentary government now became party government, and parliamentary sovereignty became popular sovereignty as the electorate expanded.

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