VPNs aren’t going to save you

security

 

Well now that the Trump administration has sold you out (surprised?) here’s some things you should know and do:

 

A VPN is crucial, but it’s not going to fully protect you.

A VPN is a network that you connect to before communicating with the wider internet. Your communication with the VPN is encrypted, meaning that no one can see what you are sending to and from the VPN.  The VPN still needs to connect to the wider internet though, so it does and returns the requests (encrypted) to you.  If the VPN does not keep records of your account access or IP address (and this is one of the main things you want to look for), then there is no way to link your web searches with your computer.  This is good, and will go a long way to protect against some of the potential damage that S.J. Res. 34 will cause.

However, this doesn’t do anything if you are logged into services like Google, Facebook, etc.  While your searches and online activity are now protected from outside snooping (and this is important), the companies you use to navigate the internet are still collecting your data and can sell it. And they do.  For a recent example, see the US election.

Instead of Google, why not try DuckDuckGo – a great search engine that doesn’t track your searches – it also acts as an in between with Google, allowing you to use Google without them tracking you.

You really need to encrypt your e-mails

You know that all the stuff you type into gmail is stored, analyzed, and now can be easily sold, right?  Even if you don’t save the e-mail, it’s saved as a draft and it can be analyzed.  And you don’t even have to try hard to gain simple insights over a large enough dataset – I wrote a while ago about metadata and freedom, and about why you really should be encrypting everything you send out.

Sending an e-mail across the internet is the equivalent of shouting it out in a football stadium.  Sure, it’s loud and there are so many other conversations happening that it seems unlikely that yours will be listened to, but it’s not impossible – and the reality is that security services no longer listen to your conversation, they record all of them, and then go back later and search if they feel the need to.

If you’re going to yell in a crowded room, better to yell gibberish.  Here is an excellent simple tutorial to get started.

Please feel free to send me an encrypted test e-mail.

You should probably be wary of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger

Both of these programs offer end-to-end encryption, but it is not in the parent company’s interests to keep this data private.  In short, while I trust that this information is encrypted when it is sent across the internet, I do not trust that Facebook (who owns WhatsApp) is not keeping records of the encryption keys – it simply is not in their self-interest to do so.

Instead, I highly recommend the Signal app – they developed the tech that Facebook uses, and they have no interest in gaining access to you communications.

Use a fucking password manager

If all of your passwords across all of your accounts are the same, then you are screwed the moment one gets compromised. Instead, have different passwords for everything. “But this is too hard,” is no excuse – use a password manager that will remember the passwords for you. I use 1password and it is brilliant. There are many others.  Don’t be lazy.

Create multiple fake accounts for the services you use

In addition to different passwords, you want to have different accounts as well.  Why? Well it’s all about the meta-data.  If you use “steve@holt.com” as your login for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, Reddit, and YouTube, then if someone buys data from all of these places, they can link it all together.  In relational database terms, this would be the primary key – if we match on the primary key across datasets, we get a whole lot of information.

Even worse is if you have the same password across all of these accounts, but you don’t because you use a password manager now, right?

One thing you can do for those services that require an e-mail confirmation, but that you don’t want to be linked to you, is to use a temporary e-mail account – try 10minutemail.com – it will generate an e-mail address that will disappear after 10 minutes.  Long enough to confirm your account and get started, with no trail. There are other anonymous e-mail address services as well, do a quick search to find them

If you are truly committed or doing sensitive work, you can set up an unlinked Gmail account. This requires you to pay cash for a SIM card that is used to confirm your Gmail account, and then it requires vigilance to keep this e-mail separate from other aspects of your life.  A lot more work, but could be worth the peace of mind.

Encrypt sensitive material before it syncs to Dropbox

If you use Dropbox or any other cloud service, then your data is already in someone else’s hands.  I recommend setting up a service that encrypts data before you send it to Dropbox, like Boxcryptor, at least for your most sensitive data.

Use TOR and Tails

Most people don’t need to do this, but if you are researching militias or North Korea – if you find that you are someone who often feels the need to smuggle data out of countries, then it’s worth it to look closely at The Onion Router and Tails – both which will help to keep you completely anonymous.

Other things

Just a reminder of other simple protections you can take.  Don’t use fingerprint IDs on your phones. Cover your computer camera with a sticker when not in use. Set up a strong password on your computer and phone. Use https everywhere. Browse in private mode. Wear tinfoil on your head. You know, the basics.

This stuff takes a little bit of work

But not much.  We are so used to everything being so goddamned simple, and this is how we got into this mess.  Don’t be lazy.  Click “connect to VPN,” spend three-seconds to encrypt your e-mail, don’t give apps access to all of your personal information, be aware of what you are doing, and spend some time learning about how to protect yourself.  It’s not that complicated, and at the end of the day, not only do you protect your own data from snooping, but you also create a larger mass of people using encryption – and that protects others who are using it from being targeted due to their behaviours.

At the end of the day, VPNs, proxies, and other tools aren’t the answer. The answer is for citizens to be hyper-vigilant about their privacy, for people to get acquainted with the threats and the abilities governments, companies, and hackers have, and for individuals to stand up to short-sighted profit-driven decisions made by regulatory bodies.

 

Another angle on Trump’s nepotism

Trump has populated his administration with family, and while they stand to gain handsomely from this, and I’m certain that he has every desire to aid his own people, there’s something else that I’ve been mulling over in my head:

It’s not just that Trump wants to help his family, it’s that he doesn’t really have any other options.

A conspiracy enthusiast without connections to the political establishment, and without their respect, Trump may have wanted to appoint Ivanka and Kushner to powerful positions, but my guess is that he really had no one else to turn to.

Once he ran through the handful of people in his periphery that he thought he could trust (or who he trusted had similar interests), he had little choice but to either put people in place who he was unsure about, or give his family jobs – people who are literally obligated to be on his side.  He opted for the latter.

This strikes me as profoundly sad.  On top of any other faults and failures as a human being, the man is also extremely lonely and fearful of others.  I guess we already knew the ‘fearful of others’ part based on his proposed polices, but for some reason I never connected the dots from his behaviour to what is likely a deep existential loneliness and sadness. It’s the kind of sadness built on alienating others, and burning bridges for personal gain, and pillaging – so I do not pity the man – but it puts all of his late-night angry tweets into a different frame.

This man is not simply enabling the kind of cultural system that creates alienated, violent, and misogynistic white men.  He is its ultimate manifestation.

Is Drake doing alright?

With all the crazy shit that’s going on in the world, it’s no surprise that I often wake up in the middle of the night worried. Like any normal person, I’ll sometimes rise at 3am, sit up in bed, feel momentarily burdened by the silence of the slumbering city, and then whisper a question to an unseen force in the darkness: “…Do you think Drake is okay?” I mean, when was the last time he called?

Ever since I left the city…And now with a new album/mixtape/play list out, well, we might be able to get another little glimpse into his sad, sad, overstuffed box of feelings that he carries around with him like an empty gold cup. With a bit of R and Lexicoder and some web scraping of azlyrics.com, maybe we can start wrestling with some important questions.

Questions like: Seriously Drake, how you doin’? Are you okay?

I mean, it’s completely reasonable to think that maybe the weight of the world is getting Drake down – and if so, we should probably be able to see that in his lyrics. Are they getting sadder?  Are his albums getting sadder over time, or what? WHAT’S GOING ON DRIZZY?

Drake’s Saddest Songs

One thing that is for sure, if Drake’s got enemies – I mean got a lot of enemies – they’re not draining him of any energy. I collected 275 songs from azlyrics.com, 191 of them were on albums and got included in the analysis here. So Drake is working hard, putting out a lot of music each year.  But  which one of Drake’s songs is the saddest? Well, using the Lexicoder Sentiment Dictionary, it would appear that that most negative song is: “Digital Dash” from What a Time To Be Alive.

With a sentiment score of -46.0, it is a clear outlier (the average sentiment score for all Drake songs is 4.9, and the average score for this album is -2.2). It’s not clear if this is the saddest song in Drake’s album catalogue (the dictionary captures negativity, not sadness), but it’s definitely one of the darkest.

A quick note on methods, all we are doing here is running a dictionary of negative and positive sentiment scores against a cleaned up dataset of Drake’s lyrics. The overall sentiment score is just the difference between negative and positive word counts. We can then plot those over time, by album, or look at other measures if we’d like.

Fortunately, it looks like Drake’s been getting happier as his career has gone on (sentiment trend overlaid below). I would love to plot these scores against his album sales … so maybe that’s a next step.

As Drake has a tendancy do things real big, bigger than you ever done it, it’s no surprise that each album has a few outliers – both negative and positive.  When we drop the outliers , it looks like the saddest/darkest songs in Drake’s catalog are “Own It” off “Nothing Was The Same”, and “Say What’s Real” off of “So Far Gone”, both with a sentiment score of -19.0.

Drake’s Saddest Albums

This doesn’t quite tell us the full story though. When we look at overall sentiment per album, we can see that Drake … well… it seems like Drizzy wasn’t in a very good place for a few years….

 

But by the time Views was released, he seemed to have gotten things under control. Actually, let me rephrase, he was on top of the fucking world: Views was extremely positive. Like off the charts positive. Perhaps Drake was too strung out on compliments, and he overdosed on confidence, because More Life, the follow up, is much more subdued – back to the sentiment levels of Take Care.

So what does this mean? Are we about to enter another Drake slump? Will his next album be another dark pit of depression, introspection, and sadness, or is this just a momentary blip?

If we look at the number of positive and negative songs per album, it looks like the overwhelming number of songs on the last album are still positive (though these haven’t been weighted yet, this could just lots of short interludes with positive counts). So even if the overall tone of the album may be more negative, this may just be concentrated in a few really negative songs.

 

Album Negative Songs Positive Songs Diff
2006 – Room for Improvement 3 11 8
2007 – Comeback Season 5 15 10
2009 – So Far Gone 4 12 8
2010 – Thank Me Later 0 11 11
2010 – Young Sweet Jones 1 10 9
2011 – Take Care 10 10 0
2013 – Nothing was the Same 6 8 2
2015 – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late 9 9 0
2015 – What A Time To Be Alive 4 5 1
2016 – Views 0 12 12
2017 – More Life 6 14 8

Conclusions

Of course this is a first cut, if this had serious implications, I would spend a lot more time cleaning the data and maybe working on a Drake-specific sentiment dictionary. You’ll also note that I haven’t actually looked at the lyrics at all to see if this can be confirmed, but I suspect that it would. It’d be great to have someone who really knows his catalog to help sort through this. But from my knowledge of Drake’s catalog, this seems pretty accurate.

Tentative conclusion: Drake’s probably doing just fine, but this could be the beginning of another exploration of the darker sides of his feelings. Not particularly surprising for someone who started at the bottom, but really, I think I like who he’s becoming.

Postscript

On a whim, I just checked to see what the most common words were in the dataset. What was the most common word that Drake says in his music?

That word was I

That word is “I”


I’m on twitter @markdaku

Brian Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter (2007), Chapter 2.

Main Argument:

Caplan argues against economist’s theoretical aversion to systematic bias. He states that systematic mistakes do exist and summaries in what types of situations, researches should be aware of systematic error in their surveys.

 

Method: Theory.

 

 

== Notes ==

 

Chapter 2:

 

Economists/political science research has been able to simulate what policy positions would look like if people were fully informed and expressed their preferences with full information:

 

Previous Findings about the error between enlightened and actual preferences: (Althaus)

  1. Fully informed positions on foreign policy are more interventionist but also more dovish
  2. Fully informed positions are more pro-choice, supportive of gay rights, etc…
  3. Fully informed positions are more fiscally conservative

 

Four Types of Bias:

 

– Anti-market Bias: a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of the market mechanism

– Anti-foreign Bias: a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of interaction with foreigners

– Make-work Bias: a tendency to underestimate the economic benefits of conserving labour

– Pessimistic Bias: a tendency to overestimate the severity of economic problems and underestimate the recent past, present and future performance of the economy

 

Michael Lewis-Beck, Economics and Elections: The major western democracies. (1988).

Main Argument:

Lewis-Beck argues that Western European voters are influenced by economic conditions, as in the United States, and they fit their assessments into a larger overall view of the fate of the collectivity [66]. In Europe, the impact of the economy on electoral behaviour is channelled instead through more complex or mediated perceptions of the impact of government policies on ones personal financial condition, both retrospective and prospective evaluations of national or collective economic performance, and anger over governments handling of the economy. The economy-vote relationships are generally stronger in Britain arid Germany than in France and Italy, which Lewis-Beck attributes to greater economic growth in the first two and more complex coalitional government (diffusing attribution of responsibility) in the latter.

 

Method: Cross national study (UK, Spain, Italy, W. Germany, US and France) using Euro barometer and other individual level survey data. Wants to move away from aggregate data.

 

 

== Notes ==

 

Chapter 1: Economic Problems and the Electoral Process: An Introduction

 

Research Puzzle: Is there a relationship between economic conditions and voter intentions? Are their varying responses between two and multi-party systems?

 

–  LB wants to look at electoral preferences of individual citizens [this is where there is variance between him and some other studies]

 

Context:

–  Various policies were pursued across nations to solve the similar economic problem of recession

–  No agreement among economist on how to solve problems

–  Therefore, expectation for voters to evaluate circumstances are too high; thus, voters react to the actions of leaders [8]

 

Chapter 2: Macroeconomics and National Elections: A Critique of Earlier Studies

 

–  In all individual cases, some element of economics affects voting intention either pro-opposition or away from incumbent in times of downturn

–  Does not necessarily imply that they are rewarded in good economic circumstances

–  US may have a stronger reliance on other factors [institutions, presidential candidate] but economics DO matter

*Macroeconomic downturn is associated with a fall in government support in all cases [29]

 

Chapter 3: Economic Voting: Theory and Measurement in the European Surveys

 

Do voters judge only retrospectively or prospectively as well?

– If retrospectively, voters have to make connection that party in power is responsible for their personal/national downturn in prosperity [cannot attribute to more local factors] [36]

– Therefore, this judgement is based in perception

– National data comparisons indicate that public perception of economic deterioration is accompanied by dissatisfaction with government

– Economic voting seems prevalent even in the US, though it seems to be made up of both simple and complex evaluations of national economic performance [50]

 

Chapter 4: The European Voter: Economics, Cleavages, Ideology

 

Estimates for the Model: [55-6]

  1. a) personal finance
  2. b) national economy
  3. c) government action making private life better
  4. d) government action bringing national prosperity
  5. e) what policies will likely bring in the future [*prospective]
  6. f) emotion evaluation of past government action

 

Vote = function of (economics, cleavages, ideology)

 

–  Voters do not appear to be short-sighted with respect to personal economic impacts, speaks favourably to their cognitive capacity

–  Punishment of incumbent appears to be based as much on prospective as retrospective evaluations and it is not derived exclusively from rational calculation [66]

 

Chapter 5: Noneconomic Issues, Class Interactions, Asymmetric Voters: Other Possibilities

 

Issue Voting:

– Voter appear to use the l/r dimension to organise the complexity of political reality, providing an overall orientation [Inglehart; 1984; 37]

– Occurs cross national study

– Economic issues may be more influential though [73]

– Issue voting does not detract from statistical validity of economic theory [75]

*personal vote, even when in combination with sociotropic variables, does not appear to impact voter intention [77]

 

Asymmetry in reward/punishment:

– European voters appear to reward government for good economic circumstances to at least as great an extent that they punish them for bad circumstances

 

Chapter 6: Economic Forces and European Electorates

 

– Prospective evaluations are at least as strong as retrospective

– Negative vote change as punishment is only a modest portion of the electorate [86]

– Varying weights may be assigned to specific economic conditions from one election to the next [93]

 

Chapter 7: Across Nations: Similarities and Differences

 

Three eco’c variables dominate the models irrespective of country:

– Retrospective

– Prospective

– Affective components of policy evaluation

– Macroeco’c indicators may serve as proxies for aggregated collective eco’c evaluations of voters

 

Are there relevant system differences that exist?

Hypothesis tested on: Coalition complexity/State capacity/Open economy/Eco’c growth

 

– Bonds between citizen and eco’cs are mutable [110]

– Britain shows the greatest electoral sensitivity to economic conditions of all the six countries

– Economic assessments are generally stronger than more traditional factors, with the exception of Italy, where social class and religion are more important

 

Chapter 8: Prospective Economic Voting: US

 

*using the 1984 Surveys of Consumer Attitudes

– Hard to outline on effective time frame to measure

– Have to incorporate party ID

– The presidential elections is one case where pocketbook voting could be statistically sustained [122] even so, it is future-oriented [133]

– If there is no mediating link between the economy and the government, then there is no reason to expect a vote switch [127]

 

Questioning prospective judgements:

– Are they real or rationalizations or partisanship?

– Effect is reduced, but sill significant and of equal magnitude to retrospective effect [130]

– People are re-elected because of what they have already delivered, but also because of what they are promising to deliver [135]

 

Chapter 9: The Political Business Cycle and Hyperopic Voters

 

Politiical Business Cycle (PBC): immediately after an election the winner will raise unemployment to some relatively high level to combat inflation.  As elections approach, the unemployment rate will be lowered until, on the eve of the election, the unemployment rate will be lowered to the purely myopic point [Nordhaus; 1975] [138]

– In other words, the belief that a government seeking re-election (and hence votes) manipulates macroeconomic factors to ensure that favourable conditions prevail when an elections is held

– Data arising from Nordhaus’ study does not indicate systematic presence of a PBC

– Does not find an electoral-unemployment cycle in any of his study of nations [144]

 

What about a party-oriented model?

– Different ruling parties will lead to different macroeconomic outcomes [146]

– Those looking at PBC’s should look at incumbency-oriented models with policy-instruments as the dependent variable, rather than macroeconomic outcomes [147]

 

Lewis- Beck shows that there is no evidence of variation with the electoral calendars of any of the five countries. Why are there no PBC’s?

 

– First, because of the difficulties of judging the most propitious time to deliver the economic policies which will create better economic conditions (and hence generate votes) have eluded most governments

– Second, he argues that governments, like voters, act prospectively as well as retrospectively, with the result that politicians will be held accountable not only for what they did do, but also for what they will do [151]. Electorate is not myopic: it is hyperopic, they are both forward and backward looking

– Therefore, to vote-maximise, a political party has to eschew a traditional PBC [151]

– The consequence is that governments are forced to offer constant economic rewards to voters, thus negating the concept of cyclical behaviour

 

 

Summary facts:

  1. US Presidential elections are the only cases of pocketbook voting appearing statistically relevant
  2. Economic voting is on par with partisanship and ideological concerns (if not stronger), except in Italy where social cleavages are more important
  3. Economic voting has been prevalent in the five nations at least since post WWII
  4. PBC’s do not exist b/c voters are sophisticated and hyperopic
  5. Differentiation between countries studied indicate that all take into account economic voting but in this order (most to least) UK, Spain, Germany, France, Italy
  6. Economic voting occupies a middle ground of importance between partisanship and current issues
  7. Methodologically, measuring economic conditions that influence voting is best done through individual level vote choice as opposed to using aggregate data – which has other uses in the study [160]

Frank Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (1992)

Main Argument:

Partisan stereotypes have considerable influence in political information processing, suggesting that political parties play an important role in voter’s decision-making (heuristics). Zaller challenges the idea that voters only have one true preference; instead he presents a model where individuals have conflicting views on specific issues and the “winning” view at any given time is determined by what considerations are at the top of your head.

 

Key Definitions:

Consideration: Any reason that might induce an individual to decide a political issue one way or another.

Political awareness: An individuals reception and comprehension of communications from the political environment. According to Zaller, political awareness is best measured by simple tests of neutral factual information since factual information is critical for intellectual engagement with politics.

Political predispositions: Stable, individual-level traits that regulate the acceptance or non-acceptance of the political communication the person receives. Predispositions are the critical intervening variable between the communications people encounter in the mass media, on the one side, and their statements of political preference, on the other (since they determine the accept part of the RAS model).

Values: General and enduring standards that hold a more central position than attitudes in individuals belief systems.

 

Method: mostly theory-building. To test his RAS model, Zaller relies primarily upon NES survey data. Specifically, he applies his theory to the dynamics of public opinion on a broad range of subjects, including domestic and foreign policy, trust in government, racial equality, the Vietnam War, and presidential approval.

 

 

== Notes ==

 

 

Chapter 2: Information, predispositions and opinion

 

–  A foundation for understanding the relationship between information and predispositions, forming public opinion

–  People have a limited capacity to absorb political information; hence they take cues from political elites in order to internalize political events/phenomenon

–  Three key themes: political awareness, political predispositions and the resulting marriage of the two

 

Political awareness: “the extent to which an individual pays attention to politics and understands what s/he has encountered” [21]

–  It is measured in terms of political expertise, cognitive complexity, political involvement, attentiveness, sophistication and political acuity

–  Zaller concludes that awareness is associated with exposure to information as well as the ability to react critically

–  Information is disseminated through elite actors such as parties or the media, creating a depiction of reality that is simple enough for ordinary people to understand

–  While the highly politically aware are the most likely to follow elites, Zaller states that it is the moderately aware that are most susceptible to influence as they do not possess critical skills to resist biased information [19]

 

Political predispositions: “stable, individual level traits that regulate the acceptance on non-acceptance of the political communications received by an individual” [22]

–  Predispositions are long-term variables not influenced by elites and the critical intervening variable between political communications and political preferences

–  Impact of predispositions depends on whether people possess the contextual information needed to translate their values into support for policies or candidates [25]

 

Measurement of opinion however, is constrained by various factors: instability, measurement error, response effects and question wording effects (see pages 30-34 for definitions)

–  Instability: individuals lacking strong opinions, but acting as if they do in order to fulfill the interview [31]

–  Measurement error:  the difficultly encountered in mapping pre-existing opinion into the vague language of survey questions [31]

–  Response effects: error that is produced owing to changes in question context, order and trivial alterations in questions [32]

–  Question wording effects: the possibility of an issue being made salient to the respondent strictly due to its mention or positioning in the survey [33]

 

Problems with Survey Research and Mass Opinion:

–  Mass opinion surveying is further hindered by the error that is built into the question-answer process

–  This refers to the process by which individuals construct opinion reports in response to the particular stimulus in front of them [35]

–  In other words, an issue is made more salient to an individual because of recent experiences, news broadcasts or even the questionnaire itself

–  Zaller states that it is a general misconception that citizens, although generally poorly informed, take pause to learn about issues that are important to them

–  What appears to occur, rather, is that information cues individuals to form opinions rooted in their level of awareness and previous predispositions

 

The author concludes that people are exposed to a constant stream of information but are not critical about what they internalize (36).  This can be directly compared with the Lodge et al. model of an individual’s “on-line tally”.

 

Chapter 3: How citizens acquire information and convert it into public opinion

 

\”Receive-Accept-Sample\” model: your stated opinions reflect considerations that you have received (heard or read about), accepted (if they are consistent with prior beliefs), and sampled from (based on whats salient at the time)

–  This outlines the process in which people receive new information, decide whether to accept it and sample at the moment of answering questions

–  According to the RAS model, individuals will support or oppose policy based on the immediate positive and negative considerations available in the person’s mind when answering survey questions

–  Zaller refers to this as “top of head” information, which is stated to be more powerful than “true attitudes” towards a subject [50]

 

–  Two types of political messages can be derived from elite discourse: persuasive and cueing messages

–  Persuasive messages provide the reader with a reason to take a point of view; such messages appeal directly to non-rational emotion

–  A cueing message is contextual information that encourages the citizen to form ideological implications  These messages enable individuals to perceive relationships between persuasive messages and therefore, allow them to respond critically to such information [42]

 

Four Axioms of Zaller’s Model: [42-50]

 

  1. Reception axiom: The greater a person’s level of cognitive engagement with an issue, the more likely s/he will be able to comprehend political messages
  2. Resistance axiom: People tend to resist arguments that are inconsistent with their political predispositions, but are limited by access to contextual information and political savvy in doing so
  3. This gives no allowance for citizens to reason or deliberate about politics
  4. People react mechanically on the basis of external cues
  5. This assumption differentiates between high and low involvement citizens
  6. Low involvement use superficial cues such as source credibility for accepting/rejecting messages
  7. Accessibility axiom: The more recently information or opinion has been used, the closer it will be to “top of the head”, therefore it takes less time for the individual to retrieve their opinions on that topic
  8. Response axiom: Individuals answer questions by averaging across the considerations that are immediately salient or accessible to them

 

Chapter 5: Making it up as you go along

 

–  Using his RAS Model to explain motivations behind public opinion, Zaller further explores limitations to mass opinion surveys

–  With his RAS assumption that people do not really know their opinions, but instead are heavily influenced by what is at the top of their minds, Zaller states that survey answers are susceptible to exogenous influences

–  Some of these influences may be question ordering, characteristics of the interviewer, reference groups and priming effects

 

Priming Effects: predispositions are stated to function as “gatekeepers”, acting as reference points for opinion formation

–  Priming effects can be either long or short-term, accomplished through elite discourse over a series of months or by one particularly poignant news story

–  Salience and framing: influence opinions as does question framing, which can engage different “gatekeeper” attitudes [83]

–  This is further complicated by the multitude of attitudes an individual may hold towards a particular issue; the result of which is different priming effects having different results depending on the time and issue salience

 

The “stop and think” method:

–  Extra thought on an issue may encourage people to further search their memory for their opinions and thereby raise considerations in formulating their response

–  Quantitative data however, failed to find a correlation between the “stop and think” method and ideological consistency

–  This proves to be a limitation of the RAS model as it did not account for why inducing people to utilize a larger base of considerations should undermine reliability

 

 

Conclusions:

  1. Zaller establishes that “Ambivalence Deduction” indicates that individuals harbour varied feelings towards aspects of most issues
  2. Individuals base their survey responses on the considerations that are most salient to them; this is referred to as the “Response Axiom”
  3. When an individual makes aggregate judgments there is no need to reconcile contradictory reactions to events and issues  [92]

 

Chapter 9: Two Sided Information Flows

 

–  Examines the effect of the RAS model on mass opinion when conflicting information is offered

–  Public attitudes on issues may alter in response to changes and intensities of competing streams of political communication as filtered through the reception-acceptance process [190]

 

Case Study: Reactions to the Vietnam War

Zaller outlines three simplifying assumptions in the RAS model that account for malleability in intensities with respect to two-sided communication

–  First, it is not possible to measure the reception of individual speeches, news stories or individual communications

–  Second, no consideration remains active for longer than two years unless it is reinforced by current arguments

–  Finally, people respond to survey questions off the top of their head as opposed to internalizing all of the available information [191]

The expected result of these assumptions under the RAS model is that rates of acceptance of incoming messages ought to decline as a function of political awareness and ideological distance [192]

 

Findings:

–  The relationship between ideological evaluations and issue opinion may flow in either direction

–  Effects of values and awareness on political attitudes depend on elite cues for activation; and values and awareness had significant relationship with resistance biased communications, but only after elite commentary activated public predispositions towards support or opposition [202]

 

Implications for the strength of two-sided communication effects:

–  Countervalent resistance occurs among highly aware individuals

–  Two-sided messages can take different forms at different times, depending on the intensities of the opposing messages and the prior distribution of opinion [207]

–  Mass belief systems alter over time in response to a complex stimulus [208]

 

To conclude, Zaller finds that public attitudes are susceptible to competing intensities of political communication.  This competition forms a relationship between elite actions and ideological responses; when elites agree, the public’s response is non-ideological and when they disagree along partisan lines, response becomes ideological.  Therefore, the degree to which the masses polarize along ideological lines reflects the relative intensity of the opposing information flows [210]

 

Place in the Literature: Zaller can be seen as a more nuanced version of Converse (1964) and Iyengar and Kinder (1987). See Zaller and Feldman (1992) for a more concise statement of essentially the same argument. But see also Zaller (1998), in which Zaller argues that the argument in this book attributed too much influence to elites

Arthur Lupia et. al. (eds.) Elements of Reason: Cognition, Choice and the Bounds of Rationality (2000), Chapters 2, 9, 13.

‘Main Argument:

Chapter 2: This chapter looks at how individuals deal with uncertainty in decision-making and resource allocation. It is impossible to make sense out of the diverse performance of economics and politics if one confines one’s behavioural assumptions to substantive rationality in which agents know what is in their self-interest and act accordingly. Social features are modelled as needing communication that allows individuals’ experiential learning to be based on a culturally provided set of categories. Understanding how shared mental models (SMM) evolve is the most important step in recognising patterns of “rationality”.

 

Chapter 9: The authors propose a theory of motivated reasoning that can account for why both ordinary citizens and political sophisticates are prone to follow Bacon’s dictum (update your preferences on new things you hear that you agree with and discard those that you do not agree with).

 

Method: Theory building chapters using cognitive science approach.

 

 

== Notes ==

 

 

Chapter 2: Shared Mental Models (North and Denzau)

 

– Individuals with common backgrounds and experiences will have reasonably convergent shares mental models (SMM)

– This results in multiple equilibria

– SMM’s are typically Bayesian or updating models [37]

– Bayesian models: prior beliefs are updated by some direct learning that generates observational data [41]

– A set of prior beliefs about action-outcome mappings is being learned as a part of the SMM, whether through traditional culture or ideologically

 

Four features of the choice environment determine the rationality model: [27-28]

  1. a) complexity
  2. b) motivation
  3. c) the individual’s capital investment nature
  4. d) information

 

“Hard choices”

– Arthur (1992) argues that when dealing with hard choices, individuals use their “complexity boundary”

– If the complexity is too great, then substantive rationality will not hold [31]

– Before understanding complexity, one has to understand the two-step process of learning:

– First, learning entails developing a structure by which to make sense of the world

– Second, interpreting the data (usually along cultural or physical lines)

 

Effects of SMM’s:

– To generate a set of concepts and language that make communication easier

– Where SMM’s are available, the concepts embedded in the structure of mental models can be made more similar (easier to share)

– Institutions can effect SMM’s because they also help individuals order their environment [40]

 

Chapter 9: Three Steps toward a Theory of Motivated Political Reasoning (Lodge & Taber)

 

– Looks at ideas of “hot cognition processing” (Abelson 1963) the political phenomena that you studied recently are charged up

– Also looks at “on-line processing” (Lodge, Steenbergen & Brau 1995) when people see their task as forming or revising an overall impression of a person, place, event or idea, they automatically extract the affective value of the message and then spontaneously revise their summary

– In other words, feelings become information [184]

 

A Theory of Motivated Reasoning:

– All reasoning is motivated

– Reasoning depends on your directional and accuracy goals (this creates a two-axis spectrum – see page 187 for typology]

– The five steps in making a decision are 1) defining the problem/establishing goals; 2) gathering evidence; 3) assessing implications; 4) re-assessing implications; 5)integrating information

– Some factors involved in the decision-making are stored in the long term memory; therefore decision-making also involves a mechanism that takes information from the LTM to the working memory (WM)

– The process is outlined in details around pages 192-194, but the short hand version is that people’s memories are triggered, information is activated and susceptible to priming

– When motivated by an accuracy goal, information processing involves: gathering relevant evidence, evaluating it even-handedly; postponement of the decision until information is deemed good enough [206]

 

Chapter 13: Constructing a theory of reasoning: Conclusion

 

– Book tries to recommend a way to merge rational choice and behavioural political science

– Draws out a few principles: connectionism – the choices people make depend on beliefs about causality and interactions between elements in the external environment; uncertainty clouds all choice; cognition independent of utility maximisation is not enough to describe uncertainty’s effects, and; context can guide and constrain reason and choice

Pradeep Chhibber and Kenneth Kollman, Formation of National Party Systems: Federalism and party competition in Canada, Great Britain, India and the United States (2004), Chapters 1, 8.

Main Argument: This book tries to explain how parties form in federal systems at both levels and why regional parties have drawn significant vote shares.  The authors state that the nature of federalism influences the dynamics and stability of the party system; the stability of the party system is not dependent on social cleavages, electoral laws and other constitutional features. <br/>

 

Method:  Theory building chapter. Extends theoretical arguments about party systems (outlined in Chapter 1) to federal systems. <br/>

 

== Notes ==

Chapter 1:<br/>

 

National Party System: A party system in which the same parties compete at different levels of vote aggregation<br/>

 

– Authors use Laakso & Taagepera’s effective number of parties<br/>

– They looks for an explanation as to why a national party system will be formed and detail conditions under which the party system may not be national <br/>

 

Three approaches to Party Systems:<br/>

 

1) Party Systems as a Reflection of Social Cleavages:<br/>

– Class forms the basis of the party system when the working class overwhelmingly vote for a labour party (Butler & Stokes 1970) (ie. Britain), but regionalism can still spring up (Scotland & Wales) <br/>

– Cleavages also arise from the elites exacerbating social rifts [13]<br/>

2) Parties as Solutions to Collective Dilemmas:<br/>

– Scholars look at the self-interested behaviour of voters, candidates or legislators as an explanation as to why parties form <br/>

– This has roots in Aldrich (1995) where entrepreneurial politicians have strong incentives to set up long term commitment devices [14]<br/>

3) Party Systems as Reflections of Institutional Rules:<br/>

– Based in the work of Duverger (1954), Cox (1997), Riker (1982), Lijphart (1994)<br/>

– Institutional approach to party system formation <br/><br/>

 

*Second and third approaches are related in that they both emphasise the importance of formal institutions that constrain the self-interested behaviour of politicians (example: Cox 1997)<br/>

*First and third approaches are linked in that their conclusions highlight the durability of a party system (see Lipset & Rokkan 1967; Lijphart 1994; Sartori 1986)<br/><br/>

Omissions in the Literature:<br/>

– Highlights newer research (Kitschelt 1989 & Kalyvas 1996) as looking to more than social cleavages in the formation of party systems<br/>

– Party systems may have started from a cleavage, but were ultimately enforced by a multitude of factors <br/>

– Other explanations hold that electoral systems are chosen to reinforce social cleaves and that formal rules are determined by (rather than determine) political alliances and parties (Stokes 1963; Boix 1988)<br/>

 

 

Federalism and the Party System:<br/>

– Politicians have always seen it in their collective and individuals interests to establish linkages across district lines to aggregate votes and create parties that draw more votes –> can influence policy better that way [this is called party aggregation]<br/>

– Electoral system effects are most prominent in district election, but party aggregation depends on the policies and role of the national government in relation to sub national governments<br/>

– Federal politicises of the national government hinder or help minor, region-based parties to survive on the national scene and therefore affect the nature of party coalitions and party systems [21]<br/><br/>

Chapter 8: Conclusion<br/>

 

– It is misleading to draw direct causal links between electoral systems and the number of political parties at the national level<br/>

– National parties did not always centralise when they were in power<br/>

– Some regional parties moved authority to provinces when they were in power<br/>

– But provincialisation sometime occurs in response to threats from regional parties<br/>

– In cases such as Britain and Canada, the role of the central government expanded because of the rise of the welfare state (not owing to party systems)<br/>

– Provincialisation can occur when power goes to the state or provinces because of local elites feeling threatened by centralisation and calling for diverting resources away from the central government [230]<br/>

– Summary: there is the possibility of reciprocal causation that election results can lead to changes in political authority structures which in turn affect election results

Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, Modernization, Cultural Change and Democracy (2005), Chapters 1-7.

‘Important Insight: this book demonstrates coherent changes are taking place in political, religious, social, and sexual norms throughout post-industrial societies. It presents a model of social change that predicts that socio-economic development results in value changes. And it demonstrates that mass values play a crucial role in the emergence and flourishing of democratic institutions.

 

Method: looks at national survey results (using WVS data) from 81 states on all six inhabited continents, containing more than 85% of the world’s population.

 

Critique: not all of the post-materialist values hang together particularly well. For instance, can we draw a meaningful connection between environmentalism and feminism? And to what extent does feminism lack a materialist basis?

 

 

—-

Notes

 

*modernization is evolving into a process of human development, in which socio-economic development brings cultural changes that making individual autonomy, gender equality, and democracy increasingly likely, giving rise to a new type of society that promotes human emancipation on many fronts.

*democracy is not simply the result of clever elite bargaining and constitutional engineering. It depends on deep-rooted orientations among the people themselves, which motivate them to demand freedom and responsive government – and to act to ensure that the governing elites remain responsive to them.

*the analytical scheme used for describing the configurations of value orientations involves two dimensions: one of traditional versus secular-rational values and one of survival versus self-expression values.

*the underlying theme of modernization is the broadening of human choice toward an increasingly humanistic society, which is politically compatible only with effective democracy.

*two phases of modernization: Modernization I is interpreted as a consequence of industrialization that nurtured secular-rational values as opposed to traditional values (the importance of God, teaching children obedience and faith rather than independence and determination, disapproval of abortion, support of national pride, respect for authority; Modernization II is interpreted as a consequence of postindustrialization (work force in services, e.g.) triggering self expression values at the expense of survival values (priority for economic and physical security – materialist values, feelings of unhappiness, disapproval of homosexuality, abstaining from signing petitions, distrust of other people).

*modernization in general is driven by economic growth, so that low-income countries are both traditional and care about survival values, and high income countries are the opposite pole on both dimensions.

*former communist societies are products only of Modernization I, characterized by secular-rational and survival values at the same time.

*the most ‘developed’ nations are not the US or the UK with the white Commonwealth states, but the Scandinavian countries and Japan.

*the US has a very high factor score on self-expression, but only a middle one on the traditional versus secular-rational axis.

*the link to democratization is postulated only for the survival/self-expression dimension. They show that self-expression values at the level of the electorate can explain effective democracy better than former experience with democratic institutions, thereby contrasting their own political culture approach to institutionalist theory. They also show that countries where high levels of self-expression values (equated with ‘demand for democracy’) are not matched with equivalent levels of civil liberties and political rights experience the highest increases in democracy.

*The authors distinguish liberal democracy according to the Freedom House index for civil liberties and political rights from effective democracy as the former index multiplied with an index of elite integrity (with anticorruption scores from the World Bank).

Samuel Barnes and Max Kasse (1979). Political Action: Mass participation in five western democracies. (1979).

‘Key insight: They argue that new political cleavage is emerging around a materialist/post-materialist dimension. One element of the ‘New Politics’ is a strong emphasis on broadening opportunities for political participation beyond the sphere of electoral politics, which integrates to a large extent conventional and unconventional politics (petitioning, boycotting, demonstrating, etc.); individuals who hold strongly to postmaterialist values or are otherwise dissatisfied with existing policies will be inclined to political participation, especially unconventional ones.

 

Method: looks at the propensity for different modes of political action (not, in fact, political action itself) using national surveys (from Austria, the FRG, the UK, the Netherlands, and the US) conducted in 1974 for the purpose of this study.

 

Critique:  the analysis in general rests too heavily on the assumption that measuring attitudes toward protest is measuring protest behaviour itself. Also, the analysis lacks a time-series analysis, and thus can only compare age-cohort and intergenerational attitudes.

 

 

—-

Notes

 

*individuals of high socio-economic status are more likely to perceive deprivation and to be discontented with governmental performance than people low on the stratification ladder.

*protest action has increased, is increasing, and ought to increase more

**this pattern is generally observed cross-nationally.

*the antecedents of political behaviour include: levels of cognitive sophistication; levels of satisfaction-dissatisfaction with life in general and politics in specific; and value orientations (viz. postmaterialism).

*protest potential tends to be joined to conventional behaviour, thus giving the individual a greatly widened participation repertory.

*found little evidence of a stark generation gap.