American Political Behavior

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    • 00:00

      [MUSIC PLAYING]

    • 00:10

      LILIANA MASON: Hi.I'm Liliana Mason.I'm an assistant professor in the Departmentof Government and Politics at the Universityof Maryland College Park.And today, I'll be talking about American political behavior.So this is essentially about two major questions.First, why do people vote?Which is what we call turnout.And the second question is, why people choose the person

    • 00:32

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: that they vote for?And this is what we call vote choiceand there are three major influenceson those two questions.The first is an institutional setof influences, which are things generallythat a person can't control.The economic context, or a set of laws or rules.The second is a set of social influences on our behavior.

    • 00:53

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: And these involve the types of peoplethat we spend time with and talk to.And the third set of influences is a psychological setof influences, which includes the ways that we think,our values, and also our emotions.So without understanding how Americans make politicaldecisions, we cannot really understand how our governmentfunctions.

    • 01:13

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: Democracy is meant to be a government of the people,so in order to understand democracy,we have to first understand how and why peopleengage politically.So the first set of influences that I'm going to discuss todayare the institutional influences.

    • 01:34

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: The first type of institutional influence is laws.These are very basic.These are things that everyone is subject to.One type of law is voting requirements, so thingslike ID requirements, those change whois capable of voting.If there's a voting requirement that you must show an IDand you don't have an ID, that'llmake it less likely for you to vote as a person.

    • 01:55

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: So turnout can be affected by thingslike voting requirements.Also registration requirements.If it's easy to register, that changes how many people voteand who votes.Generally, people who are registered, tend to vote.So if we make it easy for people to vote,then more people will vote.And third, the convenience of voting.

    • 02:16

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: So if there's early or absentee voting that's available,generally people who could not otherwise get to the pollswill get to the polls, and so it will increase turnoutif we have a more convenient type of laws and regulationsabout who can vote.The second type of institutional influence is context.So for instance, in presidential election years,

    • 02:39

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: generally turnout goes up.More people are interested in the election,there is much more news about it,so in a presidential election year,there's far more turnout, there are many more people voting,than in, for instance, a congressional election year,in which many fewer people tend to vote.The second type of context is an economic context.

    • 02:59

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: So what are the economic conditions in an election year?The national GDP or Gross Domestic Product,that can affect and often does effect people's vote choice.So not only whether they vote, but if the GDP is strong,generally the president's party is going to be more successfuland more people will vote for the president's

    • 03:19

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: party in a good economy.In a bad economy, people tend to vote for the party that'schallenging the president.For example, if you look at this image of GDPgrowth plotted against the percentageof people who are voting for the incumbent party, what you cansee is generally, the higher the GDP growth in the monthsright before the election, the higher the incumbent party's

    • 03:43

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: vote is.So in 1972, we see that we have the highest GDP growthin this entire chart, and we also had the highest percentagevote for the incumbent party.On the other end of the spectrum,in 1980, we saw an actual shrinkage of the GDP,and we saw at the lowest percentagevote for the incumbent party.

    • 04:03

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: So in general, we tend to see a very strong trend between howmuch the GDP of the United States has grown in the monthsbefore the election and the number of people who are votingfor the incumbent party.Third, presidential approval.Presidential approval ratings are very, very good predictorsof who will win the next election.

    • 04:23

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: If people tend to approve of the president,they're much more likely to vote for the president'sparty in the upcoming presidential election.For example, when a large percentage of the populationapprove of how the president is doing,generally the percentage of peoplevoting for the incumbent party goes up.In 1964, we can see that there was a very high approval

    • 04:44

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: of the president, and the percentageof people voting for the president's partywas extremely high.In comparison, in 2008, we saw a very, very lowpresidential approval, and a much smaller percentageof people voting for the incumbent party.So presidential approval is one very good predictorof how people are going to vote for the president.

    • 05:04

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: Something as simple as candidate characteristics.So do the candidates look attractive?How old are each of the candidates?Do they seem honest?Do they seem corrupt?Do they seem knowledgeable?Traits that we tend to assume about them.All of these things can affect our vote choice.If we look at a person and think that they look like someonewho could be president, generally we're

    • 05:25

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: much more likely to vote for them for president.Media is another type of contextual influenceon our vote choices and on our voting behavior.If the media gives an election a lot of attention,generally people tend to come out and vote a lot more.Also if people are watching a particularly partisan media,or what we call fragmented media, in which they only

    • 05:46

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: watch the type of media that supports their party,then that can determine who they vote for.They're far more likely to vote for their own partyif you're watching a media that's extremely partisan.Campaign activity is another contextual type of influencethat can affect vote turnout.In particular, if a campaign is doinga lot of get out the vote activity, includingadvertising, canvassing, knocking on doors, phone calls,

    • 06:10

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: all of these things are capable of getting peopleto the polls and increasing turnout.And finally, resources are another contextual influenceon people's ability to vote.So people who are older, people who have a higher education,and people who have higher incomeare much more likely to vote than thosewho do not have those what we call resources

    • 06:31

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: of age, education, and income.So essentially, institutional influences on behaviorare structural or contextual conditions thatcan change how people behave.They're experiences in the world that are happeningoutside of the individual.The next type of influence is social influences.

    • 06:52

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: The first one is partisanship.Now partisanship is complicated, because itcan be a social influence or a psychological influence,and I'll discuss it as both.But very first, partisanship is essentially a social influence.Whether you're a Democrat or Republicandetermines to a large extent who you are going to vote for.So your vote choice is largely determinedby your partisanship.

    • 07:14

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: In addition, whether or not you voteis largely determined by how strong of a partisan you are.So if you're very intensely identified with your party,you're far more likely to vote.So the social part of partisanshipis where does partisanship come from?And the first is your parents.So social as a political socialization,

    • 07:36

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: basically means how you were raised, how you grew up.If your parents are Democrats or Republicans,then you tend to be in the same party when you grow up.Also, your parents voting habits canaffect your levels of turnout.So if your parents tend to vote and you saw them doing thatand they made it clear that that was importantto you and to them, then you are much more

    • 07:57

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: likely to vote yourself.After you've left your parents' home,your social networks become very important.So the people that are around you, and the peoplethat you see or talk to every day.The partisanship of those people canaffect your own partisanship.If you spend time mostly with Democrats,then you tend to be a Democrat.If you spend time mostly with Republicans,you tend to be Republican.

    • 08:18

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: And similar to your parents, if your social networkshave voting habits where they vote a lot, then generally,you're much more likely to vote.So if your friends are wearing I Voted stickersor posting I Voted stickers on Facebook,you're much more likely to go vote yourself.And finally, there's social pressure to vote.If people think that their neighbors are

    • 08:40

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: going to know if they voted or not,they're much more likely to go vote.So everyone knows that socially, it'smuch more acceptable to vote, and peopletend to vote if they feel social pressure.The second type of social influenceare social identities.A social identity is essentially any group of peoplethat you feel like you belong to.This can be a racial identity, a religious identity, a class

    • 09:01

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: identity, really any type of identity,including what college you go to-- couldbe a social identity.And the stronger your identity is,the more you're going to defend your group.A party is also a social identity.If your group-- whether it's your party, your race,your religion, your college-- if your group is politically

    • 09:22

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: involved and people are talking about itin a political way during an election,the people in that group are much morelikely to engage in political activismand to turn out and vote.The norms of your group are goingto affect who you vote for and whether you want to vote.The norms of your group are the sortof unspoken rules and characteristics of your group.

    • 09:43

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: If people in your group tend to vote a lot,you're probably going to go vote if you feel stronglyidentified with the group.If people in your group tend to vote for one party,then you're probably going to vote for that party.If your social identities are notaligned with your partisanship, this is somethingthat we call cross-pressures.And essentially, cross-pressures areone or more social identities the conflict

    • 10:03

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: with your partisan identity.For example, young people usually vote for Democrats,and people who live in rural areastend to vote for Republicans.If someone is young and lives in a rural area,they are subject to cross-pressures.When someone is subject to cross-pressures,this can lead to a number of things that can reduce

    • 10:24

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: their likelihood of voting.These include split ticket voting,if they vote at all, which means that youvote for one party for one seat and another partyfor another seat.So for example, you vote for a Democrat for the president,but a Republican for senate.Another thing that cross pressures can lead tois a late decision on your vote choice.The people who are subject to cross-pressures

    • 10:46

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: tend to decide later in the election who they'regoing to vote for, because they're gettingpulled in different directions by their different socialgroups.Also people with cross-pressures tendto have a lower interest level in politics,because they don't feel like their groups are reallypointing them towards politics in any consistent way.People with cross-pressures often have low information,

    • 11:06

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: because they don't pay very much attention to politics.And they're often only weakly attached to their parties.All of which can really lead to a low turnoutand a low sense of attachment to electoral activity.So all of these social influences on behaviorare essentially relationships with othersthat affect our vote choice and or our turnout levels.

    • 11:35

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: The third influence on voter choice and turnoutis a set of psychological influences.Partisanship, again, is a psychological influencein addition to being a social influence.And this is because ever since 1960, it'sbeen referred to as a perceptual screen by a numberof political scientists.

    • 11:57

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: In the book The American Voter the authors wrote,"Identification with a party raises a perceptual screenthrough which the individual tendsto see what is favorable to his partisan orientation."And essentially what that means isthat people tend to see the world in a way thatmakes their party look good.So we have a psychological tendencyto see the world in a way that makes our party look either

    • 12:20

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: like the winning party or the right party,and tends to lead to higher levels of votingand more reliable voting for the party.Another influence on our voting is our issue positions.These are based in our values, our interests, our opinions.And when we vote based on simply our issue positions,this is called instrumental voting.

    • 12:41

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: We vote for the party that agrees with us the moston our issue positions.If we have a very strong convictionabout these attitudes and opinions,then that can affect our turnout.If we care very, very much about an issue,that can make us go out to vote.It can push us to go out to vote.This is still called instrumental voting.Another way of voting is called expressive voting,

    • 13:02

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: and that's when our issue positions are actuallyaffected by our partisanship.In which case, our party helps usto decide what our issue positions are,and when we go out and vote, we'regoing out more to support the partythan we are because of the conviction of our issueattitudes.Another psychological influence on votingis our actual feelings about politics.

    • 13:24

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: Our levels of turnout can be affectedby our interest in politics.If we're paying attention to politics,we tend to go out and vote more.Our sense of civic duty.If we feel like voting is an important part of citizenship,we're much more likely to go vote.A sense of efficacy.Which means if you think your vote matters,you're much more likely to go vote.

    • 13:44

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: And finally, our trust in our government.If we think our elected officials are being responsibleand doing their jobs the way they'resupposed to be doing them, we're far more likely to go voterather than to stay home.Also emotions can affect whether or not we vote and how we vote.Anger and enthusiasm are two motions that are generallycalled approach emotions.

    • 14:04

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: And what that means is they're emotionsthat cause us to do things.So if we're feeling particularly angry or enthusiasticin the course of a presidential or congressional election,we're far more likely to go vote based on those emotions.On the other hand, if we're feeling anxious,feelings of fear and anxiety are what'scalled avoidance emotions.

    • 14:25

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: And so if we're feeling anxious, wetend to step back, think a little bit more aboutwhether or not we're voting, think a little bit moreabout how we're going to vote, and then make our choice later.But anger enthusiasm push us towards floating and anxietytends to pull us back a little bit,And finally, even genetics can be an influence

    • 14:45

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: on whether and how we vote.Political scientists have done what'scalled twin studies, where they compare identical twins to nonidentical twins.And what they've found is that identical twins are much moresimilar to each other in who they vote forand how much they vote.So there is some genetic componentto whether or not people go vote and to who

    • 15:07

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: they choose to vote for.So in general, psychological influenceson our political behavior are justways of thinking and or feeling that affect our vote choiceand whether we go out and vote.So in summary, our vote choice and turnout

    • 15:29

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: can be affected by these three major influences.The first is an institutional setof influences, which are structural or contextualconditions that affect us as voters.The second is a social set of influencesthat basically means our relationships with othersand how they affect who we vote for and whether we vote.

    • 15:50

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: And the third is a psychological setof influences, which are ways of thinking and feelingthat can affect whether we vote and who we vote for.If you're interested in learning moreabout American political behavior, the place to startis to read The American Voter, a book writtenin 1960 about American political behavior.In 2008, a number of political scientists

    • 16:10

      LILIANA MASON [continued]: wrote a revised version of The American Voter,bringing it up to modern day.And a third book is Political Behaviorof the American Electorate, the most recent version of whichwas written in 2015, which gives a broad overviewof American political behavior in general.

American Political Behavior

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Abstract

Dr. Lilliana Mason examines three key influences on American political behavior: institutional, social, and psychological influences. She explains how membership in and level of attachment to a group can affect voter turnout and vote choice.

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American Political Behavior

Dr. Lilliana Mason examines three key influences on American political behavior: institutional, social, and psychological influences. She explains how membership in and level of attachment to a group can affect voter turnout and vote choice.

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