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Republicans use voter ID laws tactically, study shows

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Republicans have been pushing voter ID laws in recent years, arguing that they’re necessary to prevent fraud; Democrats, meanwhile, argue that they’re merely a tactic to keep certain kinds of people, especially minorities, from voting. A new analysis of voter ID laws passed from 2001 to 2012 suggests that they are indeed being used tactically: Republicans tended to pass these laws only in electorally competitive states, not in states where victory was assured. The researchers found that the laws did not correspond to the number of voter fraud cases; on the other hand, nor did they have a relationship to either the number or the growth of minority voters.

Hicks, W. et al., "A Principle or a Strategy? Voter Identification Laws and Partisan Competition in the American States," Political Research Quarterly (forthcoming).

Union guys are married guys

Here’s one argument for sticking to the union: It could land you a spouse. Noting that marriage and unionization declined at about the same time, sociologists at the University of California Berkeley and Columbia University analyzed data on the life trajectories of young Americans and found that men who had union jobs were more likely to have gotten married, even controlling for age, education, region, and gender attitudes. The sociologists also found a “strong relationship, for both men and women, between health insurance coverage availability and first marriage.”

Schneider, D. & Reich, A., "Marrying Ain't Hard When You Got a Union Card? Labor Union Membership and First Marriage," Social Problems (November 2014).

How drinking changes your ethics

As Spock says in a famous line from “Star Trek,” “logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” If you want to reason more like a Vulcan, here’s one surprising way to do so: Get drunk. In a study at two bars in France, patrons who were drunker were more willing to push another person to his death to save five others, hypothetically speaking, regardless of the patron’s age or gender. This greater utilitarianism appears to be the result of alcohol lowering drinkers’ aversion to harming others, rather than of impaired reasoning.

Duke, A. & Bègue, L., "The Drunk Utilitarian: Blood Alcohol Concentration Predicts Utilitarian Responses in Moral Dilemmas," Cognition (January 2015).

A tip for keeping online comments civil

Don’t read the comments! Unless you’re the actual reporter, in which case you might want to not only read online comment sections (which can be notoriously nasty), but also offer a few sage words of your own.
Researchers collaborated with a local TV station to conduct an experiment on its Facebook page. After a political story was posted, either the station’s political reporter, the station’s Web team, or no one from the station would interact with commenters. There was a significant increase in civility and use of evidence by commenters when the reporter participated, but not when the Web team did.

Stroud, N. et al., "Changing Deliberative Norms on News Organizations' Facebook Sites," Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (forthcoming).

Too purposeful to be racist

Who has time for racism? Not people with a sense of their own mission, according to a new study. White Americans who had a sense of purpose were more comfortable with people of other races and were less threatened by charts showing that whites would no longer be the majority in the future, even controlling for age, gender, marital status, income, and personality. Likewise, after white Americans were randomly assigned to write about their purpose, they were less interested in living in an overwhelmingly white city.

Burrow, A. et al., "Purpose in Life as a Resource for Increasing Comfort with Ethnic Diversity," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (November 2014).


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