Research

Isaac D. Mehlhaff. “A Group-Based Approach To Measuring Polarization.” Under Review. [Working Paper] [Poster] [Supplementary Materials] [R Package]

Political and social polarization are key concerns in many important social scientific topics, with a rapidly expanding literature emphasizing two features: intergroup heterogeneity and intragroup homogeneity. The quantitative measurement of polarization, however, has not evolved alongside this refined conceptual understanding, as existing measures capture only one feature or complicate comparison over time and space. To bring the concept and mea- surement of polarization into closer alignment, I introduce the cluster-polarization coefficient (CPC), a measure of multimodality that allows scholars to incorporate numerous variables and compare across contexts with varying numbers of parties or social groups. Applying the CPC to two data sets of elite ideological ideal points demonstrates that different measures can lead to different substantive results. An open-source software package implements the measure.

Isaac D. Mehlhaff, Timothy J. Ryan, Marc Hetherington, and Michael MacKuen. “Where Motivated Reasoning Withers and Looms Large: Fear and Partisan Reactions to the Covid-19 Pandemic.” Under Review. [Monkey Cage]

Contemporary American politics has been largely characterized by hyper-partisanship and polarization, with partisan motivated reasoning a thematic concern. Theories of emotions in politics suggest that anxiety might interrupt partisan heuristics and encourage citizens to reason more evenhandedly—but in what domains and to what extent? We use original panel data to assess how anxiety about becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 interacted with partisan attachments to shape political judgment during the Covid-19 pandemic. The structure of our data allows us to assess large-scale implications of politically relevant emotions in ways that so far have not been possible. We find large effects on policy attitudes: Republicans who were afraid of getting sick rejected signals from co-partisan leaders by supporting mask mandates and the like. Effects on vote choice were muted in comparison, but, in a race as close as the 2020 presidential election, were potentially large enough to have been pivotal.

Isaac D. Mehlhaff “Mass Polarization and Democratic Decline: Global Evidence from a Half-Century of Public Opinion.” Working Paper. [Working Paper] [Supplementary Information]

An antagonistic political culture has long been thought to pose a threat to liberal democracy. More recently, many scholars have proposed a link between political polarization and democratic breakdown, yet causal evidence for this prominent theory remains thin. I present the first broadly comparative analysis of the relationship between mass polarization and democratic backsliding, the modal form of autocratic reversion in the post-third wave era. Panel estimates of ideological and affective polarization from as many as ninety countries and forty-nine years indicate that both ideological and affective polarization exert negligible causal effects on levels of electoral and liberal democracy. To the contrary, results suggest that democratic decline may actually foment mass polarization. Despite widespread concern over the fate of democracy in polarized polities, comparative evidence since the start of the third wave suggests that mass polarization itself poses little threat to democratic regimes.

Marc Hetherington, Caroline Lancaster, and Isaac D. Mehlhaff. “Worldview Politics in the United States and Great Britain.” Working Paper.

Scholars consistently find that most people do not think about politics in ideological terms. What, then, underlies citizens’ central political predispositions? Building on past work on the authoritarian personality, we locate the driving force behind individuals’ political attitudes in their philosophy about life—their “worldview.” We theorize and empirically validate a multidimensional measure of worldview in the United States and United Kingdom. Our measure consists of four related, but distinct, attitudes: authority, community, competitiveness, and incrementalism. Conservative worldview is strongly related to support for conservative parties, and each worldview component is associated with political attitudes in sensible ways. Immigration attitudes are strongly rooted in beliefs about community, while incrementalism underlies economic preferences. Our findings demonstrate the importance of pushing beyond authoritarian personality and demographic characteristics as determinants of political attitudes.

Isaac D. Mehlhaff. “Subverting Solidarity: The Role of American Organized Labor in Pursuing United States Foreign Policy Objectives in Chile, 1961-1973.” The Burkhardt Review 1, no. 2 (2018), 24-40. [Article]

Isaac D. Mehlhaff. “The Short-Term Success of New Deal Work Relief Programs: An Evaluation of Private Sector Employment, 1929-1940.” Equilibrium: Journal of Economics 8 (Spring 2018), 29-33. [Article] [Data]

This paper examines government work relief programs created by President Roosevelt’s Hundred Days Congress aimed at immediate relief, namely, the Civil Works Administration. While the symbolic importance of these programs must be acknowledged, there is some evidence that these programs had little overall effect on recovery. They may have improved the lives of some Americans in the short run, although it is unclear how many Americans truly benefited. That is the question to be addressed by my research: Did the programs aimed at addressing the unemployment crisis work in the immediate context of the period for the demographic groups toward whom they were addressed? My empirical model aims to evaluate the association between work relief spending and private sector employment across diverse industries. I find industry-specific growth rates to be highly volatile, generally negative in the aggregate, and uncorrelated with work relief spending. Given my empirical evaluation, I posit that the sudden influx of money from New Deal work relief programs played a role in sustaining the retail industry through the later years of the Great Depression, but this benefit did not extend to wholesale or manufacturing. The Civil Works Administration was valuable because it put a few dollars in the pockets of desperate Americans, but the far-reaching economic impact claimed by Roosevelt’s administration most likely did not materialize as a result of this program.