Research Projects

Brown Is Not a Crime

Conditional race disparities in criminal sentencing: A test of the liberation hypothesis from a non-guidelines state

Scholars continue to highlight the need for studies that examine not just whether race matters in criminal sentencing, but also how and when race factors into judicial decision-making. Using criminal sentencing data from 17,671 offenders in a non-guidelines state, we find that black offenders with minimal to moderate criminal histories were more likely than whites to be incarcerated, and the average difference in the likelihood of incarceration increased by 10 to 44 percentage points. For the sentence length decision, we show that the difference between white and black offenders was significant but small; the "black penalty" increased across severity levels up until a sharp decline for the most serious felonies.

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Brown Is Not a Crime

Easing the heavy hand: Humanitarian concern, empathy, and opinion on immigration

We assess the impact of humanitarianism, which is a core prosocial orientation, on public preferences for government immigration policy. Analyzing nationally representative survey data and an original experiment, we demonstrate that humanitarian concern significantly decreases support for restrictive immigration policy. Our experiment reveals that in a media environment evoking both immigration threat and countervailing humanitarian concerns, the latter can and does override the former. Finally, our results point to the importance of individual differences in empathy in moderating the effects of threat and humanitarian inducements.

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Day Laborers Looking for Work

Are citizens 'receiving the treatment?' Assessing the validity of contextual theories of public opinion and political behavior

Contextual effects are long-standing features of public opinion research; yet, few scholars actually demonstrate that citizens' perceptions are based in objective reality. Using nationally representative survey data merged with contextual information from the US Census, we find that objective measures of the size of the local immigrant population and unemployment rate in respondents' counties and zip codes strongly predict perceived levels of local immigration and assessments of the health of one's local job market. The results from our analyses provide scholars with unprecedented evidence that a key perceptual process presumed in various contextual theories of political attitudes and behavior is, in fact, valid.

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Anti-Immigration Protest

Decoding prejudice toward Hispanics: Group cues and public reactions to threatening immigrant behavior

Is public opposition to immigration motivated by ethnic prejudice? We present data from a series of nationally representative, survey-embedded experiments to show that Americans take significantly greater offense to transgressions such as being in the country illegally, working without paying taxes, and rejecting symbols of American identity, when the perpetrating immigrant is Hispanic rather than white. In addition, we demonstrate that these ethnicity-based group differences in public reactions predict support for restrictive immigration policies. The findings from this article belie the claim of non-prejudice and race-neutrality avowed by many opponents of immigration.

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Speak English

Social dominance and the cultural politics of immigration

We argue that conflict over immigration largely concerns who bears the burden of cultural transaction costs, which we define as the costs associated with overcoming cultural barriers (e.g., language) to social exchange. Our framework suggests that the ability of native-born citizens to push cultural transaction costs onto immigrant out-groups serves as an important expression of social dominance. In two novel studies, we demonstrate that social dominance motives condition emotional responses to encountering cultural transaction costs, shape engagement in cultural accommodation behavior toward immigrants, and affect immigration attitudes and policy preferences.

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Socially-Mediated Internet Surveys (SMIS): Recruiting participants for online experiments

We present a cost-effective technique for obtaining web-based, adult samples for experimental research in the social sciences. SMIS engages central figures in online social networks to help recruit participants among visitors to these websites, yielding sizable samples for experimental research. We present data from six samples collected using the SMIS method and compare them to those gathered by other sampling approaches such as Amazon's Mechanical Turk. While not representative of the general adult population, the diversity of SMIS samples, along with the ability to capture highly engaged citizens, can circumvent questions about the artificiality of behavior experiments entirely based on student samples and help to document sources of heterogeneous experimental treatment effects.

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Spanish Language Billboard

Foreign language exposure, cultural threat, and opposition to immigration

Call any company with an automated phone system in the U.S. and you will likely hear a recording like this one: 'Para continuar en español, oprima el número dos' ('to continue in Spanish, press number two'). We argue that the increased prevalence of linguistically unassimilated immigrants within one's local environment challenges a core aspect of many Americans' social and cultural competencies. We draw upon survey and experimental data to demonstrate that incidental exposure to a foreign language like Spanish, as well as local contact with immigrants who speak limited English, heightens feelings of cultural threat, which increases anti-immigrant sentiment and policy preferences.

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Toll Booths

Toll Booths on the Information Superhighway? Policy Metaphors in the Case of Net Neutrality

Scholars have argued for centuries that metaphors are persuasive in politics; yet, scant experimental research exists to validate these assertions. With two experiments about the issue of federally regulating the Internet, I demonstrate that a toll booth metaphor significantly increases support for Net Neutrality legislation relative to a similarly worded literal message. Moreover, metaphor-induced persuasion works particularly well for politically unsophisticated citizens by increasing assessments of message quality. The lesson is that citizens who typically lack political sophistication might be brought back into complex political debates with apt policy metaphors.

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Motivated reasoning, political sophistication, and associations between President Obama and Islam

Polling data reveal that nearly one-quarter of Americans falsely report that President Obama is Muslim. In this article, we investigate whether individuals truly associate Obama with Islam or simply express negative sentiments about the President when given the opportunity. Our results demonstrate that certain segments of society are 'motivated believers' who are predisposed to accept misinformation that supports their political views. To our surprise, we also discovered that knowledgeable citizens were just as likely to associate Obama with Islam as those who are less knowledgeable. Thus, although routinely condemned, smear campaigns appear to be quite effective at creating implicit associations between targeted political figures and misinformation.

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KKK Rally

Who said what? The effects of source cues in issue frames

Framing effects have been demonstrated in numerous experimental studies; yet, critics have been quick to point out that these designs fail include source information commonly featured in media reports. In two experiments, we find evidence of assimilated framing effects, such that an ideological match between message source and respondent facilitates framing, while a mismatch prevents these effects. This ideological matching effect occurs regardless of the actual content of the issue frame or the ideology of the respondent. In our studies, ideologues on either end of the political spectrum were just as quick to oppose a Ku Klux Klan rally due to public safety concerns as they were to support it to protect freedom of speech, so long as the issue was framed by a member of the favored ideological group.

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