Uncommon Knowledge: Preaching at the choir

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By Kevin Lewis  

Preaching at the choir

Based on a comprehensive analysis of their own and others’ research, political scientists at Stanford and Berkeley have concluded that campaign mailers, phone calls, canvassing, and ads have no significant effect on changing minds in general elections. This may help explain why campaigns have increasingly focused on turning out their base. There does still appear to be a persuasive effect during primaries and referenda, however. And obviously the candidate still matters.

Kalla, J. & Broockman, D., “The Minimal Persuasive Effects of Campaign Contact in General Elections: Evidence from 49 Field Experiments,” American Political Science Review (forthcoming).

I don’t want to hear it

In an experiment, political scientists asked people to consider a controversial statement, by Bill Maher about 9/11, by Rob Schneider about vaccination, or by Dan Cathy about same-sex marriage. Participants were then randomly assigned to read either that “supporters of [speaker] argued that due to the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of speech he should not be criticized or fired for expressing his views” or just that “supporters of [speaker] argued that he should not be criticized or fired for expressing his views.” Counterintuitively, the reference to the First Amendment made participants more likely to tolerate criticism of and economic retaliation against the speaker.

Canelo, K. et al., “The Paradoxical Effect of Speech-Suppressing Appeals to the First Amendment,” Journal of Politics (forthcoming).

Deporting the economy


When the Great Depression hit, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, including many with US citizenship, were forced to return to Mexico. The argument then, as today, revolved around jobs. However, an analysis of census data reveals that, compared to otherwise similar cities, cities where more of the population moved to Mexico experienced worse employment prospects for natives, especially in high-skill jobs.

Lee, J. et al., “The Employment Effects of Mexican Repatriations: Evidence from the 1930’s,” National Bureau of Economic Research (September 2017).

Daughters of the corporate revolution

A study found that CEOs of S&P 500 corporations got significantly higher corporate-social-responsibility ratings — particularly in the areas of diversity, employee relations, and the environment — when they had a daughter, even controlling for other factors. The effect was observable even within the same firm when a CEO with a daughter replaced one without a daughter, or vice versa.

Cronqvist, H. & Yu, F., “Shaped by Their Daughters: Executives, Female Socialization, and Corporate Social Responsibility,” Journal of Financial Economics (forthcoming).

Is he wearing a ring?

Psychologists asked people to view photos of the faces of various young men and women and judge their health. The eyes in the faces had been altered by cropping in irises that either did or didn’t have a limbal ring — a dark circle around the edge of the iris that goes away with age and poor health. Faces with limbal rings were judged to be healthier, especially in the case of women judging male faces in the context of thinking about a short-term fling.

Brown, M. & Sacco, D., “Put a (Limbal) Ring on It: Women Perceive Men’s Limbal Rings as a Health Cue in Short-Term Mating Domains,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

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