Eric Merkley, Fred Cutler, Paul J. Quirk, and Benjamin Nyblade. “Having their Say: Authority, Voice, and Satisfaction with Democracy.” Journal of Politics (Forthcoming, 2019).
Abstract: As studies using macro-level evidence have shown, citizens are more satisfied with democracy when they feel that their instrumental preferences are represented in government, and this feeling is more likely in non-majoritarian institutional contexts. Scholars have given less attention to whether such institutions also increase satisfaction by providing more inclusive political discourse. Citizens may value having their voice represented in politics, regardless of the resulting authority. This paper presents the first micro-level evidence of this mechanism by having subjects experience a simulated election campaign that manipulates both the political discourse and the outcome independently. We find that subjects were less satisfied with democracy when their party lost the election; but this effect disappeared when the campaign discourse had featured thorough discussion of an issue they felt was important. The findings suggest that institutions and party systems that provide more diverse voices may soften the blow of losing elections.
Eric Merkley. 2019. “Learning from Divided Parties? Legislator Dissent as a Cue for Opinion Formation.” Parliamentary Affairs. Online Access
Abstract: Scholars have generally seen united parties as normatively desirable. However, little work has explored the implications of divided parties for public opinion. This article examines whether legislator dissent reduces public support for the policy positions of divided parties. Dissent can do this in two ways: by undermining the consistency of party cues sent to co-partisans of the divided party; or by providing a signal regarding the likely distance of the policy proposal from citizen preferences. These possibilities are evaluated here using a survey experiment. Respondents were exposed to mock news articles about a debate on a bill that manipulated the presence of dissent on government benches and its spatial location—either proximate to the opposition party or located on the government party’s ideological flank. Legislator dissent appears to reduce the support of government policy for opposition co-partisans, but only when it is centrist and for those with high levels of political knowledge. These results suggest legislator dissent can act as a cue, if a complex one, to help citizens form policy evaluations in line with their preferences.
Eric Merkley. 2018. “Partisan Bias in Economic News Content: New Evidence.” American Politics Research. Online Access.
Abstract: Claims that the mainstream media are biased in favor of the Democratic Party are commonplace. However, empirical research has yielded mixed results and neglected potential bias in the dynamics of media behavior and the exploration of observable implications of a biased media environment. This paper contributes to this literature by using time series analyses of the dynamics in media tone based on over 400,000 stories on inflation and unemployment from top-circulating American print media and the Associated Press newswire. The results suggest there is bias in favor of Democratic presidents. Media tone in unemployment and inflation coverage is more favorable during Democratic presidencies after controlling for economic performance. Tone is also generally more responsive to negative, short-term changes in economic conditions during Republican presidencies. In other words, bias is stronger with worsening economic conditions.
Eric Merkley and Dominik A. Stecula. 2018. “Party Elites or Manufactured Doubt? The Informational Context of Climate Change Polarization.” Science Communication 40(2): 258-74.
Abstract: Americans polarized on climate change despite decreasing uncertainty in climate science. Explanations focused on organized climate skeptics and ideologically driven motivated reasoning are likely insufficient. Instead, Americans may have formed their attitudes by using party elite cues. We analyze the content of over 8,000 print, broadcast, and cable news stories. We find that coverage became increasingly partisan as climate change rose in salience, but climate skeptics received scant attention. Democratic messages were more voluminous and consistently pro–climate science, while Republican messages have been scarcer and ambiguous until recently. This suggests Republican voters took cues from Democratic elites to reject climate science.