The Ballpark Extra Innings: Conspiracy theories and Donald Trump

By Blog Admin Donald Trump has brought conspiracy theories into the mainstream political debate. We spoke with political scientist Joe Uscinski, author of American Conspiracy Theories, about what impact this has had on American politics and elections. Further reading: How playing on conspiracy theories can be key to electoral success – Joe Uscinski – June 7, 2016 How exposure to conspiracy theories can reduce trust in government. – Katherine Levine Einstein and David M. Glick – November 13, 2015 Voters on the extreme left and right are far more likely to believe in conspiracy theories – Jan-Willem van Prooijen – 2 March, 2015 Beliefs in conspiracies tend to accord with political attitudes, making it unlikely that any one conspiracy theory will be embraced by the country. – Joe Uscinski – 17 September, 2013 There are lots of ways to catch-up with upcoming episodes of The Ballpark podcast: visit the website, the LSE’s audio channel, visit our SoundCloud page, subscribe on iTunes or iTunesU, or add this RSS feed to your podcast app. We’d love to hear what you think – you can send us a message on Twitter @LSE_Ballpark, or email us at [email protected]_ The Ballpark was produced with help from the LSE’S HEIF5 fund and the US Embassy in the UK. Our theme tune is by Ranger and the “Re-Arrangers”, a Seattle based gypsy jazz band. Note: This podcast gives the views of the interviews and co-hosts, and is not the position of USAPP – American Politics and Policy, the LSE US Centre, nor the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: Jon Jordan (Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0) Shortened URL for this post:

Targeting local newspapers can be an effective tactic for campaign field offices

By Blog Admin Despite the attention given to presidential candidates every statement and gaffe by the national media, elections can be won and lost by campaign’s field efforts. In new research, Joshua Darr looks at how presidential campaigns can push coverage of their candidates in local newspapers. He finds that the best way for a campaign to earn positive coverage in local news is by targeting smaller newspapers. Those campaigns which did saw four times more positive stories about their candidate compared to those areas where the campaign was not active. Positive local news coverage can assist campaigns with their election campaign goals of mobilizing supporters, persuading undecided voters, and sending out effective messages. Campaigns’ regional investments help them stage events and make connections with reporters, thus subsidizing the cost of covering the campaign. Journalists want to publish stories that are appealing to readers: unusual stories, stories about famous figures, or—crucially for local newspapers—stories taking place near readers’ homes. Readers trust their local newspaper more than other sources, and information received through trusted media sources is more likely to change opinions and mobilize participation. If campaigns can prompt local journalists to generate appealing stories, those messages will carry the extra trust and credibility that local coverage conveys. Unfortunately, the economics of news are trending in the opposite direction of the economics of campaign spending. Local newspapers across the country are losing readership, ad revenues, and reporters. Print advertising revenues have fallen by more than half since 2006, classified advertising has decreased by more than two-thirds, and readership has fallen by a fourth since 1990. The total number of reporters employed by local newspapers fell by 40 percent between 2007 and 2015. In their vulnerable state, newspapers are publishing less of the political coverage their readers want. Not all newspapers are equally disadvantaged, however. Stronger newspapers have the revenues to spend on reporters and in-depth stories resist attempts at influence, while weaker newspapers with fewer resources may find the cost of original reporting on campaigns prohibitive and find it tempting to publish the stories and messages that campaigns create. A successful earned political media strategy should stimulate the production of additional local coverage that portrays the campaign in a positive light. That coverage should also supply information on how citizens can get involved, should be framed more locally, and contain more quotes from local citizens. For the reasons described above, I expect these indicators of campaign influence—mobilizing information, frame localization, and quotes from local citizens—to be more prevalent in newspapers with fewer resources. In particular, campaigns should find it easier to push positive coverage of their candidate in smaller local newspapers. In recent research, I examine these dynamics in newspaper stories from the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections by comparing areas with and without a local Democratic presidential field office. Using large and small newspapers (defined as those with circulation above 80,000 and below 55,000, respectively) from areas of the state of Florida with similar partisanship, I classify campaign stories according Continue reading

The first presidential debate: USAPP expert reaction and commentary

By Blog Admin On Monday night, over 80 million watched the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. We asked some of USAPP’s regular contributors for their thoughts and analysis. Don’t forget the importance of the debate format: Newly Paul – Appalachian State University Coverage matters more than the debate itself: Dan Cassino – Fairleigh Dickinson University A bad night for Trump with more challenges ahead: Brian Klaas – LSE Government Don’t forget the importance of the debate format Newly Paul – Appalachian State University Presidential debates are important events in the election cycle because of the number of viewers they draw and the volume of media coverage they generate for days after the event. The first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump drew over 80 million viewers by some estimates, and ranked among the most watched debates in history. Research indicates that debates help undecided voters make up their minds, reinforce the vote choice of people who have already made their decision, and help narrow the knowledge gap for low information voters. Studies, however, show that debates do not have measurable persuasive effects in terms of influencing people to change their minds. The media coverage of debates, on the other hand, often impacts voters’ perception of candidates and shapes their understanding of the event. The media, however, are often criticized for providing “game frame” coverage that focuses on the winners and losers of the debate, campaign strategies and tactics, and the performance of the candidates. In the process, policy details such as candidates’ stances on issues get omitted, leading to widespread cynicism and negativity among the public. Studies indicate that debate formats impact the tone and type of questions that are asked of candidates. In Town Hall formats, undecided members of the public are allowed to pose questions of candidates, and these events are more likely to feature questions focused on issues such as jobs, healthcare and economy that immediately impact the public. Single-moderator events on the other hand, feature questions that are designed to incite conflict and are largely unreflective of the public agenda. The difference in substance and tone is largely produced by various economic and newsroom factors that cause media outlets to cater their programing to fit the tastes of a wide variety of audiences. In recent elections, the discussion on the role of the press as fact checker in debates has also assumed importance. At the crux of this debate is the question whether moderators should act as neutral bystanders and simply ask questions, or whether they should fact check candidates’ statements. The moderator for the first presidential debate, NBC’s Lester Holt, drew both praise and criticism for being largely invisible, and letting the candidates spar with each other. He occasionally fact checked Trump’s claims (for example, he rebutted the claim that Trump did not support the Iraq War in 2003, and reiterated Clinton’s point that New York’s stop and frisk policy had been ruled unconstitutional on grounds of racism), and made Continue reading

Finding the funny in presidential elections is an American political tradition

By Blog Admin We can hope that the 2016 presidential campaign will be remembered as the most bizarre (and frightening) in history and that the record will not be broken in the future. As Election Day approaches, we all deserve an occasional countervailing force: a reminder that what we are witnessing can be funny as well as terribly disturbing. Fortunately, Ron Pruessen reminds us, Americans have always appreciated the way politics can prompt thoughts of the comic and absurd. Obama has been bantering with Mel Brooks at a White House arts awards dinner and Hillary Clinton recently sat “Between Two Ferns” to spar with Zach Galifianakis. Is there a hunger for at least a bit of comic relief in the final weeks of an often scarifying presidential election campaign? (It does seem appropriate in 2016 that Election Day comes so close to Halloween.) Maybe we all need some laughs to counterpoint the heebie-jeebies (or screams) in the air. Remembering that the world could be funny and/or ridiculous was important even to Shakespeare, after all: witness the gravedigger’s gloom-trimming task in Hamlet or Falstaff’s slapstick counter-punching against all the Plantagenet pillage in the double-barreled Henry IV. American elections – and American politics all around – have always revealed chiaroscuro patterns of dark and light, despair and silliness. Always. Insult comedy was on hand from the start, for instance. Benjamin Franklin could snipe at John Adams when they were sharing negotiating responsibilities for the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolution: “He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses.” Adams could give as good as he got about his fellow ambassador: “If this gentleman and the marble Mercury in the garden of Versailles were in nomination for an embassy, I would not hesitate to give my vote for the statue, upon the principle that it would do no harm.” Abraham Lincoln kept that the tradition very much alive in the 19th century. During the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, he said his opponent’s arguments were “as thin as a homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.” (Lincoln had a wonderful way of laughing at himself too: when Douglas called him two-faced in one of their encounters, the response was “if I had two faces would I be wearing this one?”). Theodore Roosevelt helped bring wit into the 20th century. “When they call the roll in the Senate,” he once said, “the senators do not know whether to answer ‘present’ or ‘not guilty.’” And now Barack Obama has given it 21st century cred, with a stand-up comic’s timing and deadpan delivery that effectively counterpoints (as Lincoln did) the times he has to be mourner-in-chief. A recent example: his toying with Donald Trump’s absence from the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, when the president mockingly asked “You’ve got a room full of reporters, celebrities, cameras, and he says no. Continue reading

The first debate: no knockout blows means that both campaigns still have their work cut out.

By Blog Admin Last night’s first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was widely anticipated as one of the most important set pieces of the campaign so far. US Centre Director, Peter Trubowitz gives his takeaways from the debate, writing that while neither candidate landed any heavy blows, Clinton won on points by controlling the tone of the debate and by putting Trump on the defensive. Both candidates’ performances will likely reinforce support from their bases, but may have done little to convince undecided voters and those on either side who remain sceptical of their party’s candidate. What’s the big takeaway from last night? Did anyone score a knockout? If this was a prize fight, then Clinton won on points. No knockout blow, but she was strong and on the offensive from the start, calling Trump out on his refusal to release his taxes, his lies about Obama’s birthplace, and his doubts about America’s allies. He was left largely playing defense, reacting to her rather than the other way around. He likely scored points playing the anti-Washington card, which he did repeatedly during the debate, reminding voters that Clinton has been a Washington political figure for decades. Still, she controlled the tempo and tone. Trump was weakest and Clinton was strongest in the national security segment — no surprise there. How will the debate impact the campaign going forward? Did Clinton help herself? How about Trump? I will be surprised if this really moves the needle in the polls. Clinton’s supporters will rightly take comfort from her performance; she was good, fully in command of her brief and displaying at moments a lighter side. Trump’s supporters might think he was too defensive, but I don’t think they will see reason to abandon him. The big question is how undecided voters reacted and especially, those nominally Republican and Democratic voters who have misgivings about their party’s nominee. Did college educated white voters who normally vote Republican but are skittish about Trump find enough reassurance in his performance? Did young millennial voters who backed Bernie Sanders see enough last night to convince them that Clinton is the only choice? My suspicion is that both campaigns still have their work cut out for them. What do you think were some of the biggest moments? I think the media will focus on the exchanges over Trump’s taxes, his position on Iraq (that he really supported the war before he was against it), and his attacks on Obama’s birthplace. In Clinton’s case, the media is likely to replay her apology for using a private server for her email while Secretary of State. However, I thought the most telling and arguably most important moment came towards the very end when Lester Holt, the moderator, pressed Trump in front of 100-plus million viewers whether he would support Hillary Clinton if she were elected president. He responded by saying he would ‘absolutely support’ her if she won. Given all of Trump’s talk about how the election Continue reading

Why disadvantaged neighborhoods are more attractive targets for burgling than wealthy ones.

By Blog Admin Despite concerns about crime among the wealthy and middle-class, crime is much more prevalent in poor inner-city neighborhoods than in better off suburbs. In new research, Alyssa W. Chamberlain and Lyndsay N. Boggess explore why wealthier neighborhoods have lower burglary rates – after all, they are more likely to possess more valuable goods. They find that burglars from poorer areas are more likely to target neighborhoods more disadvantaged than their own. They write that not only are wealthier neighborhoods more likely to be further away, increasing the risks for potential burglars; they are also likely to be more socially connected. More disadvantaged neighborhoods, on the other hand, are more likely to be less socially cohesive, making it easier for burglars to remain anonymous. It’s a fact that crime in the United States is concentrated in impoverished urban areas. Although one often immediately thinks of the high rates of violence in most inner cities, property crimes like burglary and theft are also more prevalent in poor inner-city neighborhoods than their suburban counterparts. One reason may be that residents of disadvantaged neighborhoods engage in property crime to obtain material goods that they are unable to afford or otherwise attain through legal means. This suggests that the acquisition of valuable goods is a primary motivator of burglary, and that would-be offenders should be more likely to target wealthy neighborhoods, where the supply of valuable goods is greater. Why, then, don’t wealthier neighborhoods have higher rates of burglary? Burglars are calculating and risk averse. As such, the possibility of more lucrative targets in affluent neighborhoods may be offset by the relative risk associated with their acquisition. Indeed, there are a number of factors that discourage offending in well-off neighborhoods. First, economic segregation means that affluent neighborhoods may be further away. Since traveling to different areas entails greater risks and increased effort, most potential offenders commit crimes close to home to minimize both. Additionally, this relies on the offender knowing about more valuable targets in affluent neighborhoods. However, potential burglars are most aware of opportunities in the nearby and similarly disadvantaged areas (where most burglars reside) because that’s where their daily life occurs rather than the physically distant wealthier neighborhoods. Second, residents in well-off neighborhoods tend to be more socially connected, which facilitates the ability to collectively address problems such as crime or be on the lookout for someone who does not belong. Indeed, robbers have admitted that they avoid targeting areas where watchful residents might intervene. In contrast, the poverty, racial and ethnic diversity, and residential instability that typify disadvantaged neighborhoods reduce social cohesion and weaken residents’ ability to prevent criminal offending. Third, burglars may be more likely to select a neighborhood based on its racial/ethnic composition to further minimize the risk of detection. Most affluent neighborhoods tend to be relatively homogenous and largely white, while the disadvantaged neighborhoods where most offenders reside are largely comprised of racial/ethnic minorities. Offenders may be less willing to burgle in racially different neighborhoods because Continue reading

Fears that outside groups are hijacking election campaign agendas are unfounded.

By Blog Admin Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling on Citizens United v. FEC, the spending and influence of outside interests in US elections has ballooned. But which groups are spending on what, and does this spending actually change the issues focused on in campaigns? In new research, Michael Franz, Erika Franklin Fowler, and Travis Ridout examined televised political advertising from 2008, 2010 and 2012. They find that outside group sponsorship has moved towards multi-issue non-membership groups, and that these groups match some of their issue discussions to those of their preferred candidates at rates similar to party-sponsored advertising. They also find that these groups show little “issue leadership”, and do not generally move candidates to focus on certain issues. By all accounts, American elections have undergone some dramatic structural changes in the last few years. Most prominently, in the aftermath of the historic Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling in 2010, Super PACs and other interest groups (like some non-profits) have become increasingly active in American campaigns. Their increased investment is a source of deep anxiety for many Americans. Among numerous concerns, many fear that outside groups will hijack American elections by controlling the issue agendas of campaigns, taking that power away from candidates. Such agenda-setting powers may harm citizens’ ability to hold candidates accountable along with candidates’ ability to understand what voters want. In short, communication between candidates and voters could be muted amidst the din of outside group campaign ads. These are serious concerns, and yet they remain largely hypothetical; empirically we know very little about what outside groups are saying in their political ads, beyond attacking candidates they don’t like. We begin by noting that outside group influence on American elections come in many different shades and varieties. The common focus is on the Super PAC, a type of organization sanctioned in the legacy of Citizens United that allows donors to raise and spend unlimited resources in support of or in opposition to federal candidates. But outside groups are not monolithic. We examine two key characteristics: a group’s issue focus (is it broad or narrow?) and their formal membership base (does it have one or not?). Putting these two characteristics together, we arrive at four different types of groups: the single-issue membership groups (e.g., the Sierra Club and National Rifle Association), single-issue non-membership groups (e.g., America’s Agenda Healthcare for Kids and Mainers for Employee Freedom), multi-issue membership groups (e.g., and the Chamber of Commerce), and multi-issue non-member groups (e.g., Let Freedom Ring and American Future Fund). These last groups are the ones most likely to be Super PACs and non-profits, broad in focus but without formal members (who pay dues and/or help shape group interests). We use television political ad data from the Wisconsin Advertising Project in 2008 and the Wesleyan Media Project in 2010 and 2012 to track advertising by these groups. We focus our analysis on races for the US Senate. We are interested in three types of analyses. First, how is Continue reading

What to look for in tonight’s presidential debate

By Blog Admin Tonight sees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet for the first presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York. US Centre Director Peter Trubowitz comments on what to look for tonight, writing that while much of it will be theatre, what the candidates say and how they comport themselves will matter to voters. What are you looking for in tonight’s debate? I’ll be looking for two things: first, the extent to which Donald Trump tries to reassure white college educated voters that he has what it takes to be president and second, how much Hillary Clinton tailors her responses to the concerns of younger voters. These are the voters that Trump and Clinton need, respectively, to win on November 8, and right now, that support is soft. While Trump is polling strongly among non-college educated whites, when it comes to college educated whites he’s lagging behind where Mitt Romney was four years ago. It’s hard to see how he wins if he doesn’t increase his share of this vote. Meanwhile, Clinton has yet to fully connect with younger voters and especially, those who cast their votes for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. She needs these millennial voters to win the presidency. In short, the first job for both Clinton and Trump is to shore up their political base. Tonight’s debate can help up to a point. How much impact do you think the debate will have on the race? Historically, presidential debates do not move the needle very much, but in a tight race like this one is shaping up to be, it could make all the difference. For both candidates the key is connecting to those voters who are nominally Democratic or Republican, but are not yet fully behind their party’s nominee. In Clinton’s case, again, that means younger Democratic voters who are looking for a positive, affirming reason to vote for her. For Trump, it is college educated Republicans who are not yet convinced that he is made of presidential timber. These are the voters that right now fall into the ‘undecided’ category. These are the ones who are in play tonight. Bottom line: what Clinton and Trump say and how they comport themselves tonight matters, if only at the margins. Do you think the debate will be more about substance or style? Usually, these things are as much theatre as they are substantive and I don’t see any reason to think tonight’s debate will be different. Indeed, with Donald Trump on the platform, there is likely to be a lot of theatrics. That said, I won’t be surprised if Lester Holt, tonight’s moderator, presses the candidates on questions around jobs, gender, and race, especially in light of the recent police shootings in Charlotte, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma. And this is precisely the kind of substantive issue that will draw out the differences between Clinton and Trump: Clinton focusing on problems of bias and exclusion, Trump stressing the need for law and order. Continue reading

Book Review Forum: Exporting Freedom, Religious Liberty and American Power by Anna Su

By Blog Admin In Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power, Anna Su contends that the US has promoted religious liberty alongside the expansion of its military and political power across the world. In this Book Review Forum, we present two reviews of Su’s new book, which were submitted separately and written independently. Exporting Freedom, Religious Liberty and American Power by Anna Su. Harvard University Press, 2016. Exporting Christianity: Why “Religious Liberty” Cannot Be Neutral Toward Religion – Gene Zubovich, Washington University in St. Louis How American power has also pushed American ideas about religious liberty – Megan Pearson, University of Southampton Exporting Christianity: Why “Religious Liberty” Cannot Be Neutral Toward Religion Gene Zubovich is impressed by the book’s range of case studies which span more than a century of US nation-building. While he praises the book’s depth, he also argues that greater attention to how the understanding of the idea of religious liberty has changed, especially in recent decades, would have enhanced its narrative. The promotion of religious liberty is intertwined with the expansion of American military and political power abroad. This is Anna Su’s central contention in her brief and convincing account of the uses and abuses of religious liberty by politicians and military leaders in the United States. Her book, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power, focuses on the legal understanding of “religious liberty” as the United States conquered and rebuilt nations (in the Philippines, Japan, and Iraq) and helped develop international legal frameworks (the League of Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Helsinki Accords). Through an impressive range of case studies from the late 19th to the early 21st centuries, Su shows that state actors imposed a distinctly American view of religious liberty on a complicated global religious landscape. Part of the difficulty the United States faced was in applying blunt concepts—free exercise and, especially, disestablishment—to a varied religious landscape. Before government officials could apply religious liberty abroad, they first had to render legible a variety of practices that stubbornly refused to comply with American expectations. For example, in the Moro region of the Philippines, folk Muslim practices combined ecclesiastical and political functions. American colonial officials transformed the Moro sultan into a religious leader and divested him of his secular authority. The Japanese emperor, who also embodied both religion and politics, became a secular political leader under the guiding hand of General Douglass MacArthur during the American occupation after World War II. The practice of Shinto was considered a non-religious practice under Japanese law, akin to a civil religion. So American occupation forces had to first understand it as a religion before it could be disestablished. Similarly, Soviet Jewry needed to be imagined as a religious group before religious liberty could be extended to it (Jews were understood to be a nationality in the USSR). In these ways, the United States remade the world in its own image. Exporting Freedom is an important, thoroughly-researched addition to the growing criticism of religious liberty. The Continue reading

Working from home: the idea that workers who aren’t visible are slacking off is outdated

By Blog Admin We need to embrace new ways of managing and relating in the digital workplace, writes Ella Hafermalz. Long commutes are a bleak fact of working life – but do they have to be? The laptop in your bag and phone in your pocket are sufficient for most kinds of office work. Even so, we insist on carting our devices with us, through rain and traffic, just to sit at a desk that’s nearly identical to the kitchen table at home. In my doctoral research I’ve spoken to people who have given up on this illogical daily routine. They work remotely from their homes for their organisations. Rather than wake up early to catch a bus or train, these remote workers use everyday technologies to do their work and stay connected with managers, clients, and colleagues. But surely these workers aren’t really “working” – don’t they just sit in their pyjamas watching Netflix? Remote workers are very aware of this negative image. They worry about being perceived as lazy, and they often work hard to be taken seriously. Despite these efforts, remote workers can still feel misunderstood and on the “outer” of organisational life. I’ve found that in order for remote working to “work”, we need to learn how to stay connected using technology. For this to happen, we need to break free of old habits and embrace new ways of managing and relating in the digital workplace. First, it’s necessary to adjust the assumption that workers who aren’t visible are slacking off. This negative perception is outdated. Do you know what the person two desks down from you is doing on their laptop? Could you hide that you’re reading this article? Some organisations realise this and react by spying on their workers. Software is installed that monitors remote workers electronically. Programs take screen shots of the workers’ computer. Key strokes can be measured to keep track of productivity. This is dangerous territory for two reasons. Firstly, you are ultimately communicating a lack of trust. Secondly, remote workers who are fearful of being monitored in this way can withdraw from the very technology that they need to stay connected. A remote worker who is reluctant to use technology because they fear being monitored is likely to feel isolated, and that’s a problem for everyone. A lack of connection to others in the organisation can negatively affect both the employee’s wellbeing and their productivity. Communication is after all an important aspect of knowledge work. In my research I found that instant messaging systems can create spaces for employees to build social connections that help them to both cope with difficult work problems and to learn new strategies that help them work more effectively. But workers need to feel comfortable taking the time to express themselves online for this to work. Pexels, under a CC0 licence So what can managers do to keep remote workers productive and happy? Managers play an important role in engaging and developing employees who aren’t Continue reading