Ideas

uncommon knowledge

Making campaign rallies great again

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Some empty seats greeted Mike Pence on Aug. 4 during a rally in Virginia Beach, Va.

Steve Helber/Associated Press

Some empty seats greeted Mike Pence on Aug. 4 during a rally in Virginia Beach, Va.

Far-flung campaign stops aren’t necessarily winning votes

The common currency of presidential campaigns is the campaign rally. However, new research suggests they’re not as pivotal as they’re often made out to be. A political scientist at Ohio State University found that candidate visits tend not to generate a lot of extra local media coverage of the candidate and may only boost local voter support by a couple points, and only for a few days. Nor are local voters reliably tracking these visits — Democrats assumed the Democratic candidate had visited recently, even when he hadn’t, while Republicans assumed the same about their candidate. Nevertheless, even if these visits aren’t directly swaying undecided voters, they may get attendees more emotionally invested in voting and helping the campaign, or they may prevent accusations of ignoring the state.

Wood, T., “What The Heck Are We Doing in Ottumwa, Anyway? Presidential Candidate Visits and Their Political Consequence,” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (September 2016).

Good times to stand out

America is a pretty individualistic culture. When times are tough, though, can you really afford to go your own way? A new study finds that when unemployment is higher (and controlling for time period and demographics), Americans are more likely to choose common names for babies; think it’s less important to raise children to think for themselves and more important to raise them to be liked and to help others; are less interested in looking different from others; feel a greater need for order and structure; and listen to songs with fewer singular pronouns and more plural pronouns.

Bianchi, E., “American Individualism Rises and Falls With the Economy: Cross-Temporal Evidence That Individualism Declines When the Economy Falters,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (October 2016).

The dark side
of school suspension

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While black males may be stereotyped as the most dangerous and irresponsible demographic group, black females aren’t necessarily spared either, particularly if they have dark skin. An analysis of data from a nationally representative sample of adolescents found that dark-skinned — but not light-skinned — black females were twice as likely to be suspended from school compared to white females, even controlling for prior-year suspension, getting into physical fights, delinquent behavior, academic performance, parental education, and school characteristics and discipline policies.

Blake, J. et al., “The Role of Colorism in Explaining African American Females’ Suspension Risk,” School Psychology Quarterly (forthcoming).

Aggress now while supplies last

Black Friday is coming up, when people will likely once again be storming into stores like Walmart and trampling one another to get that discounted TV. The stores can pin all the blame on shoppers for such behavior, but new research suggests that the stores are causing some of that behavior, too. In a series of experiments, researchers found that simply exposing people to an ad for a steeply discounted product in limited supply (e.g., a new iPhone for only $50, but only three are available!) raised their testosterone levels and subsequently caused them to fire more shots or throw more punches in a video game, or behave more aggressively toward a vending machine that broke. There was no such effect for time-limited sales (one day only!), higher-class stores (Nordstrom vs. Walmart), or if people were made to think of how they were similar to fellow customers.

Kristofferson, K. et al., “The Dark Side of Scarcity Promotions: How Exposure to Limited-Quantity Promotions Can Induce Aggression,” Journal of Consumer Research (forthcoming).

From one executive to another

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At the core of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy is the contention that he’s a successful businessman who can use his management and deal-making skills to fix the government. According to two economists, however, that proposition rests on shaky ground. Comparing cities in California where a businessperson barely won a nonpartisan city council election to cities where a businessperson barely lost, the economists found that nothing changed — not revenues, spending (overall or on infrastructure), outsourcing, debt, or the unemployment rate — even controlling for various city socioeconomic characteristics. This was true regardless of city size or preexisting deficits, debt, or unemployment. Elected businesspeople were also no more or less appreciated by voters in the next election.

Beach, B. & Jones, D., “Business as Usual: Politicians With Business Experience, Government Finances, and Policy Outcomes,” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (November 2016).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.
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