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Book Project

A Vote For Me is a Vote for America: Patriotic Appeals in PResidential elections

From H.W. Bush’s 1988 exaltation of the American flag to Donald Trump’s 2016 promise to “make America great again,” patriotic appeals have become a central rhetorical feature of contemporary American presidential campaigns. Candidates presumably make patriotic appeals because they believe doing so will accrue an electoral advantage. However, in this book I show that patriotic appeals also feed into a larger dialogue about who counts as “truly American” — and who does not. A combination of historical, textual, survey, and experimental analyses suggest that over the last four decades, Republican candidates have rhetorically packaged patriotic appeals with discriminatory statements to promulgate a narrative of exclusionary patriotism. As a result, many white voters treat “I love America” and “I hate American minorities” as interchangeable sentiments. This implies that, at least in its current form, American patriotism is largely incompatible with the values of a vibrant liberal democracy.

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Working Paper

"Pride and prejudice: The effect of Patriotic Rhetoric on Group attitudes in America"
(Submitted for initial review)

This study presents evidence from a series of survey experiments to show that patriotic and nationalistic appeals represent implicitly racial language. When Republican candidates invoke patriotism or nationalism, it leads white Americans to express increased hostility toward African Americans, immigrants, the poor, and non-Americans. These findings complicate prevailing conceptual and normative distinctions between nationalistic ethnocentrism and patriotic solidarity. Instead, they suggest that patriotism and nationalism both have the potential to foster prejudice.


Working Paper

"Patriotic Appeals as an Electoral Tactic in Presidential Campaigns"

While previous research has demonstrated that the patriotic appeals made by presidential candidates can have an enormous impact on voters’ preferences and behaviors at the polling booth, the causal mechanisms of this relationship have not been well established. This paper presents a survey experiment that adjudicates between two competing hypotheses about the causal mechanisms linking patriotic appeals and voting behavior. The national identity hypothesis maintains that presidential candidates are rewarded for patriotic rhetoric because it draws on a shared national identity common to all voters. The partisan justification hypothesis argues that voters reward patriotic appeals only when an in-party candidate employs them. The results of the survey experiment support the national identity hypothesis and shows that the patriotic appeals that a presidential candidate makes (or fails to make) can greatly influence their chances on election day.

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Working Paper

"What Makes a 'True American?' Latinos and National Identity"

Since 1980, the Latino population in the United States has increased by thirty-four percent, with hundreds of thousands of new immigrants arriving each year. While it is clear that the ethnic composition of the United States is in flux, less clear is the effect that this will ultimately have on American culture, unity, and politics. One of the grimmest evaluations of comes from Huntington (2004), who quite vehemently argues that the influx of Latino’s represents a serious challenge to American national identity. Huntington conceives of American national identity as founded on a commitment to democratic governance and an Anglo-Protestant culture that emphasizes the English language, religious commitment, strong work ethic, and a sense of obligation to build a more perfect society. I compare perceptions and values related to American national identity among Latinos, African Americans, and whites using the 1996, 2004, and 2014 General Social Surveys. To the extent that assimilation is the acceptance of the values of the dominant groups in society, Latinos appear to be quite obliging. Far from challenging the constitutive norms of American identity, Latinos tend to have similar ideas as whites about what it means to be a true American. The notion that Latinos are either hostile or revisionary to American identity held is not born out by my analyses.

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Working Paper

"Why the Trump Tape Didn't Matter: White Women Voters in the 2016 Election"

Gender was highly salient in the 2016 presidential election. As the first ever female Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton emphasized that she was trying to “shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling.” In stark contrast, Donald Trump routinely made explicitly sexist statements that seemed to break important social norms of gender equality. Despite this, 53% of white women voted for Trump in the general election. This was consistent with presidential elections between 2000 and 2012, where 52-56% of white women voted Republican. Why did white women vote as though the 2016 presidential election was business as usual? This study investigates how women's’ sense of gender solidarity influenced their reactions to Donald Trump during the 2016 election using data from the 2016 American National Election Study. It finds that although the presidential primary offered white Republican women the opportunity to vote for a less overtly sexist, acceptable partisan alternative, they overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump. Perhaps due to the release of the Trump tape, Republican women with a stronger sense of gender solidarity were somewhat less likely to cast a vote for Trump in the general election – but nonetheless still granted him a solid majority. Moreover, there is little evidence that white Republican women cast their votes for Trump reluctantly. Their attitudes toward him were generally enthusastic and positive. These findings suggest that white Republican women are unlikely to take political action to protect the interests of women as a group. More generally, they highlight the low potential for women to coalesce into a unified, self-interested political bloc in the foreseeable future.

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Working Paper

"'I’m Not the President of Black America': Rhetorical Versus Policy Representation"
(Revised and resubmitted to Perspectives on Politics)

A key question in the study of minority representation is whether descriptive representatives provide superior substantive representation. Neglected in this literature is the distinction between two forms of substantive representation: rhetoric versus policy. This paper provides a systematic comparison of presidential efforts at substantive minority representation for these two dimensions. Along the way, it tests predictions about descriptive representation in the highest office in the American polity. Barack Obama was the first African American president, yet his efforts on behalf of African Americans have not been fully evaluated. Using speech and budget data, and accounting for economic and political factors, we find that relative to comparable presidents, Obama offered weaker rhetorical representation, but stronger policy representation, on race and poverty. While the paper cannot rule out non-racial causes of Obama’s behavior, his policy proposals are consistent with minority representation. His behavior also suggests that descriptive representatives may provide relatively better policy representation, but worse rhetorical representation, especially when the constituency is in the numerical minority. This paper thus highlights an understudied tension between rhetoric and policy in theories of minority representation.

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Working Paper

"The Boundaries of American National Identity: Descriptive and Prescriptive Norms"

Much of the existing research on American national identity relies on a series of questions taken from the General Social Survey (GSS) that ask people to indicate whether certain behaviors, beliefs, and attributes are important for being "truly American." However, it is unclear whether these items tap into descriptive norms (beliefs about what characterizes the stereotypical American) or prescriptive norms (beliefs about what should characterize the stereotypical American). The implications of these survey items depend greatly on how respondents are interpreting and reacting to them. This paper presents a survey experiment in which respondents were asked to respond to the items using their original wording, using modified wording that asked them to indicate the traits that describe the average American, or using modified wording that asked them to indicate the traits that an American should possess. The results show that respondents interpret the GSS national identity items primarily as a prescriptive inquiry.

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Working Paper

"All Politics is Local, Not Regional: How Mixed Member Proportional Representation Generates Information Asymmetries Among Constituents"
(Submitted for initial review)

Research on mixed electoral systems demonstrates that members face different incentive structures for cultivating a personal vote. This paper examines how Scotland’s mixed member proportional (MMP) system shapes citizens’ perceptions of constituency and regional MSPs. Original survey data shows that Scots have firmer impressions of constituent than regional MSPs. Although these perceptions are mediated by partisanship, Scots are more likely to be have met, be satisfied with, and have attended a surgery held by their constituency MSP. They also regard their constituency MSPs as more approachable and more likely to help them solve a problem. These findings hold even after controlling for demographic factors. We argue that the electoral incentives faced by constituency MSPs make them particularly able to shape public perceptions through personalistic efforts. We conclude by considering how disparities in public familiarity with different types of representatives impact democratic representation in Scotland and MMP systems more generally.

DENVER, CO 80208