Sunday, November 29, 2020
Thursday, November 12, 2020
This year seems to be the year that I end up publishing encyclopedic entries. Two from the Wiley Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences were ones I had expected to be published in 2019. Regrettably, the untimely death of Bernie Carducci put the publishing process on hold for a while. The other entry is in the International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology. All chapters have been published online. Both encyclopedias should be available for sale by the end of the year.
From the Wiley Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences:
From the International Encyclopedia of Media Psychology:
The first two chapters are ones where I have either some direct research experience - a meta-analysis I was involved in during graduate school included Type A/B Behavioral Pattern among potential individual differences that might moderate the influence of provocation on aggression. There is reason for skepticism, as it turns out. I sometimes have discussed implicit motives and their assessment when I have had the opportunity to teach Personality or Tests and Measurement, although it has been a while since I have had the pleasure to teach either of those courses. The third chapter is one that allowed me to further clarify some thoughts on the evidence surrounding the weapons effect as a phenomenon, and I tried to find some means of being fair and balanced, while making sure that the skeptical side was given its due.
I still have some empirical data sets I need to work on. Regrettably, I have not had much opportunity to work on those this year, as other priorities, such as flipping classes online, took precedence. Hopefully will get back to some semblance of normality in the next year or two.
One of my favorite narratives as I follow any election is one of how the polls "got it right" or more often how the "polls got it wrong". My impression, from speaking with friends and family is that most people look at the top line numbers, but don't really bother to look at the margin or error in each poll, or any information about the sample. Even when folks rely on polling aggregators, such as FiveThirtyEight, I suspect that there is a tendency to look at the averages (what I usually refer to as means) without looking at the probability of any of a number of reasonable outcomes.
Nate Silver spends a good deal of time discussing what is okay and what is not okay with the polls at this moment in time. The short version is that the polls are generally a good marker of outcome in broad brushstrokes but are likely to be off if we went to be more specific. Nate Silver minces no words about the problems with non-response rates in current polling efforts (they're awful) and the challenges that pollsters will face in the future, assuming that the US population becomes more and more polarized. And yet, he's able to provide evidence that 2020 polling numbers were arguably no worse than 2016. State polling is worse than national polling, but that seems to be typical. The numbers, thus far, are about where we'd expect them, on average.
I tend to rely on polling aggregators much more than individual polls. Although I highly doubt that Silvers's FiveThirtyEight site is anywhere near perfect, it does a reasonable job. What I look at in particular are the range of probable outcomes based on the site's simulations, with regard to Presidential, Senatorial, and House outcomes. The challenge for readers is to understand that probabilities are just that - probabilities. A Presidential candidate who has a low probability for winning is not destined to lose. We saw how that worked out in 2016, and Silver was more than willing to alert his readers that Trump had a realistic probability of winning the Electoral College. This year, even with a lower probability of re-election, the polling data and simulations Silver's team ran were ones that urged caution against writing Trump off from winning a second term. The apparent electoral vote for Biden is well within the bounds of possibility, based on those simulations.
From what I recall of the simulations on Nate Silver's site, the Democratic and Republican parties performed within their expected margins. Outside the Presidency, the House was likely going to remain controlled by the Democratic Party. The only question was whether it would be a narrower or wider majority. There was no evidence I am aware of to suggest another 2018 style Blue Wave, given the strategy of focusing on suburban areas that had been, until recently held by Republicans. If anything, this year may have been something of a regression toward the mean. The most probable outcomes for the Senate were for the Democratic Party to hold between 48 and 55 seats. The latter would have required the Democratic Party to run the table in nominally competitive races in otherwise heavily red states. As it turns out, the worst case scenario is that the Democratic Party gains a seat, but still remains in the minority, with all that entails. We will know more once the Georgia run-off elections are held January 5th. Runoff elections, like special elections, tend to be low-turnout. So, whichever side manages to get their base motivated to go back to the polls is the one that wins. In Georgia, that has typically favored the Republicans. We are in unusual times, so nothing is a given, and polls indicate contests that are essentially dead heats.
At the end of the day, I'd probably tell my Democractic friends that they had an okay 2020. They won the White House back, held the House, and have something of a shot at breaking even in the Senate (though that is probably a long shot bet). I'd tell my Republican friends that they probably held the Senate, and were able to more than cut their losses in the House (although I'd warn them that some of their new House members may not help them nationally going forward). Those paying attention to the data analyses from this election are probably not particularly surprised.
I am not in the business of post-mortems and such from elections, nor do I intend to start now. I'll leave that to the political scientists. The polls and results were about as expected on average. My concern is more about accepting uncertainty when reading data and analyses from pollsters and from those who aggregate polls. I'm inevitably amazed at how well polls do given the non-response rate. I am impressed with the various factors aggregators weigh when assessing how to simulate what those polls are really telling us. As a consumer of this sort of data, I would only be concerned if the final results were outside the upper and lower bounds of what we would expect to see. That didn't happen in 2016, 2018, or 2020. For those hoping for something closer to the upper bounds, there is likely considerable disappointment. I'd counsel the opposite.
Monday, November 9, 2020
When I was an undergraduate student, I took my Social Psychology course through my university's Sociology Department. My professor at the time enjoyed introducing us to cognitive dissonance theory, and one of the field observations of a doomsday cult that Festinger and colleagues documented in their book, When Prophecy Fails. Although the methodology behind the observations that made up the core of that book are not above criticism, it remains a valuable document for understanding cults of any sort, including those of a more political nature.
Cognitive dissonance theory is itself fairly straightforward. One has a strongly-held belief. It may be challenged either by a belief-inconsistent behavior the individual performs (a common thread in a lot of lab experiments) or an inconsistent external event. That creates considerable psychological tension (think of anxiety, for example) and is resolved by either modifying one's beliefs or doubling down and continuing to believe. In the case of the doomsday cult that Festinger and colleagues followed, the world did not end, many of the members remained, believing that the power of their faith had spared the planet.
The author of a recent article in The Atlantic, McCay Coppins, uses the book and the theory as means of understanding at least a certain subset of the modern GOP that appears to have truly bought in to what has become known as Trumpism. He covers an event on election night that includes such Trump luminaries as Steve Bannon. The event itself was celebratory at first, but as the night wore one, it became apparent that the narrative of the polls being fake (rather than being merely imperfect, as they typically are), that a Trump landslide was forthcoming, etc., was not going to hold up. The mood of the attendees and of its host certainly changed (we could probably throw in some frustration-aggression theory in as well). But at minimum, this inconvenient truth that Biden was going to prevail in not only the popular vote (which means little in the US) but also in the electoral vote was enough to cause the proverbial house of cards to fall. In the moment, that was met by bitter denials by an event host. We've seen since increasingly shrill denials and actions held at various locations where those workers responsible for counting ballots, along with poll watchers, do their tedious work. So far, it appears that at least a subset of our population does not believe what the data are showing, and are bound and determined not to believe it. When dissonance hits, the defense mechanism of denial seems to be the impulse. We saw that most recently at a hastily convened press conference on the outskirts of Philadelphia, at a landscaping facility located near a crematorium and an adult bookstore. But we've also seen true believers show up in Las Vegas to invoke their deity at the Clark County Election Department, and regular armed protests at the Maricopa County Election Department in Arizona. In this particular psychological space, Trump is portrayed as the legitimate authority whose position is being "stolen" for....reasons.
The election will eventually be certified (after some remaining lawsuits and transitional roadblocks are dealt with), and a transition to a new administration will happen. That is reality, based on the votes counted, and based on what is known of the likely votes remaining. However, that reality will not be accepted by a significant subset of the US population. It may never be accepted. We don't know yet. But for now, the resolution to cognitive dissonance appears to be denial.
Sunday, November 8, 2020
Ron Riggio had a recent blog post on the matter of bridging the political divide. Hint: it's easier said than done, but not impossible. It's a post based on a recent interview that Riggio sat for, and does a good job of blending some basics of social psychology with industrial/organizational psychology. Worth reading.
Sunday, November 1, 2020
The honest answer is that I have no way of knowing for sure. However, I do think there are some fairly safe predictions, based in part on the data and briefing paper that V-Dem Institute published recently. As noted in that post, the policy positions of the Republican Party had shifted dramatically in an authoritarian direction over the course of this century, arguably accelerated by the Trump era. If the various polling models are correct, and Trump loses his re-election bid (which is highly probable, but not a foregone conclusion, as even the various models acknowledge), will the party begin a dramatic shift toward moderation?
That seems improbable. Keep in mind that the composition of the party's leadership in Congress is not going to change dramatically, save for perhaps losing a few more remaining members who were at least nominally moderate, and the addition of perhaps some new members who are tied to extremist movements and conspiracy theories (such as QAnon). The RNC itself is probably not going to change much either. So I don't expect the sort of post-election "autopsy" and self-reflection that occurred in the aftermath of 2012. The shadow of Trump will still loom large, as will his popularity among his base of followers, who will continue to follow his every tweet. Trump will not leave office quietly, and post-Presidential life will for a while leave him as a kingmaker. But even if Trump were to go silent, those in power and their voters are not ones reputed for moderation. I would expect a trend towards authoritarianism to continue, even if concerted efforts are made to remove any vestiges of the Trump name.
It would be interesting to use existing measures of authoritarianism and social dominance orientation developed by political psychologists and fellow travelers to assess the psychology of those in office and among the party's base. Absent that, I can only speculate. I don't expect any change, except perhaps to double down for the foreseeable future. I could be wrong, and would actually be relieved if that were the case.
You can read about it here. Much of what they have to say seems reasonable enough, especially advocating safeguarding evidence-based critical thinking.