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Her chances in the general election

Is there a gender penalty in November? An analysis of candidates that barely beat their opposite-gender opponent in two-candidate primaries for election to the House of Representatives found that female candidates who barely won the nomination performed just as well in the general election as male candidates who barely won the nomination. The female candidates also raised just as much money from individuals and PACs — and were no more moderate — compared to the male candidates.

Anastasopoulos, L., “Estimating the Gender Penalty in House of Representative Elections Using a Regression Discontinuity Design,” Electoral Studies (forthcoming).

Moral standing

One reason our politics may have become so intractable is that we’ve become too eager to employ moral rhetoric — and this has consequences. In experiments, participants were asked for their thoughts on a testing policy or on recycling. Then, some participants were given bogus feedback that their thoughts were based more on morality than was typical; other participants were told that their thoughts were based more on tradition or practicality. Those who had been led to believe that their views were based more on morality were subsequently more willing to act on their views, and less willing to change their views after considering an opposing view.

Luttrell, A. et al., “Making It Moral: Merely Labeling an Attitude as Moral Increases Its Strength,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

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If it doesn’t acquit, it must fit

Judges and juries are only human, and as such, their brains tend to see patterns, even if the evidence isn’t all there. In a new study, researchers first presented people with pieces of evidence (a confession, an eyewitness identification, an alibi, a motive) in separate contexts. Then, similar pieces of evidence were presented together in the context of a single criminal case. Although judgments of the probative value of each piece of evidence were uncorrelated when considered separately, their probative value became significantly correlated when considered together. In other words, perceiving one piece of evidence as confirming guilt caused other pieces of evidence to become more confirming of guilt too. For example, among people who ended up reaching a guilty verdict, the same kind of confession was considered more voluntary when considered alongside other evidence than when it had been considered in isolation.

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Greenspan, R. & Scurich, N., “The Interdependence of Perceived Confession Voluntariness and Case Evidence,” Law and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

Say it ain’t so

If the president wants it, then the other party doesn’t. In an analysis of roll-call votes in the House of Representatives over the past several decades, the partisan divide grew wider if the issue was a bigger presidential priority — as measured by how much the president talked about the issue in his last State of the Union address — even controlling for representatives’ positions on issues that weren’t presidential priorities. This presidential-polarization effect was even wider during presidential election years but was not correlated with the president’s approval ratings.

Baker, T., “Delayed Gratification: Party Competition for White House Control in the U.S. House of Representatives,” Political Research Quarterly (forthcoming).

The numbers behind the wall

How big you think the immigration problem is may depend on how big you think immigration is. In surveys in Europe and the United States, people who were informed of the actual proportion of immigrants in their country — a number much lower than many people assume — reported more favorable attitudes towards immigrants. This was especially true for those who were more concerned about immigration and more conservative. Also, in the United States, providing people with immigration statistics made them more willing to donate to a pro-immigrant charity, and this shift in attitude was unchanged when the same people were asked a month later. And conservatives became more supportive of immigration reform and were more willing to sign a petition in favor of granting more green cards.

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Grigorieff, A. et al., “Does Information Change Attitudes Towards Immigrants? Evidence from Survey Experiments,” University of Oxford (April 2016).


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