Party First, Ideology Later

We think of political parties as being ideological homes. If you embrace conservative ideas, you gravitate to the Republican party, and so on.
But probably just as often, people have party homes (“My dad was a Dem, and so am I”), in which whatever the party embraces magically fits their ideology. Consider the following picture of people’s attitudes towards free trade. Long a conservative (thus Republican) favorite, now that Trump dislikes free trade, so do many Republicans:

Too often people believe first and think later!

The Biggest Problem with Obamacare? People Didn’t Know What the Law Accomplished!

Obamacare dramatically reduced the number of people in United States who lack health insurance. Reduced as in: brought the proportion down to historical lows. Yet very few Americans knew this about the law, which is part of the reason why so many people didn’t like Obamacare. Here’s evidence to back up that connection, from the Kaiser Family Foundation:

Hard to like a law that hides its best features.

Why Rich People Hate Taxes — Hint: It's Not for the Reasons You Think

Photo Credit: Fanpop
Photo Credit: Fanpop

I was raised in a family that hates taxes. Not hates taxes as in “Gosh, it’s too bad such a high percentage of my paycheck goes to the government.” More like: “How dare the government steal my hard-earned money and give it to undeserving moochers!” (Is there such a thing as a deserving moocher? Sorry, I digress.)
The origins of this anti-tax sentiment are deeply ideological, steeped in a frothy mix of conservative and libertarian principles. My family loves freedom, property rights, and the Protestant work ethic (even though they are Catholic). Their attitudes towards taxes spring forth from their deepest moral values. It’s not just the taxes that bother my parents and siblings, but the thought that income is being redistributed to unworthy people.
Or so it seems. Evidence is now accumulating that people’s attitudes towards topics like taxes and income redistribution are more fragile than many of us think, and that sometimes our desires – for social status, and for income we may or may not have earned – take hold on us, forcing us, unconsciously, to later embrace political ideologies that coincide with our preceding desires. When it comes to our attitudes towards taxes, we feel first and think later.
(To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)

Another Obamacare Failure: It Wasn't a Job Killer!

According to many conservative pundits, Obamacare is a job killer. Five days before Obama signed the law, in fact, speaker John Boehner declared that the president was pushing “his job killing government takeover of healthcare that will hurt small businesses.” Years after the law was passed, critics continued trumpeting this theme, Ted Cruz calling Obamacare “the biggest job-killer in this country,” and even claiming that “millions of Americans have lost their jobs” because of the law.

Are the critics right? Liberals point to steady national job growth since passage of the law as evidence that Obamacare has not killed jobs. Conservatives point out that, for all we know, job growth would have been even higher had Obamacare not become the law of the land. Both sides are caught in a rhetorical standoff, seemingly with no way to confirm or refute either side’s argument.

Fortunately, social science gives us ways to move beyond data-deficient arguments to something more substantial. In the case of Obamacare, a strange twist in the law has given social scientists an opportunity to study a natural experiment. That experiment relates to the expansion of Medicaid that was written into the law, an expansion that was supposed to be mandatory for all states. Medicaid is a program jointly run by the government and individual states to provide healthcare coverage to low income people. After Obamacare was passed into law, the Supreme Court ruled that this Medicaid expansion cannot be mandatory, and gave states the option of deciding whether or not to expand their programs. This variation in expansion is what allows policy analysts to study this natural experiment.

Here’s the basic idea: If Medicaid expansion kills jobs, then all else equal, states that expanded Medicaid should have worse job growth than those that did not. For instance, Medicaid could reduce people’s incentives to work, because they no longer need jobs to pay for healthcare coverage. Or it could kill jobs by increasing federal and state taxes, thus leaving Americans with less money to invest in the economy. To test out the effect of Medicaid expansion on employment rates, Angshuman Gooptu and colleagues compared employment rates before and after the Obamacare Medicaid expansions went into effect, and compared these before and after differences in states that did and did not expand Medicaid eligibility. This is what is known as a difference in difference analysis or, as the cool kids call it: “diff in diff.” In studying employment, the researchers focused on low income workers, the ones most likely to be affected by Medicaid expansion.

(To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)

Could a Zika Epidemic Be the Key to a Trump Victory?

Platforms and popularity ratings; policies and debate performances; PAC funding and get-out-the-vote efforts – so many factors can make the difference in a close election. But uncontrollable world events can tip elections too. In fact, Donald Trump’s election chances may depend on something as seemingly random as a global epidemic.
Epidemics of contagious disease are frightening, and epidemic-related fear can shift people’s political attitudes. Did you know, for example, that the threat of infection makes people more likely to support physically attractive candidates? (Whether such a phenomenon would benefit Donald Trump depends, I guess, on whether you find the color orange attractive.)
But consider another phenomenon – the threat of epidemics increases people’s intentions to vote for Republican candidates. That was what Alec Beall and colleagues found when they studied results from the 2014 midterm elections, which took place as the Ebola outbreak was reaching a peak. They tracked how often Americans searched Google for information on Ebola, and they pulled together polling data showing whether people intended to vote for Republicans or Democrats.

They found a spike in Republican popularity that followed in the week after the CDC announced the first case of Ebola in the US.

To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.


What Gives Republicans Faith in Government?

President Ronald Reagan was famous for espousing anti-government views. To this day, he is lionized by Republicans, who frequently quote his “less is more” attitudes towards government. Which makes it kind of ironic that when he was in office, Republican faith in government rose significantly. In fact, when you ask people whether they trust the government to do what it ought to do, their answers are strongly influenced by whether the person in the White House shares their political allegiance:
Republican Faith in Govt
It also appears, according to recent trends, that Republican faith in government is much more volatile than that of Democrats. I’m sure that has a lot to do with how demonized the last two Democratic presidents have been, by Republican pundits. But interestingly, Democrats don’t seem to experience enormous increases in their faith in government when someone from their party is in office.
The world is an interesting place.

Disliking Obamacare despite Benefiting from It

No surprise to learn that the majority of Republicans dislike Obamacare. But did you know that the majority of Republicans, who SIGNED UP FOR INSURANCE through Obamacare, still dislike the law? That’s one finding from a recent Kaiser survey:
Disliking Obamacare
Notably, they dislike the law even though they LIKE THEIR INSURANCE:
I look forward to the day when we can get beyond our attitudes towards this law, and join together to improve our nation’s healthcare system.

Polarized Views on Science

Sometimes when I disagree with friends or family about contentious issues, and they accuse me of being partisan, I try to defend myself by explaining that I am basing my position on science, not politics. According to a recent poll, my defense is flawed, because it seems that science itself is partisan. Across a relatively wide range of issues, Republicans are less likely to follow scientific advice than Democrats, even on some issues I wouldn’t have guessed – like animal testing for medical research, and producing biotech food and crops. Here’s a picture showing these attitudes:
Polarized Views on ScienceIn short, far too many people on both the left and the right don’t have enough trust in science. The problem seems to be especially large among people who identify as Republicans.

Why We Cannot Trust Political Pundits, or Ourselves

Take a look at the image below and decide what you are seeing:
B 13
Some of you might have seen a “B.” Others might have seen the number 13. The image, after all, is ambiguous. For that reason, in fact, it was used by researchers to study  how our hopes influence our perceptions.
The study design was straightforward. One group of participants was told that each time a number flashed up on the screen, they would get to drink a tasty beverage whereas when a letter appeared, they would be forced to drink a noxious health-food smoothie. (I am guessing kale was involved!) The researches then showed people this image for only 400 milliseconds and these folks thought they saw the number 13. In another group of participants, the researchers reversed punishment and reward,  with letters now leading to tasty beverages. In that setting, most people viewing this image saw the letter “B.”
Are you worried that people are lying? (Please visit Forbes to read the article in full.)

Cass Sunstein Takes on the Death Panel Myth

I wrote a while back about some research I conducted with Jason Reifler and Brendan Nyhan on how fact checking influences people’s belief in whether Obamacare created death panels, to decide which old or disabled peoples to kill.  Yesterday, Cass Sunstein wrote about our study, and mused on several really interesting related issues.  Check out his thoughts here.