british_journal of political science

11. Eric Merkley and Dominik A. Stecula. 2020. “Party Cues in the News: Democratic Elites, Republican Backlash, and the Dynamics of Climate Skepticism.” British Journal of Political Science. Online Access.

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Abstract: Supporters of the Republican Party have become much more skeptical of the science of climate change since the 1990s. We argue that backlash to out-group cues from Democratic elites played an important role in this process. We construct aggregate measures of climate skepticism from nearly 200 public opinion polls at the quarterly level from 2001 to 2014 and at the annual level from 1986 to 2014. We also build time series measures of possible contributors to climate skepticism using an automated media content analysis. Our analyses provide evidence that cues from party elites – especially from Democrats – are associated with aggregate dynamics in climate change skepticism including among supporters of the Republican Party. We then conduct a party cue survey experiment on a sample of 3,000 Americans through Amazon Mechanical Turk to provide more evidence of causality. Together, these results draw attention to the importance of out-group cue-taking and suggest we should see climate change skepticism through the lens of elite-led opinion formation.

CJP43_4-cover.qxp10. Eric Merkley, Aengus Bridgman, Peter John Loewen, Taylor Owen, Derek Ruths, and Oleg Zhilin. 2020. “A Rare Moment of Cross-Partisan Consensus: Elite and Public Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Political Science. Online Access.

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Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has placed nearly unprecedented pressure on policymakers and citizens alike. Effectively containing the pandemic requires a societal consensus. However, a long line of research in political science has told us that polarization tends to occur on highly salient topics because partisans “follow the leader.” We examine the degree of partisan consensus that exists in Canada at the level of political elites and the mass public. We analyze Member of Parliament (MP) Twitter behaviour and show a massive increase in attention to COVID-19 and find no evidence of any MPs from any party downplaying the pandemic. We find no association between Conservative Party vote share and Google search interest in the coronavirus, while survey data show that individual-level partisan differences are small and disappear when controlling for demographics and left-right ideology. Elite and public response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be characterized as a cross-partisan consensus.


9. Eric Merkley. 2020. “Are Experts (News)Worthy? Balance, Conflict, and Mass Media Coverage of Expert Consensus.” Political Communication. Online Access.

Winner: Paul A. Sabatier Award for best paper presented at APSA 2019 in science, technology, and environmental politics

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Abstract: Overlooked in analyses of why the public often rejects expert consensus is the role of the information environment. News coverage of expert consensus on general matters of policy is likely limited as a result of journalists’ emphasis in news production on novelty and drama at the expense of thematic context. News content is also biased towards balance and conflict, which may dilute the persuasiveness of expert consensus. This study presents an automated and manual analysis of over 280,000 news stories on ten issues where there are important elements of agreement among scientists or economists. The analyses show that news content typically emphasizes arguments aligned with positions of expert consensus, rather than providing balance, and only occasionally cites contrarian experts. More troubling is that expert messages containing information about important areas of agreement are infrequent in news content, and cues signaling the existence of consensus are rarer still.

Public Opinion Quarterly

8. Eric Merkley. 2020. “Anti-intellectualism, Populism, and Motivated Resistance to Expert Consensus.” Public Opinion Quarterly 84(1): 24-48.

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Abstract: Scholars have maintained that public attitudes often diverge from expert consensus due to ideology-driven motivated reasoning. However, this is not a sufficient explanation on less salient and politically-charged questions. I argue that more attention needs to be given to anti-intellectualism – the generalized mistrust of intellectuals and experts. I make three main contributions using the General Social Survey and a survey of 3,600 Americans on Amazon Mechanical Turk. First, I provide evidence of a strong association between anti-intellectualism and opposition to scientific positions on climate change, nuclear power, GMOs, and water fluoridation, particularly for respondents with higher levels of political interest. Second, I conduct a survey experiment to show that anti-intellectualism moderates the acceptance expert consensus cues such that respondents with high levels of anti-intellectualism actually increase their opposition to these positions in response. Third, I connect anti-intellectualism to populism – a worldview that sees political conflict as primarily between ordinary citizens and a privileged societal elite. I show that exposure to randomly assigned populist rhetoric – even that which does not pertain to experts directly – primes anti-intellectual predispositions among respondents in the processing of expert consensus cues. These findings suggest that rising anti-elite rhetoric may make anti-intellectual sentiment more salient in information processing.


7. Aengus Bridgman, Eric Merkley, Peter John Loewen, Taylor Owen, Derek Ruths, Lisa Teichmann, and Oleg Zhilin. 2020. “The Causes and Consequences of COVID-19 Misperceptions: Understanding the Role of News and Social Media.” Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review.

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Abstract: We investigate the relationship between media consumption, misinformation, and important attitudes and behaviours during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. We find that comparatively more misinformation circulates on social media platforms, while traditional news media tend to reinforce public health recommendations like social distancing. We find that exposure to social media is associated with misperceptions about COVID-19 while the inverse is true for news media. These misperceptions are in turn associated with lower compliance with social distancing measures. We thus draw a link from misinformation on social media to behaviours and attitudes that potentially magnify the scale and lethality of COVID-19.


6. Eric Merkley and Andrew Owen. 2020. “Back to the Future: Democratic Responsiveness and the Estimation of Future Public Opinion.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 32(2): 203-22.

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5. Eric Merkley. 2020. “Learning from Divided Parties? Legislator Dissent as a Cue for Opinion Formation.” Parliamentary Affairs 73(2): 342–62.

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4. Eric Merkley, Fred Cutler, Paul J. Quirk, and Benjamin Nyblade. 2019. “Having their Say: Authority, Voice, and Satisfaction with Democracy.” Journal of Politics 81(3): 848-61.

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3. Eric Merkley. 2019. “Partisan Bias in Economic News Content: New Evidence.” American Politics Research 47(6): 1303-23.

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2. Dominik Stecula and Eric Merkley. 2019. “Framing Climate Change: Economics, Ideology, and Uncertainty in American News Media Content from 1988 to 2014.” Frontiers in Communication.

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1. 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.

Published Article     Online Appendix     Pre-print Version