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Social Studies: The lingering violence of ‘Birth of a Nation,’ profiting from food donations

Posters for "The Birth of a Nation." A new study finds counties that screened the film saw a jump in lynchings - and are more likely to be home to white supremacist groups today.Courtesy of Birth of a Movement, Northern Light Productions 2016

Married to the court

Emails inquiring about wedding services were sent to bakers and photographers in Indiana, Texas, Iowa, and North Carolina before and after the widely publicized 2018 Supreme Court ruling in favor of a baker who refused service to a same-sex couple on religious grounds. Each vendor received emails from same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Rates of positive responses to same-sex couples fell significantly after the ruling, including in urban and other relatively liberal areas, but particularly in areas with a larger number of religious congregations.

Barak-Corren, N., “Religious Exemptions Increase Discrimination Towards Same-Sex Couples: Evidence From Masterpiece Cakeshop,” Journal of Legal Studies (forthcoming).


Trump’s Twitter problem

Economists estimate that in the 2016 election, Trump lost 0.2 percent of the vote in a county for each 10 percent increase in the county’s Twitter users. Independent and moderate voters who took to Twitter seem to have turned on Trump in the largest numbers. There was no such effect in congressional elections or in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, suggesting that Twitter was particularly detrimental to Trump. Indeed, almost 80 percent of tweets about Trump in 2016 appeared to be critical of him, compared with around 35 percent of tweets about Romney in 2012.

Fujiwara, T. et al., “The Effect of Social Media on Elections: Evidence From the United States,” Princeton University (October 2020).

Lingering violence

The 1915 movie “The Birth of a Nation” is infamous for its positive portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan, but what many people may not appreciate today is just how influential it was — and still is. As a Harvard professor notes, “an estimated 10 million Americans — roughly one-fifth of the adult white population — turned out to see the movie in its first two years,” and “newspaper reports from the period estimated that nearly 50 percent of adults in Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans saw the film.” The movie was screened via traveling roadshow rather than simultaneous nationwide release, and the professor finds that lynchings and race riots increased fivefold within a month of the movie’s arrival in a county. Also, counties that screened the film were much more likely to have a Klan chapter in 1930 — a correlation that persists into the 21st century, with more white supremacist groups and hate crimes in those counties than in counties that didn’t screen the movie.


Ang, D., “The Birth of a Nation: Media and Racial Hate,” Harvard University (November 2020).

Banking on the food bank

Donations by food retailers to food banks may appear to be simple charity, but a new study suggests they also help the bottom line. Donors avoid disposal fees and reap tax benefits. They’re also in a better position to overstock popular items so they can avoid running out of them; it’s easy to get rid of anything that goes unsold. And with fresher food in stock, prices can be higher.

Lowrey, J. et al., “Food Bank Donations and Retail Pricing,” Arizona State University (December 2020).

Power isn’t disgusting

In a series of experiments, researchers found that people who felt more powerful — or were induced to think about the experience of power — were less disgusted when contemplating disgusting situations and, as a result, were less inclined to condemn disgusting behavior. This effect was reduced when people were explicitly asked to consider the negative consequences of disgusting behavior, suggesting that the effect is due to a greater feeling of imperviousness.


Mooijman, M. et al., “Power Decreases the Moral Condemnation of Disgust-Inducing Transgressions,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (November 2020).