Category Archives: vote

Social capital and disaster recovery

I recently heard a talk by Daniel Aldrich (Purdue).  He has been pursuing a handful of projects over the last 5-6 years looking at how local social capital (at the neighborhood or zip code or prefecture) predicts more resilient disaster recovery. Aldrich points out that people are far more likely to be hit by a disaster in their life than be the victim of a terrorist attack and asserts that the number of disasters is increasing in recent years.

Aldrich has studied 4 different disasters (1923 Tokyo earthquake; 1995 Kobe earthquake; 2005 Katrina disaster; 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami).  I think he is currently doing some work on the recovery from the recent Japanese tsunami (early thoughts by him here).  Aldrich measures social capital with local measures like: voting and participation in rallies (1923 Tokyo); non-profit organizations per capita (1995 Kobe); number of funerals attended in past year (Indian Tsunami); and voter turnout (Katrina). His outcome variables for economic recovery are things like population growth (1923 Tokyo; Kobe) in an area or amount of aid received (Indian Tsunami) or ability to keep FEMA trailers out of an area (Katrina).  [It wasn’t clear to me that this last measure is a measure of disaster recovery as much as NIMBY-ism, a topic that Aldrich has also written about.]

At one level, Aldrich’s findings are not surprising since places with low social capital tend to wait for the state to repair devastation and places with high social capital take more immediate self-action to repair.  This is reflected in Emily Chamlee-Wright’s recent book “The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery: Social Learning in a post-disaster environment” and Robert Putnam observed this about Italian recovery from earthquakes: in places with high social capital one was unaware there had been an earthquake there several years later, whereas in low social capital places, the results of an earthquake were apparent 30-40 years later and residents were still blaming government for not adequately responding.

Aldrich’s work is very interesting and will appear next year as a U. Chicago press book “Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery”.  [Brief presentation of his work here.] I would find his work even more interesting if he examined whether it is only the more political forms of social capital (like voting or protesting) that help in disaster recovery or whether it extends to “schmoozing” type variables at well (e.g., number of close friends, or knowing neighbors).   He might also be able to use volunteering data gathered by the CPS since 2002 to test that as a predictor or use datasets gathered by Rick Weil on social capital in New Orleans.  He also talks about the various types of social capital (bridging, bonding, linking) but his work doesn’t help sort out whether one type of social capital is more important than another for disaster recovery.  Also, given that social capital always rises after disasters and then most typically rapidly tails off, it would be useful if he tracked local social capital by neighborhood after a disaster since the shape of this drop-off in social capital need not be the same across communities; one might have more of a sustained burst of social capital than another.

His case study work does suggest that social capital is more important in disaster recovery than physical capital, physical infrastructure, or financial capital and more important than the conventional explanations that experts claim predict disaster recovery: amount of aid (positively predicting recovery); governance (stronger governance increases recovery); amount of devastation (less predicts greater recovery); wealth (positively predicting recovery); and population density (negatively predicting recovery).  He controls for these factors in his model and finds consistent and robust effects of social capital on post-disaster recovery.

Aldrich’s colleagues have also done some experiments of paying people to participate in focus groups, of giving people local “scrip” if they volunteer (which can be spent locally at farmers’ markets) and found that these built social capital and helped partially “inoculate” communities from the effects of disasters.  He didn’t present in any detail the methods or the results of these mini experiments.  He also recommends that post-disaster if we need to move survivors, we do them conscious of the clustering in their social networks,  so that they minimize the hit they take to their social capital.

Against this good news for social capital, there are three studies that find negative findings in the short-term, after disasters on outcomes like stress, health, etc. [I should note that Aldrich in his book addresses some negative outcomes of social capital in recoveries, for example, groups blocking certain castes from getting aid, or the Japanese promoting vicious attacks on Koreans after the 1923 Tokyo earthquake or ostracizing mercury victims in Minamata Bay from the late 1950s onward.] Basically the story of these other scholars is either that greater commitment to a community or greater social ties lead to worse ST outcomes, either because you feel it is really costly to leave or you are besieged by social and financial requests from other victims, which puts great strain on you unless you are wealthy.  The Rhodes et. al paper finds over longer term, people with more social capital do better, so this is a short-term finding only.  Weil and Lee, to my knowledge, have not looked at longer-term impacts.

See Jean Rhodes, Christian Chan, Christina Paxson, Cecelia Rouse, Mary C. Waters and Elizabeth Fussell. (2010) “The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Mental and Physical Health of Low-Income Parents in New Orleans.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 80(2):233-243. Not sure that their longer-term findings have been published.  See also manuscript from their project by Lowe, S. R., Chan, C. S., & Rhodes, J. E. “Pre-disaster social support protects against psychological distress: A longitudinal analysis of Hurricane Katrina survivors.”

Community Attachment and Negative Affective States in the Context of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster” by Matthew Lee and Troy Blanchard (LSU @ Baton Rouge) American Behavioral Scientist 55(12).  October 3, 2011

Weil, Frederick, Shihadeh, Edward, and Lee, Matthew. “The Burdens of Social Capital: How Socially-Involved People Dealt with Stress after Hurricane Katrina” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, 2006.

See also earlier blog post on disaster recovery from 2011 Japanese tsunami.

2010 voter turnout up, but not for youth and blacks (UPDATED)

Flickr photo by Dean Terry

Preliminary evidence suggests that voting turnout among all Americans was up in the November 2010 election.  Compared with the last non-presidential election (2006), both voting turnout experts (Curtis Gans and Michael McDonald) agree that turnout among eligible voters rose 1.1-1.2 percentage points (based on preliminary estimates that will obviously change as all ballots are counted and certified). Regardless of whether one likes the outcome in 2010, it is civic good news that more Americans got involved.

Preliminary evidence suggests electoral turnout rose in at least nine states, and significantly in Texas, Florida and Minnesota.  Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other states, seems to have experienced a turnout decline.  [Curtis Gans projects voting turnout at 42 percent of registered voters; Michael McDonald believes that 41.5% of voting-eligible Americans turned out to vote.]  Note: McDonald has now lowered his turnout estimate 1.2 percentage points to 40.3% (VEP Highest Office Turnout, as of 11/8/10).

But the bad news is what voices are being heard or not heard. Voting turnout rates were down among young voters (18-29) and blacks made up a lower percentage of voters in 2010 than in 2008 when Obama’s candidacy excited African-Americans to vote.  For example, blacks made up 12% of voters in 2008 and appeared to make up just 10% of voters in 2010 (based on exit polls).  This drop, if it holds up in more authoritative numbers like the Current Population Survey would  negate this encouraging finding reported in 2008 that the black-white voting gap had disappeared.    [Exit polls suggest that Hispanics maintained their share of the electorate, rising from 7% in 2008 to 8% in 2010, although one would have to compare this rise against their expanding voting-eligible numbers to truly understand whether their political voice was diluted, and if so, how much.]  It wasn’t a simple story of the richest folks’ accounting for more of the votes, since those earning $100,000 or more accounted for 26% of the votes in both 2008 and 2010, but due to the elimination of restrictions on corporate campaign contributions in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United case, the wealthy disproportionately had chances to influence election outcomes even before voters got to their polling places.

[For information on 2008 turnout, click here.]

Priming people to vote

Priming you to vote for Obama? (Obama mosaic of people image by tsevis)

Priming you to vote for Obama? (Obama mosaic of people image by tsevis)

Priming is the influencing of an outcome by exposing people to some stimulus in advance (a picture, a concept, an advertisement) that then influences their subsequent outcome in systematic ways.  Nobelist Daniel Kahneman and others talk about the pervasiveness of this effect and how it can influence voting…

KAHNEMAN: “…We are all aware that our behavior and our thoughts and feelings are highly context-dependent: none of us is quite the same person at home and in the office, in bed or in the subway. We are used to the context-dependency of our behavior and we have stories that make sense of it—social pressure, norms etc. What we are learning from the priming-anchoring effects is that context-dependency is mediated in part by multiple subtle cues of which we are not necessarily aware. ”

The effects according to Kahneman are systematic and pervasive (with a HOST of examples).  The magnitude of the effect is not negligible but not overpowering.  And the effect doesn’t always persist.  It happens without us being aware of the prime (and even consciously explaining that the priming influence did NOT influence our behavior), but it affects us nonetheless, unless on issues on which we have irrevocably made up our mind.

This dialogue is taken from a fascinating conversation on Edge 262 with W. Daniel Hillis, Kahneman, Nathan Myhrvold, Richard Thaler, Elon Musk, France LeClerc, Salar Kamangar, Anne Treisman, Sendhil Mullainathan, Jeff Bezos, and Sean Parker.

MYHRVOLD: You can make Democrats and Republicans by threatening them with death? That’s fascinating!

KAHNEMAN: Those effects would be small at the margin, but there are those effects that are small at the margin that can change election results.

You call and ask people ahead of time, “Will you vote?”. That’s all. “Do you intend to vote?”. That increases voting participation substantially, and you can measure it. It’s a completely trivial manipulation, but saying ‘Yes’ to a stranger, “I will vote” …

MYHRVOLD: But…suppose you had the choice of calling up and saying, “Are you going to vote?”, so you prime them to vote, versus exhorting them to vote.

KAHNEMAN: The prime could very well work better than the exhortation because exhortation is going to induce resistance, whereas the prime ‚the mild embarrassment causes you to make what feels like a commitment, and the commitment, if it’s sufficiently precise, is going to have an effect on behavior.

THALER: If you ask them when they’re going to vote, and how they’re going to get there, that increases voting.

KAHNEMAN: And where….Here is a study, this one will demonstrate that those effects are not so weak. You look for support for school bonds, and what you look for is where were the polling stations. When the polling station is in a school, you get measurable effects on the support for school bonds. They increase. That is non-trivial, it’s in the real world, except that you have something that is focused, you know what the direction is. You expose a lot of people to the prime, and you observe the behavior, and it’s quite measurable.

THALER: And to answer your question, on that one, my recollection is the magnitude is something like 2 or 3 percent. It’s not a huge effect, but a noticeable effect.

KAHNEMAN: Yes, that’s what you would expect.

MULLAINATHAN: There is another response to this question. And I’ve struggled a lot with this question. If these effects are so big, how can it be, right?

There is another more controversial response to that, which is, let’s say that the two phenomena that are opposing each other is that people are relatively consistent and stable, but these effects suggest a lot of instability. One resolution to that is that, in fact, people are not consistent and stable …… and, the bias is that we think ourselves and others are consistent and stable when we’re not. There is good evidence that if you take even something as simple as stated preference for Democrat, Republican, test-retest validity on these things is tiny, risk aversion measures have tiny test-retest validity. One possible resolution control of this is that the mistake is on our end in presuming stable interpersonal characteristics.

KAHNEMAN: That’s a beautiful way of putting it, because one of the things that psychologists have been exercising over and over for decades is the relative impact of personality, if you will, or character or temperament—internal factors as against environmental factors in the control of behavior. We have a hugely powerful bias against the environment as a determinant of behavior. We tend to believe that somebody is behaving that way because he wants to behave that way, because he tends to behave that way, because that’s his nature. It turns out that the environmental effects on behavior are a lot stronger than most people expect.

KAHNEMAN: …Another condition is a pile of Monopoly money on a neighboring table. What would you guess, by the way? Those of you who have read it shouldn’t guess, but can you guess? I was stunned by the result, which I wouldn’t have predicted. But can you guess what priming people with money will do? They don’t want help. They’re on their own. They also don’t want to give help. You’ve got very clever ways of manipulating that, of observing that, but my favorite is the experimenter that comes in clutching a batch of pencils, and the pencils drop on the floor. The dependent variable of the study, the number of pencils the person picks up, is fewer if there is money on that screen saver.

MYHRVOLD: [On effect of playing Monopoly in advance]…Makes them Democrats?

HILLIS: Republican.

KAHNEMAN: It’s closer to making them Republican. It makes them individualists. And it’s quite deep, and very unexpected. It doesn’t make them good or bad, it just makes them different.

Here is the whole conversation on Edge 262.

Note: in another recent priming example relevant to social capital, scientists found that you feel warmer to someone you just met if you are holding a hot cup of coffee rather than a cold beverage. Not kidding…See study by Lawrence Williams (Univ. of Colorado) and John Bargh of Yale here in Science magazine.

For an interesting post not on priming, but on getting individuals to make commitments to voting, see the Freakonomics blog post on how to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the voting process through enforcable commitments to vote in Ian Ayres’ “A Political Do Not Call List“.

Does a flurry of e-mail get one to vote?

Freakonomics Blog summarizes a recent study finding no effect of organizational GOTV (get out the vote) e-mail campaigns.

“If an e-mail message from a campaign or non-profit group were to pop up in your inbox on election day asking you to please go down to your polling place and cast your vote, would you do it?

“Probably not, if the results of a study by Notre Dame political scientist David Nickerson are any indication. Nickerson conducted 13 field experiments during elections between 2002 and 2004, and found that aggressive e-mail get-out-the-vote campaigns have virtually no effect on voter turnout.

“What does seem to persuade people to vote is personal contact, with door-to-door canvassers and especially with co-workers, friends, and family.

“That latter point is driven home by another Nickerson paper, published in the American Political Science review, which asks: ‘Is Voting Contagious?

“Dubner and Levitt have written previously about the incentives to vote (or not vote). And Ian Ayres touched on the social aspect of voter persuasion in a recent post, saying that voting might be rational if you do it because you care about your fellow citizens. That squares with research showing that people are more likely to vote if they believe it is socially expected of them.

“Okay, now let’s say that election day e-mail is from your friend, or one of your parents: would it convince you to vote?”

See earlier Social Capital blog post about how face-to-face GOTV efforts in conjunction with technology do work.  And there is evidence that talking about politics with others has a multiplier effect because you persuade others (if you are persuasive) and they in turn persuade others, etc.

Tell people voter turnout will be high and it will increase

Todd Rogers, Ph.D. student at Harvard, is working on an interesting dissertation on the importance of messages in voter turnout.  They randomly assigned voters in California (before the 2006 primary election) and New Jersey (before the 2005 general election) to receive a message that either emphasized low voter turnout (LTO) or high voter turnout (HTO) and saw what influence it had on whether voters actually voted.

 They found that the HTO message actually produced higher turnout among those who heard the message and the LTO message reduced voter turnout.  This is contrary to the *rational choice* model that would assume that voters who expected lower turnout would vote more, since they would perceive that their vote should matter more (as a percentage of all votes cast).

Interestingly, they found that the LTO vs. HTO message did not much affect the frequent voters who were likely to vote regardless of the message, but the HTO message was more likely to mobilize the infrequent voters.   (It should be noted that the message — heard one time by those in the experiement — while it did change the intention to vote statistically significantly, did not produce an enormous effect — the HTO message roughly made voters 3% more likely to turnout and the LTO message surpessed voter intention by a smiliar amount.)

The researchers weren’t constrained by having to deliver truthful messages, but Todd pointed out to me that in any given year, for example with increasing population, you could emphasize high turnout messages such as “more people voted in the last election than ever before”, even if the percentage voting had decreased,  and make it more likely that one would achieve the high turnout result desired.

The paper is consistent with a whole body of “social norms” research (summarized in the Rogers paper) that shows that people are more likely to conform to what they believe are social norms: for example, drinking less in college when low rates of alcohol abuse are publicized, stealing petrified wood more from forests when told that others do, reusing towels more in hotel rooms when told that others reuse towels at high rates, etc.

Note:  The Rogers and Gerber paper unfortunately could only focus on “intention to vote” as a dependent outcome varaible, not actual vote turnout, so they will need to do further work to make sure that the follow-through on “intention to vote” is actually high on these more marginalized voters.

One wonders whether this applies to other forms of civic participation. Presumably it is helpful only in a tipping point sort of behavior where a fairly large number of people do this already and thus others can be encouraged to do likewise, and presumably the benefit would be greatest when there is the greatest discrepancy between people’s guesses about how often a civic action occurs and how often it really does. If some behavior is relatively infrequent (say going to a political rally in the last year), one runs the risk that disclosing how frequent this is could have the adverse affect (at the margin persuading those who do the behavior currently to quit). But some manipulation of the norms could be used, to for example, emphasize how many millions of people went to rallies in the last year rather than focusing on the fact that it was only, say, 15% of the population.

This research will be forthcoming in “Descriptive Social Norms and Voter Turnout: The Importance of Accentuating the Positive” (The Journal of Politics, forthcoming) with Alan Gerber (of Yale Univ.).  Earlier version of this paper available here.

Cynicize youth and they won’t care to vote

Two independent stories this weekend seem to have a common thread.  First the Washington Post article “White House Manual Details How to Deal With Protesters” (Peter Baker, p. A2, 8/22/07) discussed the Bush Administration’s protest manual and their “art of ‘deterring public protests’ at Bush’s public appearances around the country.”  Then the NYT over the weekend, in an article on the lack of public U.S. conversation about lowering the voting age, discussed that youth are not eager to vote.  There might just be a connection between the cynical Bush politics of “control and spin” — the above Bush manual to control dissent at campaign events, the history of patent lies from Bush officials, manufactured news under the Bush Administration that looked like it was independently reported but was actually purchased through contracts with journalists — and voter apathy (especially among young voters that are hoping for a government they can respect).

The NY Times story (“Sixteen Candles, but Few Blazing a Trail to the Ballot Box” (Week in Review, Pam Belluck, 8/26/07) notes that around 1971 a bunch of countries lowered the voting age (as the U.S. did) to 18. “[N]ow a handful of other countries are opening their polls to even younger voters. Last month, Austria became the first country in the European Union to adopt 16 as the voting age for all elections, joining Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and the Isle of Man. Germany allows voting at 16 in some local elections. In Slovenia, 16-year-olds with jobs can vote. And the new British prime minister, Gordon Brown, just proposed a youth commission that would advise whether to let 16-year-olds vote, hinting that he is in favor. ”  [The NYT notes that Iran may be the only counter-example, raising the voting age from 15 to 18 in January as a way to help immunize the government against student protests.]

“Critics might offer lots of reasons for the United States’ not following suit — a lack of competence, maturity and experience among 16-year-olds tend to be the ones cited, as well as the argument that they, like 18-year-olds, wouldn’t use their franchise much anyway.

“Still, the United States is not without proponents of a lower voting age. Nine states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the general election. And in recent years, various vote-at-16 proposals have been made by lawmakers in New York City, Baltimore, Minnesota, Texas, Maine and California, where a state senator in 2004 proposed giving 16-year-olds half a vote in state elections, and 14-year-olds a quarter-vote.

“None of those proposals have advanced very far. But with another war on — and 17-year-olds able to enlist — as well as children growing up so quickly that they have MySpace pages before losing their baby teeth, supporters say that adolescents not only are competent to cast ballots, but would focus old fogies’ attention on issues relevant to children: health care, education, the environment, perhaps even a moratorium on Lindsay Lohan’s changing hair color.”

These advocates hope adolescents get “bitten by a civic bug” and counteract the fact that 18-24 year olds are the least likely cohort to vote.

“That’s the hope of Gale Brewer, a New York City councilwoman who has sponsored several attempts to allow 16-year-olds to vote in municipal elections…..Phyllis Kahn, a Minnesota state representative, said, ‘If we trust them to drive at 16, why don’t we trust them to vote?” and added that ”an irresponsible driver can do much more harm than an irresponsible voter.’ ”

While brain size peaks in humans at age 14,  Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, said adolescents were not ”mature enough to make voting judgments because they don’t have any historical perspective and they don’t have any comparable civic responsibility.”

And the article cites Matthew Crenson, professor of political science at John Hopkins who notes that few 16-18 year olds voted in Maryland in 2003 when a ‘scheduling fluke’ enabled some of them to vote in the Batimore mayoral primary for the first and only time as confirmation of the low level of interest of youth in politics.

Washington Post article was White House Manual Details How to Deal With Protesters (Peter Baker, p. A2, 8/22/07) which discussed the protest manual and the “art of ‘deterring public protests’ at Bush’s public appearances around the country.”  A NY Times Editorial on this was called Squelching the Citizenry’s Back Talk (8/25/07).   

And Washington Post had an editorial on Bush’s manual called “Don’t Read This Mr. President!” (9/10/07)

Also see: Sixteen Candles, but Few Blazing a Trail to the Ballot Box (NYT Week in Review)