Abstract. How do people react to information that challenges their party’s policies? While most of the existing literature focuses on possible changes in issue opinions, we know less about other implicit and explicit ways in which people may contend with counter-attitudinal information. In an online experiment in India, I present participants with potentially incongruent information about a controversial economic policy and ask them to evaluate the quality of this information. Strong party supporters (non-supporters) feel that an article that criticizes (praises) the policy is of very poor quality. Further, people are much more likely to ignore the biased nature of an article if it reinforces their priors – but complain if it does not. Yet, although I observe strong affective reactions against information that is counter-attitudinal, there is no evidence of opinion backlash; instead, there is (weak) evidence of people updating in the direction of incongruent information. These findings reinforce the importance of studying reactions to counter-attitudinal information above and beyond issue-specific opinions.
Forthcoming, Political Behavior [Link]
Abstract. Can a series of online conversations with a marginalized outgroup member improve majority group members’ attitudes about that outgroup? While the intergroup contact literature provides (mixed) insights about the effects of extended interactions between groups, less is known about how relatively short and casual interactions may play out in highly polarized settings. In an experiment in India, I bring together Hindus and Muslims for five days of conversations on WhatsApp, a popular messaging platform, to investigate the extent to which chatting with a Muslim about randomly assigned discussion prompts affects Hindus’ perceptions of Muslims and approval for mainstream religious nationalist statements. I find that intergroup conversations greatly reduce prejudice against Muslims and approval for religious nationalist statements at least two to three weeks post-conversation. Intergroup conversations about non-political issues are especially effective at reducing prejudice, while conversations about politics substantially decrease support for religious nationalism. I further show how political conversations and non-political conversations affect attitudes through distinct mechanisms.
(with Tiago Ventura, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker)
Abstract. For years WhatsApp has been the primary social media application in many countries of the Global South. Numerous journalistic and scholarly accounts suggest that the platform has become a fertile ground for spreading misinformation and partisan content, with some going so far as to assert that WhatsApp could seriously impact electoral outcomes, episodes of violence, and vaccine hesitancy around the world. However, no studies so far have been able to show causal links between WhatsApp usage and these alleged changes in citizens’ attitudes and behaviors. To fill this gap, we conducted a field experiment that reduced users’ WhatsApp activity during weeks ahead of the most recent Brazilian Presidential election. Our field experiment randomly assigns users to a multimedia deactivation, in which participants turn off their automatic download of any multimedia - image, video, or audio - on WhatsApp and are incentivized not to access any multimedia content during the weeks leading up to the election on October 2, 2022. We find that the deactivation significantly reduced subjects’ exposure to false rumors that circulated widely during the weeks before the election. However, consistent with the minimal-effects tradition, the direct consequences of reducing exposure to misinformation on WhatsApp in the weeks before the election are limited and do not lead to significant changes in belief accuracy and political polarization. Our study expands the growing literature on the causal effects of reducing social media usage on political attitudes by focusing on the role of exposure to misinformation in the Global South.
Paper available here.
(with Nicholas Haas)
Abstract. Do ideology and partisanship matter in developing countries, or is extant scholarship correct to largely dismiss these factors in favor of an understanding of politics as fundamentally clientelist? We study ideology in an online sample (N=2,393) of citizens from across 10 states in India, the world's largest democracy. Applying ideal point estimation techniques commonly used in research on Western populations, we find firstly that Indian respondents can be placed along a single ideological dimension according to their views on Hindu nationalism, state intervention, and minority rights. In contrast, issues frequently used to capture ideological divides in Western countries perform poorly in the Indian context. Second, we observe that individuals' ideological placements correlate with their partisan affiliations and reported political behaviors. Third, we find in both correlational analyses and an embedded endorsement experiment evidence consistent with a one-party dominant system, wherein feelings toward the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party carry particular import. Our findings indicate that ideology is consequential for Indian politics and may differ in important ways from the West, and call for greater attention to the ideologies of those residing in developing country contexts.
Paper available upon request.
Poster version here.