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1 Issue Information, Cross-Pressure, and the Campaign Context

1 Issue Information, Cross-Pressure, and the Campaign Context

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K. V€

ossing and T. Weber

Fig. 2 Interaction of policy match and reinforcement, pre-campaign (from Model 4)

larger reinforcement and thus the less pronounced cross-pressure becomes, the

lower the effect of policy match, until it vanishes entirely for perfect reinforcement.

A statistically significant effect is found for levels of agreement up to 0.51 on the

0–1 scale. These are the participants experiencing cross-pressure on their voting

decision stemming from the contradiction between their patterns of party identifications and the assigned constellation of party conflict. They resolve cross-pressure

by engaging in information processing, indicated by the increasing effect of policy

match on vote choice, in contrast to the other participants who find their preferences

echoed by the assigned constellation. Unaffected by intensifying partisan conflict

and prior to making up their mind about their voting intentions in the upcoming

election, individuals are willing and able to process the policy information they

receive to productively engage the cross-pressuring forces coming from the contradiction between constellations of party conflict and multiple partisan attachments. Information that merely reproduces patterns of identification, however, is

ignored at this stage.

By contrast, testing the competing expectations of information discarding versus

information processing during an ongoing campaign, model 5 reveals a significant

positive interaction of policy match and reinforcement that is consistent with

hypothesis 2. While model 4 provides support for the occurrence of information

processing in response to cross-pressure, as predicted by hypothesis 3, model

5 demonstrates that during the campaign, voters will discard inconvenient information, as predicted by hypothesis 2. Illustrated in Fig. 3, the smaller the reinforcement of individual patterns of party identifications through the assigned

constellations of party conflict, the lower the effect of policy match, until it vanishes

entirely for the complete absence of reinforcement. Note that the smallest level of

The Company Makes the Feast. Party Constellations, Campaign Context and. . .


Fig. 3 Interaction of policy match and reinforcement, during campaign (from Model 5)

reinforcement stands for the most pronounced cross-pressure through the largest

possible contradiction between patterns of party identifications and constellations

of party conflict, while perfect reinforcement identifies the complete absence of this

kind of cross-pressure. The decreasing effect of policy match on vote choice that

occurs as the result of increasing contradictions demonstrates that individuals

resolve cross-pressure by discarding issue information during a campaign. Model

5 thus shows that in the context of a campaign, when voters are subjected to

intensifying partisan pressure and when it is more likely that they already made a

decision about their intended vote choice, they are clearly more prone to discard

issue information that contradicts their existing patterns of party identifications. In

summary, then, finding evidence for information discarding during and information

processing before the campaign supports our hypothesis 4.


Alternative Pathways: Reinforcement or Affirmation?

To further support our finding that the incidence of either information discarding or

information processing depends on the campaign context, we have conducted two

additional tests for a possible alternative explanation. These tests are shown in

models 6 and 7 in Table 1. While we found opposite directions in the interaction

between policy match and reinforcement for each of the two stages of the campaign

context in our previous analyses, models 6 and 7 show that there is no interaction

between policy match and what we call the “affirmation of preference order”. The

difference between “reinforcement” and “affirmation” is that the latter measures


K. V€

ossing and T. Weber

whether the assigned policy positions should please the participant (i.e. whether the

parties with positions close to the participant’s are those with high thermometer

scores) whereas the former measures whether the assigned positions pit parties

against each other that are also far apart in their thermometer scores.

As explained above, reinforcement is operationalized as the R-squared of a

regression of stacked party identification on the binary policy information, divided

by the maximum possible R-squared given the subject’s preference order. Affirmation then is the correlation of stacked party identification with the binary policy

information, divided by the maximum possible absolute value. Affirmation is

therefore negative when high-ranking parties are assigned disliked policy positions.

This makes affirmation more restrictive than reinforcement because it requires a

positive correlation of policy positions and party identifications, whereas reinforcement merely requires any correlation (positive or negative).

According to the evidence presented in models 6 and 7, the alternative hypothesis that policy information only matters if the preferred parties happen to support a

subject’s prior views should thus be rejected.14 What is happening is not cherrypicking; the responses of voters to issue information are clearly linked to varying

constellations of party conflict. Prior to the campaign, information cutting across a

subject’s preference order has the most impact, showing that voters engage crosspressuring considerations through information processing. During the campaign,

the same kind of information has the least impact, showing that individuals discard

information now to avoid inconvenient cross-pressure.

8 Conclusion and Discussion

This chapter finds issue information that allows voters to infer the match between

party positions and their own preferences to have a meaningful impact on vote

choice. However, by investigating patterns of party identifications and constellations of party conflict emerging from the distribution of issue positions between

parties, we show that parties need to mind the company they keep to effectively use

information about their issue positions for generating electoral support. Keeping

company that voters find unusual can diminish the impact of issue information on

vote choice. Voters find the company parties keep unusual, when they feel widely

divergent degrees of sympathy for two parties that express the same issue preference, or alternatively, when two parties they equally like or dislike express different

issue positions.


The analyses shown in Table 1 evaluate the two alternative explanations separately (models 3–5

for “reinforcement” and models 6 and 7 for “affirmation”). Testing both variables at the same time

in one single model produces the same results. The coefficients of the “affirmation” variables also

remain weak and non-significant when tested on the entire sample (before and after the campaign).

We included a table showing these complementary empirical tests in the online appendix.

The Company Makes the Feast. Party Constellations, Campaign Context and. . .


Unusual company diminishes the impact of information about parties’ issue

positions on vote choice only during an ongoing election campaign. As a result of

the unexpected connection between issue positions and parties under conditions of

intensifying partisan conflict and solidifying vote intentions, voters are less willing

and able to process information about parties’ issue positions to guide their vote

choices. Unusual company through disliked parties sharing the same issue position

constitutes a dilemma for party strategy in multi-party systems, as parties have very

few ways of convincing contenders disliked by voters to not share their own point

of view. By contrast, before an election campaign, unusual company increases the

relevance of issue information. We show that contradictions between constellations

of party conflict emerging from the distribution of issue positions on the one hand

and individual patterns of party identifications on the other hand prompt individuals

to engage in increased processing of policy information when the campaign has not

yet started. This is good news for the quality of political communication outside of

campaigns, as voters seem to be able to incorporate parties’ policies during an

electoral term into their voting preferences. At the same time, it represents a

dilemma for both a deliberative and a representative view of democracy that

election campaigns—after all the main occasion for political communication—do

not seem to be a good context for getting voters to consider information about issues

and for gathering electoral support by expressing policy positions.

To reach our conclusions about party conflict and issue voting in multi-party

systems, we elaborate on theories of electoral cross-pressure on the basis of dualprocess models of preference formation and research about campaign effects. We

conduct an experiment that randomly assigns political parties to different positions

about the controversial issue of political authority for employment policy, favoring

either Europeanization or national responsibility. Using an experimental approach

to test our theoretical expectations gives our findings a high degree of internal

validity. Beyond a general claim that experimentation produces inferences with

high internal validity, we argue specifically that our research overcomes two types

of endogeneity problems that exist in prior research on party conflict and voting

behavior. The first type of endogeneity occurs in existing observational research

because voters might rationalize their own issue preferences and perceptions in

response to learning about the position of a favored party (Granberg and Holmberg

1988). We eliminate this particular endogeneity threat by gathering information

about individuals’ issue positions pre-treatment and by randomly assigning different policy positions to different parties. The second type of endogeneity in prior

observational research concerns the other side of the mass-elite divide. Political

parties, at the elite level, react to information about the preferences of the mass

public by strategically adjusting their policy positions (De Sio and Weber 2014), for

example to pander to their core supporters or to win a new source of support. Again,

the experimental research design that we implement prevents this type of

endogeneity by practicing random assignment of issue positions to different parties.

In addition to facilitating high internal validity, our research is also strongly

concerned with guaranteeing the external validity of our findings. This objective is

motivated by a desire to close the gap between non-experimental observational


K. V€

ossing and T. Weber

studies on the one hand and research using a highly stylized experimental approach

on the other hand. Our claim to external validity is based on using a sample of

students and general population participants, real political parties that constitute the

German party system, the context of a real election campaign contested over the

elections to the European Parliament in May 2014, and a real issue, which, at the

same time, has unique features that lend themselves to experimental manipulation.

Speaking of this issue—the Europeanization of employment policy—our findings are symptomatic for the state of the political representation of attitudes toward

the EU. Our participants show clear reactions to party positions that are entirely

random. To put it more bluntly, any party may stand for any policy. Arguably, this

is the case because parties in the real world have failed as of yet to formulate clear

stances about European integration and communicate them to their voters in

responsible ways. The “cartel” of shallow pro-European positions among

established parties (cf. Hix and Lord 1997; Van der Eijk and Franklin 2004;

Weber 2007) still seems to be alive and well, despite increasing journalistic and

scholarly talk of a politicization of European integration after the failed constitution

and the Euro crisis. Our experiment shows that preferences about European integration could inform voting behavior if parties were able and willing to formulate

meaningful alternative positions. This suggests that our study has implications for

many other, often more controversial issues, where the same mechanisms should

apply in at least equal measure.

Our finding that voters are less willing and able to consider issue information for

their vote choices during an election campaign complements the findings of

Hillygus and Shields (2009) about the different yet related concept of electoral

defection. They observe that campaigns in a two party system can be conducive to

defections from routine patterns of voting behavior guided by partisanship in

response to “wedge issues”, on which a less favored party holds a position that

appeals to the cross-pressured voter. Yet we find that processing of issue information becomes less prevalent during campaign time. Considering the conclusions

from both contributions in conjunction with one another shows, first of all, that

cross-pressure in multi-party systems, through “wedge issues” and other mechanisms, works differently than in two party systems. With only two parties present,

exercising cross-pressure is the only way, in the domain of substantive political

conflict, for a party to actively steer support away from its competitor. Our research

shows that in a multi-party system, the effectiveness of such strategies can be

diminished by unusual company in an unexpected constellation of party conflict.

Second, placing the two contributions in context also highlights the difference

between the effect of the campaign context at the micro level and the aggregate

impact of an election campaign. On the one hand, Hillygus and Shields (2009) show

that election campaigns can push voters in certain directions, in the aggregate, and

this occurs as the result of the sheer amount of information unloaded on them with

ever more surgical accuracy. Our research, on the other hand, shows that for each

individual voter and each separate piece of information, the campaign context in

and of itself appears to be inadequate in fostering a suitable environment for

productively processing issue information.

The Company Makes the Feast. Party Constellations, Campaign Context and. . .


Acknowledgments We are grateful for the opportunity to present our research at the Montre´al

voting experiments workshop and the MSPA conference 2014. Thanks for helpful comments go in

particular to our discussants Richard Lau and Christopher Lawrence, as well as two anonymous

reviewers and the editors of this volume. Friederike Talbot provided excellent research assistance

and feedback. We also benefited from valuable feedback from our pre-testers: Nicoleta Bazgan,

Steffen Beigang, Pauline Defant, Dominik Duell, Cosima Ingenschay, Dorina Kalkum, Thomas

Maruhn, Jochen Rehmert, Birgit Reinhold, Marc Reinhold, Carina Schmitt and Marcel Skaun.

Konstantin V€ossing acknowledges support from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

[German research foundation], grant number VO 1990/1-1.


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Candidate Extremity, Information

Environments, and Affective Polarization:

Three Experiments Using Dynamic Process


Mona S. Kleinberg and Richard R. Lau

Research suggests that politics in the United States have noticeably polarized at the

elite level. Over the past several decades, the two major parties have become

ideologically more distinct (Jacobson 2005) and while there once were liberal

Republicans and conservative Democrats, today the most liberal Republican is to

the right of the most conservative Democrat (Poole and Rosenthal 2001). The two

major parties now differ not only on economic issues, but also on cultural, foreign

policy, racial, and religious stances (Layman 2001).

While there is research to support the notion of political polarization among

elected officials and between the parties (commonly referred to as “elite polarization”) the evidence is less clear when it comes to political polarization at the mass

level. Some argue that the attitudes of the general public have not followed political

polarization at the elite level and cite data showing that citizens are no more divided

on most social issues and policies today, than they were during earlier times in US

history (DiMaggio et al. 1996; Evans 2003; Fiorina et al. 2005), though there are

some exceptions to this rule. Citizens’ attitudes on abortion, for example, have

polarized to some extent, and there has been a small shift in ideology (Evans

et al. 2001).

Others argue that what has happened at the mass level over the past decades can

best be described as “sorting.” Citizens have brought their ideology and their

partisan identifications more in line with each other, so that the overall distribution

of opinion in the country has not changed much over the years, but its partisan

implications have (see Layman et al. 2006; and Fiorina and Abrams 2008, for recent


M.S. Kleinberg (*)

Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA, USA

e-mail: mona_kleinberg@uml.edu

R.R. Lau

Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

A. Blais et al. (eds.), Voting Experiments, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40573-5_4



M.S. Kleinberg and R.R. Lau

A third perspective, which is the perspective we focus on in this chapter, is

grounded in social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner 1979) and asserts that the

masses have polarized much more on an emotional, or affective, level than they

have on a policy level. For example, research shows that the extent to which

partisans like their own party has remained fairly constant over the past 40 years,

yet how much they dislike the other party, has increased noticeably (Iyengar

et al. 2012). Classic “social distance” measures, such as being upset when a family

member marries someone with a different party affiliation, reveal similar trends.

1 The New Media Environment and Affective Polarization

Affective polarization is primarily driven by partisan identity, yet scholars speculate that the media environment also has an effect. Iyengar et al. (2012) demonstrate

that affective polarization is only partially a function of policy attitudes, and that

partisan identity is much more important in explaining the emotional disdain of the

opposing party. Moreover, the authors show that the ideological nature of the media

environment matters. Using survey data, the authors demonstrate that the number of

negative political ads that aired during the election in the respondent’s state changes

how much he or she likes or dislikes the opposing party. Iyengar et al. conclude by

suggesting that selective exposure to news sites and partisan blogs, a form of

one-sided or biased engagement with information on the Internet, is probably an

even more important cause of affective polarization, though they present no evidence to this point. In this chapter, we present data from three experiments to

examine the effects of the media environment on affective polarization.

The media landscape has changed dramatically since the “broadcast news” days

of the mid-twentieth century. In contrast to the era of network TV, when choice was

limited, we now live in a “high-choice” media environment (Prior 2007). While the

media environment offers many choices, and has become more diverse in many

ways, the news diet of many individuals has in fact become increasingly homogeneous. Research shows that viewers take advantage of the many choices available

to them by customizing their information content via selective exposure. Individuals now consume the “daily me,” as Sunstein (2008) puts it. Algorithms further

narrow media exposure by providing social media news feeds tailored to the

recipient. Hence, many people reside in a news “bubble,” without necessarily

knowing just how small their information landscape has become (Pariser 2011).

If partisans are disproportionately exposed to partisan (that is, ideologically

compatible) political information by consuming more information about their

preferred candidate, or by using media sources that reflect their ideology, then

increased affective polarization at the mass level seems like the inevitable outcome.

In this chapter we use three experiments (all three are simulated election campaigns) to test whether selective exposure to information and changes in the media

environment have an impact on affective polarization. In keeping with traditional

Candidate Extremity, Information Environments, and Affective Polarization:. . .


research, we also test the effects of political polarization at the elite level on

affective polarization.

2 Hypotheses

We test the impact of the Internet-era news environment on affective polarization

by experimentally manipulating the media environment in our control and treatment groups. To test the effects of increasing polarization at the elite level, we vary

the ideological extremity of the competing political candidates. We ask first,

whether either of these manipulations influence selective exposure to information,

resulting in biased information search; and second, whether either of these manipulations by themselves, or the presumed mediating factor, biased information

search, contribute to greater affective polarization.

We measure selective exposure by tracking how individuals search for information (e.g. what information items they select and read, and what they ignore). We

conceptualize biased engagement with information as spending more time with

information about the in-party candidate than the out-party candidate.1 Although a

quantitative measure, we take the amount of search about one’s preferred candidate

to also reflect a qualitative dimension because we assume that the amount searched

for the in-party candidate reflects desire for qualitatively good or favorable information. A balanced search would be retrieving an equal amount of information

about both candidates. Affective polarization is defined as the magnitude (absolute

value) of the difference between the post-election feeling thermometer (0–100)

evaluations of the two competing candidates.2

We expect affective polarization to be greatest among “sorted” individuals (that

is, people whose partisan and ideological identifications are in line) and by subjects

who engage in biased information search. Furthermore, we expect it to be exacerbated by polarization at the elite level, and by a more partisan media environment.

Specifically, we test the following three major hypotheses:


In our experiments this conceptualization makes the most sense. An alternative conceptualization

would track what sources subjects select and if they prefer a certain ideological orientation. Given

our particular experiments however, we chose a different conceptualization that measured selective exposure to content (e.g. the candidate) though we encourage others to conceptualize selective

exposure differently.


The feeling thermometer question taps into how warm or how cold individuals feel toward

candidates. Thus, it is an affective measure because it taps into people’s feelings toward candidates. Respondents rate how they feel about a candidate using a “feeling thermometer,” which is a

scale of 0–100. Higher numbers represent warmer and more favorable feelings towards the person,

and lower numbers represent colder or less favorable feelings. Feeling thermometers are common

in American Politics research (see for example the ANES time series). We modeled our feeling

thermometer question after the ANES.


M.S. Kleinberg and R.R. Lau

• H1: Ideological sorting leads to both biased information search about the preferred candidate, and affective polarization in evaluations.

• H2: Elite polarization leads to both biased information search about the preferred

candidate and affective polarization in evaluations.

• H3: A more diverse and partisan media environment heightens both biased

information search about the preferred candidate, and affective polarization in


This chapter proceeds as follows. First, we provide a brief introduction to the

Dynamic Process Tracing Environment experimental platform, as it was utilized to

program all three of our experiments. Then we describe in turn three different

experiments that provide valuable insight into the processes by which political

polarization may occur. A final section summarizes our results across these three

different experiments and provides suggestions for future research.

3 Method

A common criticism of experiments is that they can demonstrate that a certain

relationship exists, but not why it exists. Static approaches (e.g. surveys, most

standard experiments) limit the extent to which we can study how the information

environment, political candidates, and information search interact. The Dynamic

Process Tracing Environment (DPTE) platform, developed by Lau and Redlawsk

(2006), is designed to answer the “why?” question, to observe decision makers as

they are making a decision.

DPTE is a computer-based system that runs in any browser and presents lab

(or online) subjects with a simulated social environment such as an election

campaign that unfolds over time (Lau 1995; Lau and Redlawsk 2001). To enter

the experiment, participants log on to DPTE from a lab, or their home computers. In

a typical election experiment, subjects first read a description of the study, acknowledge a consent form, and answer standard survey questions. Next, participants enter

the campaign phase during which they are offered various pieces of information

about the candidates in various formats (e.g. via text, images, short video clips,

etc.). The experimenter can control how much new information to introduce at a

time. While some information can be programmed to be seen by all participants

(a common approach is to show those items as a pop-up window), other items

(information boxes) scroll down the computer screen and are up to the subject’s

discretion whether to select. Similar to search engine results, information boxes

usually bear a headline and a short description of the content, offering just enough

information to allow subjects to decide whether to click on and read the full text, or

to ignore it. Information boxes can be customized to bear a logo, providing a cue

about its source (e.g. a news organization, the candidate’s website, etc.). After the

campaign phase of the experiment, subjects vote, are given a post-questionnaire,

and are debriefed. Please see Fig. 1 for a screenshot of information boxes in DPTE.

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