Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Gay Canvassers Study May Rely on Bogus Data, but Social Contact Matters for Same-Sex Marriage Debate

I'm sure that Michael LaCour hoped to make the front page of The New York Times many times over during his career as a Princeton political scientist -- preferably being featured in articles that talked about groundbreaking research (and real results), not his fabrication of a study with Columbia University political scientist Donald Green on the impact of political canvassing on public opinion toward same-sex marriage.

The story of the "great gay marriage hoax" is a compelling one for academic researchers, policy activists, and the general public alike. The revelation by Green that the data may have been fabricated, has many reputable news organizations issuing retractions and apologies including Ira Glass over at This American Life. And plenty of academics were jamming up Retraction Watch, making it hard to access Ivan Oransky's breaking post as well as Brockman, Kalla, and Arronow's Irregularities in LaCour (2014) that noted the study's problematic response rate as well as the distribution and sourcing issues for the opinion toward same-sex marriage variable.

While LaCour's study appears to be a little more than half-baked, the premise -- that social contact with a member of the LGBT public -- can shape attitudes toward same-sex marriage and LGBT individuals more broadly, is not without merit.

In my own work (which features real, secondary data collected by reputable polling organizations like the Pew Research Center, CIRCLE (the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) and others, I've shown that personal contact greatly influences younger individual's acceptance of homosexuality (those between 18-25), and that social contact also matters for those 26 years of age and older (even after controlling for things like demographics and religious and political value predispositions).

While not Science, I published this piece in 2011 in Social Science Quarterly with my Ph.D. advisor, Dietram Scheufele, who is the John E. Ross Professor in Science Communication at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who like Donald Green is an important scholar within the field of political communication. Like Green, Scheufele has mentored numerous graduate students over the years in both the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW-Madison, encouraging us to take the lead on important research projects and data analysis. He was always available for consultation on projects and helped with the review of the data, but let graduate students like me take the lead. Underneath all collaborations was a foundation of mutual trust and respect and the understanding that the practice of engaging in and publishing research comes with great responsibility.

Lately, I've been working on more solo-authored research, thanks in part to the great mentoring and training I received from Scheufele. A piece I published in 2012 in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research (IJPOR) entitled, Determinants of Public Support for Same-Sex Marriage: Generational Cohorts, Social Contact, and Shifting Attitudes shows that social contact matters when we're talking about support for same-sex marriage and that not surprisingly, the younger you are (think Millennials) the higher the rate of social contact with LGBT individuals within your social network. Even after controlling for demographics and political and religious value predispositions, having a connection with a member of the LGBT community greater increases the likelihood of supporting same-sex marriage.

Moreover, as both pieces of research have suggested, it's not just mere contact that matters, but the degree of social contact that plays an important role. In the 2012 study, social contact was measured by having a close family member or friend who is gay, not just an acquaintance or co-worker.

I continue to publish on the same-sex marriage issue and LGBT civil rights more broadly and have looked at the influence of marital and family status, attitudes and media use, and other important variables on support for the issue. I've also worked with my colleague, Maureen Todd, to look at implications for policy and practice for those engaging in counseling and family therapy with LGBT teens. Lastly, in 2014, I considered the shifting dynamics of employment discrimination toward LGBT individuals between 1985-2012 in a special edition of IJPOR on Gay Rights & Marriage edited by Paul Brewer of the University of Delaware.

My research relies on real data and rigorous analysis and research. It's a shame that the LaCour piece has unraveled in such a spectacular fashion, raising serious questions about the peer review and publication process . But as Green has said in an interview with New York Magazine, the study LaCour pretended to conduct, is one that political communication researchers should actually do as social contact does matter in the case of public opinion toward same-sex marriage. At least my own real research tells me so ...

Friday, April 3, 2015

Political satire makes young people more likely to participate in politics. Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show is likely to continue that trend.

I've got a new post up on the London School of Economics and Political Science's daily blog on American Politics and Policy.

In the post, I talk about the impacts of political satire and comedy on our political life -- how tuning into all things funny makes us more likely to express ourselves politically, feel better about our own role in the political process, and encourages young people in particular to seek out additional information from traditional news sources.

The piece explores recent contributions of John Oliver's Last Week Tonight and the start of Larry Wilmore's The Nightly Report.

I also talk about the potential implications of the pending changeover at The Daily Show now that Trevor Noah has been announced as the next host. In my expert opinion, the political contributions of Trevor Noah's new incarnation of the program will depend in part on the occupations of the interview guests.

You can read the full post here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Partisan Media and Political Polarization? Findings from the Pew Research Center

There's been a lot of discussion regarding the findings in the Pew Research Center's new report on Political Polarization & Media Habits. The full report, released on October 21st is part of Pew's larger American Trends Panel exploring national political trends and polarization in particular.

While the report suggests that both consistent liberals and consistent conservatives (e.g., those at opposite or polar ends of the ideological spectrum) are selecting media content that aligns with their political views, the findings also suggests that social media platforms are enabling exposure to diverse points of view.

While conservatives are relying heavily on FOX News, consistent liberals are opting for outlets like The New York Times, NPR, Slate, and political comedy offerings like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. These extreme partisans tend to be the loudest voices or the biggest sharers of news content via social media. Interestingly, while conservatives are more likely to have friends who share their point of view, liberals are more likely to "defriend" or block the posts of someone with whom they disagree.

The full report is worth a read and will likely be discussed across a wide range of media outlets for some time to come. I first commented on the report in The Christian Science Monitor earlier this week and again today on WBAL 1090 AM's Maryland News Now with Mary Beth Marsden.

Overall, the preference for partisan news makes sense in a media environment that offers a dizzying array of choices. At the same time, it's disconcerting that our media consumption patterns may be reinforcing the same political partisanship and divisiveness we see in Washington. This may have real implications for divisive economic, moral, and/or scientific political issues.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Trends in Views Toward Employment Discrimination: 1987-2012

I recently published an article entitled, "Employment discrimination, local school boards, and LGBT civil rights: Reviewing 25 years of public opinion data" in the special issue of The International Journal of Public Opinion Research on Public Opinion on Gay Rights/Marriage edited by Paul Brewer. The piece looks at what factors influence attitudes toward employment discrimination over time.







The findings show that there is still a political hard core -- 21% in 2012 -- that believe it is okay to fire known homosexual teachers from positions in public schools. These individuals tend to be more conservative and religious males who hold traditional views on marriage and family. The article was featured on the Oxford University Press blog over the weekend. For more, access the original post HERE.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

12 million views for Obama's Appearance on Between Two Ferns

In case you haven't seen it, here's the video of President Barack Obama's appearance with Zack Galifianakis on his Funny or Die web series, Between Two Ferns:





Folks can argue about the quality of the humor present in the clip. I personally found key snippets like the reference to North Ikea or drones funny, but it's hard to deny the fact that the clip has been viewed 12 million times in just one short 24-hour period or the level of meta-coverage for the piece as a wide range of news outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even the PBS News Hour have covered the President's effort to inject humor into his marketing of the Affordable Care Act.



The video itself was the leading source of visits to healthcare.gov yesterday according to an update from The Washington Post. Whether the video will actually lead to additional sign-ups by those in the coveted under 30 age bracket remains to be seen. As the Post noted:


According to the Sysomos social analytics platform, the video had been mentioned 30,000 times on Twitter as of 1 p.m. eastern. Few of those tweets, though -- about 1,400 -- also mentioned health care.


So while the clip is generating attention, it's not certain that it will have its true intended effect -- increasing enrollment in various health plans prior to the March 31st deadline. As previous academic research by Danna Young has suggested, viewers process comedy peripherally so they may focus more on getting and enjoying the jokes, rather than on internalizing the message about the value of enrolling in a plan through the health care exchange.



At the same time, my own work has suggested that viewers appreciate the politician who can handle both humorous attacks and can be funny enough to make their own jokes. Moreover, it's not just the clip itself that will have an impact but the meta-coverage or mainstream news media coverage of the 6 1/2 minute video that will keep the story front and center through a couple of news cycles.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Disposition, Political Parody, and the 2012 Election

Ever wonder about the impact of those political parody videos you were watching during the 2012 Election cycle? While you might have found it funny to see Barack Obama or Mitt Romney made fun of, were others finding these things funny as well? Was anybody else watching?

A new article I just published in Human Communication Research addresses these questions and more by applying the disposition theory of humor to the study of both political parody appreciation and the effects of humor exposure.

First, a little background: The Pew Research Center reports that 55% of all registered voters went online during the 2012 Election cycle to watch political video. 37% watched humorous or parody videos dealing with political issues. So yes, you weren't the only one watching those YouTube clips.

The research featured in the HCR article is based on an experimental study that asked subjects to watch one of three sets of videos: a set that featured Democratic-directed humor, one set that included Republican-directed humor, and apolitical content that acted as a control. Within each video set, subjects saw an original video clip (a music video) and then the parody version. For the Democratic-directed humor set, the original video was the Gotye song, "Somebody that I Used to Know," while the parody version was a song that went viral called, "Obama that I Used to Know." For the Republican-directed humor set, the original video was Psy's popular, "Gangnam Style," while the parody version was the song, "Mitt Romney Style," created and promoted by CollegeHumor.com. The apolitical cells featured the Carly Rae Jepsen song, "Call Me Maybe," and the Sesame Street parody, "Share it Maybe," sung by the lovable Cookie Monster.

When analyzing parody appreciation, the results first suggested that disposition (or how much you like Obama or dislike Romney) had a differential impact on humor appreciation. Specifically, those who liked Obama were less likely to appreciate the Democratic-directed humor and more likely to appreciate the Republican-directed humor that attacked Mitt Romney. At the same time those who disliked Romney were less likely to appreciate Democratic-directed humor targeting Obama, but more likely to appreciate the "Mitt Romney Style" clip that poked fun of the Republican nominee.

The study also looked at the interplay between disposition, type of comedy watched, and resulting effects on attitudes -- in this case post-test favorability toward Romney and Obama. The results highlighted a significant effect on attitudes toward Obama for those who dislike Romney and were exposed to the Democratic-directed humor attacking Obama. The bottom line: disliking a candidate and viewing humor where that candidate is the victor can dampen your attitudes toward the victim. For campaigns looking to manage the fallout from these viral parody videos, the research suggests that it may be quite valuable to work to quickly change the media narrative so that attack humor doesn't negatively impact how voters think about your candidate, particularly for those who already dislike the other guy.



Overall the research presents a timely and relevant case study and makes use of some really fun video content (see clips pasted below). From an academic standpoint, the study updates the use of the disposition theory of humor as a key framework in political communication research and also pushes the boundaries of the theory further to look not just at humor appreciation or processing but also humor effects.

Video Clips:

Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know,"



Democratic-directed humor: "Obama That I Used to Know,"



Psy's "Gangnam Style,"



Republican-directed humor: "Mitt Romney Style,"



Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe,"



Cookie Monster's "Share It Maybe,"



Thursday, February 13, 2014

New Article: Public Opinion Toward Employment Discrimination, 1987-2012

A new article I wrote on trends in public opinion toward employment discrimination is now available online at The International Journal of Public Opinion Research. The article will later be in print in the journal's special issue on Public Opinion about Gay Rights/Marriage being edited by Paul Brewer. The piece examines evolving views on whether school boards should have the authority to fire known homosexual teachers between 1987-2012 (N=35,578). In the process, I consider whether we have seen a sea change in public opinion on the issue similar to the dynamic we've recently been witnessing with the same-sex marriage debate.

As the chart below shows, 51.5% of Americans expressed support for the practice when Pew first started collecting data in 1987. By 2012, only 21% of Americans still expressed support for the practice. These individuals are what researchers call the hard core, those who retain minority viewpoints in the face of majority opposition. As the results suggest, this 21% or the hard core tend to be older males who are less educated, more religious, more conservative in their politics, and more likely to have old-fashioned values when it comes to marriage and family.



The analyses look at what factors explain support for variation in employment discrimination over time. Not surprisingly, the influence of religious and ideological value predispositions matters most but demographics (e.g., gender, age, and level of education) are also important as are key cultural values. Much like the same-sex marriage debate, the importance of partisanship (e.g., being a Democrat vs. Republican) wanes in importance over time and is no longer a significant factor driving opinions after 2002.

When it comes to change over time, the results show that the influence of year or time matters more between 2002-2012 than between 1987-2002 indicating that, much like the same-sex marriage debate, the rate or pace of change on this issue has shifted more rapidly, more recently.

One key take-away: while we've been primarily focusing our attention on marriage equality, opinions have shifted on other LGBT civil rights issues as well. At the same time, the US has yet to add sexual orientation to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. While the US Senate supported the measure this past November, the bill stalled given a lack of support in the US House of Representatives. At the time of the article's drafting, fully 29 states failed to offer protections against employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So while opinions may have shifted just like with the case of marriage equality, legislation still lags behind.

Stay tuned for the summer release of the special issue which promises to present some interesting research on the current state of public opinion toward gay rights/marriage in the US and abroad.

More on the Pew Research Center's 1987-2012 Values data set.