Republican secret weapon: hand sanitizers

One thing that humans have proven to be extraordinarily bad about is knowing why they believe what they do.  A plethora of psychology experiments have shown that things as simple as holding a cup of coffee, where products are arranged, or the race or gender of an interviewer can significantly alter answers to survey questions.  People know what they believe– just not why.  You should thus be highly skeptical of any public opinion question that asks anyone to reflect on this.  Anyway, interesting story in the Times today about the ways in which political attitudes can be manipulated through the precense of smells or environmental cues about sanitation:

In an experiment conducted recently by Erik Helzer, a Cornell Ph.D. student, and one of us (David Pizarro), merely standing near a hand-sanitizing dispenser led people to report more conservative political beliefs. Participants who were randomly positioned in front of a hand sanitizer gave more conservative responses to a survey about their moral, social and fiscal attitudes than those individuals assigned to complete the questionnaire at the other end of the hallway…

In another experiment one of us (Dr. Pizarro) was involved in, a foul ambient smell — emitted, unbeknownst to test subjects, by a novelty spray — caused people answering a questionnaire to report more negative attitudes toward gay men than did people who responded in the absence of the stench. Apparently, the slightest signal that germs might be present is enough to shift political attitudes toward the right.

In short, being easily disgusted seems to correlate with being a Republican:

Recent data collected by one of us (Dr. Pizarro) has also shown that political conservatives on average report being more easily disgusted than liberals. These studies used a “disgust sensitivity” scale developed by the psychologists Paul Rozin, Clark McCauley and Jonathan Haidt, which asks hypothetical questions like, “How disgusted would you be if you took a sip from a soda can and then realized that it belonged to a stranger?” Even when controlling for income, depth of religious belief and a host of other factors, conservatives tended to score higher in disgust sensitivity than liberals.

My son David is already quite the liberal.  Yet he is easily disgusted.  Perhaps he’ll have some strong cognitive dissonance about this in the future.  And if I’m a Republican operative, perhaps I start sending volunteers out to polling places armed with hand sanitizer and Lysol (and maybe even surreptitiously planting some noxious smelling objects in the area).

How to win over the next generation

This is awesome.  Seriously.  Watch it:

The good and the bad of Early Voting

So, as my current colleague and also friend from grad school, Bill Boettcher observed today… when our fellow grad school friend, Barry Burden, gets Op-Eds, he gets them in the Times, when I get Op-Eds I get then in the Raleigh N&O.  Very true.  At least I can claim I knew Barry back when.  Anyway, he’s got a really nice Op-Ed today about the academic findings on early voting.  Short version: early voting actually makes a tiny hit on voter turnout unless it is also coupled with Election Day Registration (which is actually what we do right here in NC).  Here’s Barry:

In most states, registration and voting take place in two separate steps. A voter must first register, sometimes a month before the election, and then return another time to cast a ballot. Early voting by itself does not eliminate this two-step requirement. For voters who missed their registration deadline, the convenience of early voting is irrelevant.

Early voting also dilutes the intensity of Election Day. When a large share of votes is cast well in advance of the first Tuesday in November, campaigns begin to scale back their late efforts. The parties run fewer ads and shift workers to more competitive states. Get-out-the-vote efforts in particular become much less efficient when so many people have already voted.

When Election Day is merely the end of a long voting period, it lacks the sort of civic stimulation that used to be provided by local news media coverage and discussion around the water cooler. Fewer co-workers will be sporting “I voted” stickers on their lapels on Election Day. Studies have shown that these informal interactions have a strong effect on turnout, as they generate social pressure. With significant early voting, Election Day can become a kind of afterthought, simply the last day of a drawn-out slog.

Fortunately, there is a way to improve turnout and keep the convenience of early voting. Our research shows that when early voting is combined with same-day registration — that is, you can register to vote and cast an early ballot on the same day — the depressive effect of early voting disappears. North Carolina and Vermont, two otherwise very different states that combined early voting with same-day registration, had turnout levels in 2008 that were much higher than the overall national figure of 58 percent of the voting-age population. Turnouts in Vermont and North Carolina were, respectively, 63 percent and 64 percent. Allowing Election-Day registration, in which voters can register at the polling place, has the same effect. Our models show that the simple presence of Election-Day registration in states like Minnesota and New Hampshire increases turnout by more than six points.

I’ve got to say, I’m proud of NC for being in the forefront of good government policy like this.  Hopefully other states will catch on (that’s actually how federalism is supposed to work– states try things out and adopt the best practices from other states).



Predicting the midterms

PS (a Political Science journal that tends to run more interesting article than the flagship of the American Political Science Association, APSR), had a series of articles in which political scientists use their various statistical models to predict the midterm elections.  One of the article predicted the Democrats only losing about 25 seats in the House.  I sure wish that were true, but I suspect that will prove to be among the less accurate models.

My favorite of the series was by Alan Abramowitz.  He predicts a Republican pick-up in the 40’s (enough to take back the House, but not the overwhelming wave some are predicting).   Abramowitz argues that we the results should be driven largely by structural factors, rather than some great wave of discontent against liberal policies– as many a conservative pundit would have you believe.  Here’s the rub:

The results of the forecasting model indicate that the main factors contributing to likely Republican gains in November are structural and do not reflect an especially negative political environment for Democrats. The current political environment only appears unfavorable for Democrats in comparison with the extraordinarily favorable environment that Democrats enjoyed in both 2006 and 2008, which primarily resulted from the unpopularity of President George W. Bush. The two structural variables in the model—previous Republican seats and the midterm election variable—predict a Republican gain of 38 House seats, partly as a result of to the relatively small number of Republican seats prior to the election and partly as a result of the fact that 2010 is a Democratic midterm year.

According to this model, the main reasons that Democrats are likely to experience significant losses in 2010 are the normal tendency of voters to turn against the president’s party in midterm elections, regardless of the national political environment, and the fact that after gaining more than 50 House seats in the past two elections, they are defending a large number of seats, many of which are in Republican-leaning districts.

Given that I’ve been saying similar things for some time (without the benefit of Abramowitz’s statistical model), I’m very much inclined to agree.  Also, I hope he’s right.  Because if he’s wrong, I fear he’s erred on the low side.  We’ll know in just over a week.

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