Uncommon Knowledge

Harry Potter and the Tolerant Fanbase

In this photograph taken on July 28, 2016, Indian Harry Potter fans take part in a pre-launch event to mark the release of the latest Harry Potter book "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" in Mumbai. Harry Potter magic hit Asia, as aspiring witches and wizards crowded into bookstores to get their hands on the first copies of a new play that imagines the hero as an adult. / AFP PHOTO / INDRANIL MUKHERJEEINDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images
Fans take part in a pre-launch event for "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" in Mumbai.

Slytherin down in the polls

They’re the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just don’t hold with such nonsense. A political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who had read more Harry Potter books or had seen more Harry Potter movies had more positive attitudes toward Muslims and gay people, even controlling for age, education, evangelical self-identification, gender, political ideology, party affiliation, and personality. And people who had read more Harry Potter books had less positive attitudes toward Donald Trump, even controlling for all the same variables, including attitudes towards Muslims and gays.

Mutz, D., “Harry Potter and the Deathly Donald,” PS: Political Science & Politics (October 2016).

Is there a problem, officer?

The police are under increasing scrutiny for their use of force against minority suspects. However, instead of looking at worst-case end results, a new study considers how use-of-force incidents unfold from beginning to end. Specifically, researchers analyzed nonlethal use-of-force incidents in a predominantly white city on the West Coast by breaking down each incident into a sequence of actions and reactions by suspects and officers. The analysis found that, for a given level of suspect resistance, officers initially used less force on white suspects than on black or Latino suspects. However, as incidents unfolded, use of force against white suspects escalated more quickly than it did for black or Latino suspects. Nevertheless, for a given increase in resistance by black or Latino suspects, officers tended to escalate their use of force more quickly than for white suspects.

Kahn, K. et al., “How Suspect Race Affects Police Use of Force in an Interaction Over Time,” Law and Human Behavior (forthcoming).

When stereotypes help

While it may seem like politics is still dominated by white people, a new study finds that Asian-American candidates may have an advantage. In an online experiment, white people were presented with fictitious biographies of two candidates for a seat on the San Diego City Council. When there was no partisan information, the Asian-American candidate (“David Wong”) got more support and was expected to do better in office than the white candidate (“Carl Guenther”). Partisan information reduced the Asian-American advantage, though an Asian-American conservative candidate got more support among Republicans than a white conservative candidate. Moreover, Asian-American candidates — including one who was described as foreign-born (“Yuan Wong”) and a pro-immigrant advocate — got more support than both native and foreign-born (“Gerhard Guenther”) white candidates.


This pattern was also evident in an analysis of survey data from the 2010 and 2012 elections. Among Democratic congressional candidates (since there were few Asian-American Republican candidates), Asian-Americans got more support than white, black, or Latino candidates, even controlling for characteristics of the candidate (incumbent, open-seat election, candidate vs. opposition spending, ideology of donors) and the voter (party, ideology, education, age, gender).

Visalvanich, N., “Asian Candidates in America: The Surprising Effects of Positive Racial Stereotyping,” Political Research Quarterly (forthcoming).

Hot models

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The Paris Agreement on climate change recently went into effect, but since it lets each country set its own goals and has no international enforcement mechanism, it’s arguably more about “naming and shaming” or “kicking the can” than about directly solving the problem. Or it may even make things worse. In a modeling and simulation study that is surely the most sophisticated by any presidential candidate this year — one of the researchers, a Boston University economist, is running a write-in campaign — researchers found that by delaying the imposition of a carbon tax, the Paris Agreement may actually accelerate carbon emissions, relative to never imposing a carbon tax at all, as energy producers face a “use it or lose it” situation with regard to fossil-fuel reserves. In the same way, rapid innovation in clean energy can ironically accelerate emissions, too. In contrast, the immediate imposition of a carbon tax causes energy producers to spread out the burning of fossil-fuel reserves over a much longer period.

Kotlikoff, L. et al., “Will the Paris Accord Accelerate Climate Change?” National Bureau of Economic Research (October 2016).

Where Trump is trending

The debate over the racial motives of Donald Trump supporters has been going on for months now, but a new study claims to be “the first to demonstrate experimentally that the changing racial demographics of America are directly contributing to Trump’s success among whites.” In an online sample of whites who were queried during the primaries, some participants were randomly assigned to read a press release projecting that minorities will outnumber whites by 2042. After reading the press release, those who expressed a strong white identity — both Democrats and Republicans — became more supportive of anti-immigration policies and Trump (but not other Republican candidates), more averse to political correctness, and less supportive of Bernie Sanders (but not Hillary Clinton). Among those with a weak white identity, reading the press release resulted instead in less support for Trump and less aversion to political correctness.

Major, B. et al., “The Threat of Increasing Diversity: Why Many White Americans Support Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at