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    Uncommon Knowledge: The Michelle effect

    US First Lady Michelle Obama speaks following a screening of the movie, "Hidden Figures," in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House in Washington, DC on December 15, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
    SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
    Michelle Obama.

    She’s watching you

    In a multi-year experiment on Halloween on a porch in New Haven, children who were randomly assigned to the side of the porch with a large photo of Michelle Obama were more likely to choose fruit over candy.

    Aronow, P. et al., “The Effect of Images of Michelle Obama’s Face on Trick-or-Treaters’ Dietary Choices: A Randomized Control Trial,” PLoS ONE (January 2018).

    He had us at ‘rapists’ and ‘wall’

    According to analysis of polling data from 2015, the surge in support for Donald Trump was concentrated among Republicans in counties where the Latino share of the population had been growing over the preceding decade. These Republicans were no more likely than other GOP voters to support Trump in early 2015 — but became significantly more likely to do so after he made his controversial comments about Mexican immigrants in the summer of 2015.

    Newman, B. et al., “Race, Place, and Building a Base: Latino Population Growth and the Nascent Trump Campaign for President,” Public Opinion Quarterly (forthcoming).

    Twitter savant It’s easy to assume that Trump’s Twitter comebacks play into his opponents’ hands, but new research suggests otherwise. In an online experiment with a sample of Americans in December 2016, participants who watched a “Saturday Night Live” skit making fun of Trump, and then read a negative article about Trump’s anti-“SNL” tweets, subsequently were less favorable toward Hillary Clinton, relative to people who saw only the skit and not the article, or no such material at all.

    Becker, A., “Trump Trumps Baldwin? How Trump’s Tweets Transform SNL into Trump’s Strategic Advantage,” Journal of Political Marketing (forthcoming).

    To meet or not to meet


    A surprise meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama received extensive publicity in 2011. According to a comparison of polling responses from before and afterward, the meeting made Chinese adults — particularly those who were proud of their country — more likely to feel that China was democratic, provided for its people, had freedom of speech, and had relatively little corruption.

    Gruffydd-Jones, J., “Meeting the Dalai Lama and Perceptions of Democracy in China: A Quasi-Natural Experiment,” Democratization (forthcoming).

    Passing (regulations) on the left

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    Some states have laws requiring drivers to keep a minimum distance from bicyclists. A comparison of trends in bicycle fatalities in states with and without such laws found no effect from the measure, even considering differences in weather, demographics, and pedestrian and driver fatalities.

    Nehiba, C., “Give Me 3 Feet: Do Minimum Distance Passing Laws Reduce Bicyclist Fatalities?” Economics of Transportation (forthcoming).

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