Adam J. Berinsky


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Reprints of Published Papers

Here I list my published papers (with abstracts). Articles should be downloaded for personal use only. If you click on the paper title, you will be taken to a PDF version of the manuscript. You will need Acrobat to read the files, available free from Adobe.

Measuring Public Opinion with Surveys Annual Review of Political Science. 2017. 20: 309-329.
How can we best gauge the political opinions of the citizenry? Since their emergence in the 1930s, opinion polls-or surveys-have become the dominant way to assess the public will. But even given the long history of polling, there is no agreement among political scientists on how to best measure public opinion through polls. This article is a call for political scientists to be more self-conscious about the choices we make when we attempt to measure public opinion with surveys in two realms. I first take up the question of whom to interview, discussing the major challenges survey researchers face when sampling respondents from the population of interest. I then discuss the level of specificity with which we can properly collect information about the political preferences of individuals. I focus on the types of question wording and item aggregation strategies researchers can use to accurately measure public opinion.

Rumors and Health Care Reform: Experiments in Political Misinformation. British Journal of Political Science. 2017. 47(2): 241-262.
This article explores belief in political rumors surrounding the health care reforms enacted by Congress in 2010. Refuting rumors with statements from unlikely sources can, under certain circumstances, increase the willingness of citizens to reject rumors regardless of their own political predilections. Such source credibility effects, while well known in the political persuasion literature, have not been applied to the study of rumor. Though source credibility appears to be an effective tool for debunking political rumors, risks remain. Drawing upon research from psychology on 'fluency' - the ease of information recall - this article argues that rumors acquire power through familiarity. Attempting to quash rumors through direct refutation may facilitate their diffusion by increasing fluency. The empirical results find that merely repeating a rumor increases its power.

Processing Political Misinformation: Comprehending the Trump Phenomenon Royal Society Open Science. 2017. 1-21. (With Briony Swire, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Ullrich K.H. Ecker).
This study investigated the cognitive processing of true and false political information. Specifically, it examined the impact of source credibility on the assessment of veracity when information comes from a polarizing source (Experiment 1), and effectiveness of explanations when they come from one's own political party or an opposition party (Experiment 2). These experiments were conducted prior to the 2016 Presidential election. Participants rated their belief in factual and incorrect statements that President Trump made on the campaign trail; facts were subsequently affirmed and misinformation retracted. Participants then re-rated their belief immediately or after a delay. Experiment 1 found that (i) if information was attributed to Trump, Republican supporters of Trump believed it more than if it was presented without attribution, whereas the opposite was true for Democrats and (ii) although Trump supporters reduced their belief in misinformation items following a correction, they did not change their voting preferences. Experiment 2 revealed that the explanation's source had relatively little impact, and belief updating was more influenced by perceived credibility of the individual initially purporting the information. These findings suggest that people use political figures as a heuristic to guide evaluation of what is true or false, yet do not necessarily insist on veracity as a prerequisite for supporting political candidates.

Can We Turn Shirkers into Workers? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2016. 20-28. (With Michele Margolis and Michael Sances).
Survey researchers increasingly employ attention checks to identify inattentive respondents and reduce noise. Once inattentive respondents are identified, however, researchers must decide whether to drop such respondents, thus threatening external validity, or keep such respondents, thus threatening internal validity. In this article, we ask whether there is a third way: can inattentive respondents be induced to pay attention? Using three different strategies across three studies, we show that while such inducements increase attention check passage, they do not reduce noise in descriptive or experimental survey items. In addition, the inducements cause some respondents to drop out of the survey. These results have important implications for applied research. While scholars should continue to measure inattention via attention checks, increasing the attentiveness of "shirker" respondents is not as easy as previously thought.

An Empirical Justification for the Use of Draft Lottery Numbers as a Random Treatment in Political Science Research. Political Analysis. 2015. 23(3): 449-454. (with Sara Chatfield).
Over the past several years, there has been growing use of the draft lottery instrument to study political attitudes and behaviors (see, e.g., Bergan 2009; Erikson and Stoker 2011; Henderson 2012; Davenport 2015). Draft lotteries, held in the United States from 1969 to 1972, provide a potentially powerful design; in theory, they should provide true randomization for the "treatment" of military service or behavioral reactions to the threat of such service. However, the first draft lottery conducted in 1969 was not conducted in a random manner, giving those citizens born in the fourth quarter of the year disproportionately higher chances of being drafted. In this note, we describe the randomization failure and discuss how this failure could in theory compromise the use of draft lottery numbers as an instrumental variable. We then use American National Election Studies data to provide support for the conclusion that individuals most affected by the randomization failure (those born in the fourth quarter of the year) largely do not look statistically distinct from those born at other times of the year. With some caveats, researchers should be able to treat the 1969 draft numbers as if they were assigned at random. We also discuss broader lessons to draw from this example, both for scholars interested in using the draft lottery as an instrumental variable, and for researchers leveraging other instruments with randomization failures. Specifically, we suggest that scholars should pay particular attention to the sources of randomization failure, sample attrition, treatment and dependent variable selection, and possible failure of the exclusion restriction, and we outline ways in which these problems may apply to the draft lottery instrument and other natural experiments.

Red Scare? Revisiting Joe McCarthy's Influence on 1950s Elections. Public Opinion Quarterly. 2014. 78(2): 369-391. (with Gabriel Lenz).
In the early 1950s, politicians apparently allowed themselves to be spectators to the anticommunist witch hunt of Senator Joe McCarthy and his supporters, leading to a particularly grim chapter in American politics. In part, they did so because they thought the public supported McCarthy. Although politicians lacked contemporary public opinion data, they apparently inferred McCarthy's support from key Senate race outcomes. The few senators who initially stood up to McCarthy lost their reelections when McCarthy campaigned against them. In this article, we revisit the case of McCarthy's influence and investigate whether politicians fundamentally misinterpreted support for McCarthy. Using county- and state-level election data from across the twentieth century, we develop plausible counterfactual measures of normal electoral support to assess McCarthy's influence on electoral outcomes. We adopt a variety of analytic strategies that lead to a single conclusion: There is little evidence that McCarthy's attacks mattered to the election outcomes. Our results imply that politicians can greatly err when interpreting the meaning of elections, and point to the importance of research on elections to help prevent such errors.

Separating the Shirkers from the Workers? Making Sure Respondents Pay Attention on Self-Administered Surveys. American Journal of Political Science. 2014. 58(3): 739-753 (with Michele Margolis and Michael Sances).
Good survey and experimental research requires subjects to pay attention to questions and treatments, but many subjects do not. In this article, we discuss "Screeners" as a potential solution to this problem. We first demonstrate Screeners' power to reveal inattentive respondents and reduce noise. We then examine important but understudied questions about Screeners. We show that using a single Screener is not the most effective way to improve data quality. Instead, we recommend using multiple items to measure attention. We also show that Screener passage correlates with politically relevant characteristics, which limits the generalizability of studies that exclude failers. We conclude that attention is best measured using multiple Screener questions and that studies using Screeners can balance the goals of internal and external validity by presenting results conditional on different levels of attention.

Evaluating Online Labor Markets for Experimental Research:'s Mechanical Turk. Politicial Analysis. 2012. 20(3):351-368 (with with Gregory Huber and Gabriel Lenz).
We examine the trade-offs associated with using’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) interface for subject recruitment. We first describe MTurk and its promise as a vehicle for performing low-cost and easy-to-field experiments. We then assess the internal and external validity of experiments performed using MTurk, employing a framework that can be used to evaluate other subject pools. We first investigate the characteristics of samples drawn from the MTurk population. We show that respondents recruited in this manner are often more representative of the U.S. population than in-person convenience samples—the modal sample in published experimental political science—but less representative than subjects in Internet-based panels or national probability samples. Finally, we replicate important published experimental work using MTurk samples.

Missing Voices: Polling and Health Care. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. 2011. 36(6):975-987 (with Michele Margolis).
Examining data on the recent health care legislation, we demonstrate that public opinion polls on health care should be treated with caution because of item nonresponse — or “don't know” answers — on survey questions. Far from being the great equalizer, opinion polls can actually misrepresent the attitudes of the population. First, we show that respondents with lower levels of socioeconomic resources are systematically more likely to give a “don't know” response when asked their opinion about health care legislation. Second, these same individuals are more likely to back health care reform. The result is an incomplete portrait of public opinion on the issue of health care in the United States.

Education and Political Participation: Exploring the Causal Link. Politicial Behavior. 2011. 33(3):357-373 (with Gabriel Lenz).
One of the most consistently documented relationships in the field of political behavior is the close association between educational attainment and political participation. Although most research assumes that this association arises because education causes participation, it could also arise because education proxies for the factors that lead to political engagement: the kinds of people who participate in politics may be the kinds of people who tend to stay in school. To test for a causal effect of education, we exploit the rise in education levels among males induced by the Vietnam draft. We find little reliable evidence that education induced by the draft significantly increases participation rates.

Revisiting Public Opinion in the 1930s and 1940s. PS: Political Science & Politics. 2011. 44(2):515-520 (with Eleanor Neff Powell, Eric Schickler,and Ian Brett Yohai).
Studies of mass political attitudes and behavior before the 1950s have been limited by a lack of high-quality, individual-level data. Fortunately, data from public opinion polls conducted during the late New Deal and World War II periods are available, although the many difficulties of working with these data have left them largely untouched for over 60 years. We compiled and produced readily usable computer files for over 400 public opinion polls undertaken between 1936 and 1945 by the four major survey organizations active during that period. We also developed a series of weights to ameliorate the problems introduced by the quota-sampling procedures employed at the time. The corrected data files and weights were released in May 2011. In this article, we briefly discuss the data and weighting procedures and then present selected time series determined using questions that were repeated on 10 or more surveys. The time series provide considerable leverage for understanding the dynamics of public opinion in one of the most volatile—and pivotal—eras in American history.

Sex and Race: Are Black Candidates More Likely to be Disadvantaged by Sex Scandals? Politicial Behavior. 2011. 33(2):179-202 (with Vincent Hutchings, Tali Mendelberg, Lee Shaker, and Nicholas Valentino).
A growing body of work suggests that exposure to subtle racial cues prompts white voters to penalize black candidates, and that the effects of these cues may influence outcomes indirectly via perceptions of candidate ideology. We test hypotheses related to these ideas using two experiments based on national samples. In one experiment, we manipulated the race of a candidate (Barack Obama vs. John Edwards) accused of sexual impropriety. We found that while both candidates suffered from the accusation, the scandal led respondents to view Obama as more liberal than Edwards, especially among resentful and engaged whites. Second, overall evaluations of Obama declined more sharply than for Edwards. In the other experiment, we manipulated the explicitness of the scandal, and found that implicit cues were more damaging for Obama than explicit ones.

Assuming the Costs of War: Events, Elites, and American Public Support for Military Conflict. Journal of Politics. 2007. 69(4): 975-997.
Many political scientists and policymakers argue that unmediated events—the successes and failures on the battlefield—determine whether the mass public will support military excursions. The public supports war, the story goes, if the benefits of action outweigh the costs of conflict. Other scholars contend that the balance of elite discourse influences public support for war. I draw upon survey evidence from World War II and the current war in Iraq to come to a common conclusion regarding public support for international interventions. I find little evidence that citizens make complex cost/benefit calculations when evaluating military action. Instead, I find that patterns of elite conflict shape opinion concerning war. When political elites disagree as to the wisdom of intervention, the public divides as well. But when elites come to a common interpretation of a political reality, the public gives them great latitude to wage war

An Estimate of Risk Aversion in the U.S. Electorate. Quarterly Journal of Political Science. 2007. 2(2): 139-154 (with Jeffrey Lewis).
Recent work in political science has taken up the question of issue voting under conditions of uncertainty – situations in which voters have imperfect information about the policy positions of candidates. We move beyond the assumption of a particular spatial utility function and develop a model to estimate voters’ preferences for risk. Contrary to the maintained hypothesis in the literature, voters do not appear to have the strongly risk averse preferences implied by quadratic preferences.

Public Opinion Research and Support for The Iraq War. Public Opinion Quarterly. 2007. 71(1): 126-141 (with James Druckman).
Professors Peter Feaver, Christopher Gelpi, and Jason Reifler’s theory of the determinants of public support for war has received a great deal of attention among academics, journalists, and policymakers. They argue that support for war hinges on initial support for military action and the belief in the success of the war. In this review, we take a critical and constructive view of their work, focusing on methodological concerns. We discuss the dependent variable used by the authors—individual casualty tolerance—and argue that it is an insufficient measure of war support. We also make the case that their independent variables of interest—initial support for war and evaluation of war success—may, in fact, be best understood as indicators of latent support for the war more generally. Finally, we discuss the need for more research into the determinants of support for war, focusing on core values and elite rhetoric as potential variables for continued and future study.

American Public Opinion in the 1930s and 1940s: The Analysis of Quota-Controlled Sample Survey Data. Public Opinion Quarterly. 2006. 70(4): 499-529.
The 1930s saw the birth of mass survey research in America. Large public polling companies, such as Gallup and Roper, began surveying the public about a variety of important issues on a monthly basis. These polls contain information on public opinion questions of central importance to political scientists, historians, and policymakers, yet these data have been largely overlooked by modern researchers due to problems arising from the data collection methods. In this article I provide a strategy to properly analyze the public opinion data of the 1930s and 1940s. I first describe the quota-control methods of survey research prevalent during this time. I then detail the problems introduced through the use of quota-control techniques. Next, I describe specific strategies that researchers can employ to ameliorate these problems in data analysis at both the aggregate and individual levels. Finally, I use examples from several pubic opinion studies in the early 1940s to show how the methods of analysis laid out in this article enable us to utilize historical public opinion data..

Making Sense of Issues through Media Frames: Understanding The Kosovo Crisis. Journal of Politics. 2006. 68(3): 640-656 (with Donald Kinder).
How do people make sense of politics? Integrating empirical results in communication studies on framing with models of comprehension in cognitive psychology, we argue that people understand complicated event sequences by organizing information in a manner that conforms to the structure of a good story. To test this claim, we carried out a pair of experiments. In each, we presented people with news reports on the 1999 Kosovo crisis that were framed in story form, either to promote or prevent U.S. intervention. Consistent with expectations, we found that framing news about the crisis as a story affected what people remembered, how they structured what they remembered, and the opinions they expressed on the actions government should take.

Transitional Survey Analysis: Measuring Bias in Russian Public Opinion. Communist and Post-Communist Studies. 2006. 39(1): 73-99 (with Joshua Tucker).
For scholars, an exciting feature of the transitions occurring in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has been the opportunity to study these transitions first hand using modern social scientific tools. Perhaps no technique has been adopted as enthusiastically as survey research. Of course, the analysis of survey data has long been popular in more established democracies, such as the United States and Western Europe. In fields where the use of survey data has long been the norm, researchers have devoted a considerable amount of effort to dealing with the methodological complexities of using survey data analyses. One particular concern involves the treatment of “don’t know” respondents. In the following paper, therefore, we extend this line of research to survey data from the Russian Federation. Our major finding is that Russians who fail to answer survey questions tend to be less “liberal” than their counterparts who are able to answer survey questions. We use liberal here in the classical sense of the word as it has been applied to post-communist politics: pro-market reform, opposed to redistributive policies, pro-civil rights, and pro-Western foreign policy. Of these issue areas, the results are most clearly seen in the area of market reform, where its seems that Russia’s silent voices were largely apprehensive of change.

The Indirect Effects of Discredited Stereotypes:  Social and Political Traits in Judgments of Jewish Leaders, American Journal of Political Science. 2005. 49(4): 845-864 (with Tali Mendelberg).
We hypothesize that a stereotype can have an indirect impact over judgment even if some of its pieces are rejected. We test this proposition with a national survey-experiment that describes a hypothetical candidate either as “Jewish”, “Jewish” and “Shady”, or neither “Jewish” nor “Shady”. We find that once cued, a social stereotype trait (“Shady”), even though it is rejected as illegitimate, can activate another, more acceptable political trait (“liberal”) that historically has been linked with “Shady”. In turn, voters cued with the social trait give more weight to the acceptable political trait in evaluating the candidate, and the candidate’s support suffers, especially among conservative voters. This indirect influence of discredited stereotypes has implications for our understanding of the way stereotypes influence political judgments and for the ability of groups to overcome a legacy of discrimination.

The Perverse Consequences of Electoral Reform in the United States, American Politics Research 33(3): 471-491 (2005)
A number of electoral reforms have been enacted in the United States in the last three decades. These reforms include: day-of-election registration, “motor voter” registration laws, voting-by-mail (VBM), early voting, and the relaxing of stringent absentee balloting procedures. Such reforms are designed to increase turnout by easing restrictions on voter registration and/or ballot casting. Both proponents and opponents of electoral reforms agree that these reforms should increase the demographic representativeness of the electorate by reducing the direct costs of voting, thereby increasing turnout among less-privileged groups. In fact, these reforms have been greatly contested because both major political parties believe that increasing turnout among less-privileged groups will benefit Democratic politicians (though see Wolfinger and Rosenstone 1980). In practice, these electoral reforms have increased turnout slightly, but have not had the hypothesized partisan effects. What has not been widely recognized, however, is that this wave of reforms has exacerbated the socioeconomic biases of the electorate. This result is surprising only because many politicians and scholars have focused on tangible barriers to voting such as difficult registration procedures and the process of casting a ballot. By this logic, lowering or erasing the barriers to voting should enable all citizens to cast a vote, regardless of their personal circumstances. However, the direct costs of registration and getting to the ballot box are only part of the story. The more important costs – and the roots of the persistent compositional bias in the electorate – are the cognitive costs of becoming engaged with and informed about the political world. Reforms designed to make voting “easier” exacerbate the existing biases in the composition of the electorate by ensuring that those citizens who are most engaged with the political world continue to participate.  That is, voting reforms encourages the retention of likely voters from election to election rather than encouraging new voters to enter the electorate. Thus, no matter how low the direct barriers to casting a ballot are set, the only way to increase turnout and eliminate socioeconomic biases of the voting population is to increase the engagement of the broader mass public with the political world. Political information and interest, not the high tangible costs of the act of voting, are the real barriers to a truly democratic voting public.

Can We Talk? Self Presentation and the Survey Response. Political Psychology. 2004. 25(4): 643-659.
In recent years, there has been a movement among scholars of public opinion to consider more fully the effect of the social forces at work in the survey interview. These authors recognize that the survey interview is a “conversation at random” (Converse and Schuman 1974) and acknowledge that, as a result, the interview will be governed by many of the same dynamics as everyday conversations, such as social desirability concerns. In some cases, these effects may play a large role in determining the answers individuals give to survey questions. In this paper, I extend this work and study how the personality characteristics of individuals may affect the answers they give to questions on controversial political topics. In April-May, 2000, I conducted a random-digit-dial survey of 500 respondents in the continental United States. This survey asked the respondent to give their opinion on a number of sensitive topics, such as feelings towards blacks and homosexuals and spending on popular programs, such as schools and the environment. The survey also included question batteries measuring two psychological concepts related to self-presentation: Self-Monitoring (Snyder 1986) and Impression Management (Paulhus 1991). These batteries have never before been asked on a national-sample survey. I first discuss the importance of attending to self-presentation concerns in social surveys, drawing on work in social psychology and sociolingusitics. I next describe two scales developed by psychologists to measure individual variation in self-presentation concerns. I then move to an empirical examination of my survey. I begin by analyzing the two self-presentation scales to see if they are appropriate for use in surveys. I then ascertain how the answers respondents give to the survey questions vary as a function of their self-presentation personality characteristics. I conclude with a suggestion of how the self-presentation measures can be used to better understand the effects of social dynamics in the survey interview on respondents’ answers to opinion questions about sensitive topics.

Transitional Winners and Losers: Attitudes Toward EU Membership In Post-Communist Countries. American Journal of Political Science. 2002. 46:557-571 (with Joshua Tucker and Alexander Pacek).
We present a model of citizen support for EU membership designed explicitly for post-communist countries.  We posit that membership in the EU can function as an implicit guarantee that the economic reforms undertaken since the end of communism will not be reversed.  On this basis, we predict that “winners” who have benefited from the transition, are more likely to support EU membership for their country than “losers” who have been hurt by the transition.  We also predict that supporters of the free market will be more likely to support EU membership than those who oppose the free market.  We predict that these effects will be present even controlling for demographic effects.  We test these propositions using survey data from ten post-communist countries that have applied for membership in the EU and find strong support for our hypotheses.  The article concludes by speculating about the role attitudes towards EU membership may play in the development of partisan preferences.

Political Context and the Survey Response: The Dynamics of Racial Policy Opinion. Journal of Politics. 2002., 64: 567-584.
Several recent studies suggest that the social dynamics at work in the survey interview may play a significant role in determining the answers individuals give to survey questions, most notably on questions relating to racial policies. In this paper I reexamine and extend the conclusions of "The Two Faces of Public Opinion" (Berinsky 1999). In the present day, I find opinion polls overstate support for policies designed to promote racial equality. In this paper, I use data from the early 1970s to show that the strong social desirability effects I find in the 1990s do not characterize opinion in earlier eras. The analyses reported here indicate that while we need to pay attention to and account for the social context surrounding sensitive issues when gauging public opinion, we must also pay attention to changes in that context over time.

Silent Voices: Social Welfare Policy Opinions and Political Equality in America, American Journal of Political Science. 2002., 46: 276-288.
I demonstrate that both inequalities in politically relevant resources and the larger political culture surrounding social welfare policy issues disadvantage those groups who are natural supporters of the welfare state. These supporters – the economically disadvantaged and those who support principles of political equality – are less easily able to form coherent and consistent opinions on such policies than those well endowed with politically relevant resources. Those predisposed to champion the maintenance and expansion of welfare state programs are, as a result, less likely to articulate opinions on surveys. Thus, public opinion on social welfare policy controversies gives disproportionate weight to respondents opposed to expanding the government’s role in the economy. This “exclusion bias” – a phenomenon to this point ignored in the political science literature — is a notable source of bias in public opinion: the “voice” of those who abstain from the social welfare policy questions is different from those who respond to such items. This result mirrors the patterns of inequality found in traditional forms of political participation. Opinion polls may therefore reinforce, not correct, the inegalitarian shortcomings of traditional forms of political participation.

Who Votes by Mail? A Dynamic Model of the Individual-Level Consequences of Voting-by-Mail System. Public Opinion Quarterly. 2001. 65: 178-197 (with Nancy Burns and Michael W. Traugott). 
Election administrators and public officials often consider changes in electoral laws, hoping that these changes will increase voter turnout and make the electorate more reflective of the voting-age population. The most recent of these innovations is voting-by-mail (VBM), a procedure by which ballots are sent to an address for every registered voter. Over the last 2 decades, VBM has spread across the United States, unaccompanied by much empirical evaluation of its impact on either voter turnout or the stratification of the electorate. In this study, we fill this gap in our knowledge by assessing the impact of VBM in one state, Oregon. We carry out this assessment at the individual level, using data over a range of elections. We argue that VBM does increase voter turnout in the long run, primarily by making it easier for current voters to continue to participate, rather than by mobilizing nonvoters into the electorate. These effects, however, are not uniform across all groups in the electorate. Although VBM in Oregon does not exert any influence on the partisan composition of the electorate, VBM increases, rather than diminishes, the resource stratification of the electorate. Contrary to the expectations of many reformers, VBM advantages the resource-rich by keeping them in the electorate, and VBM does little to change the behavior of the resource-poor. In short, VBM increases turnout, but it does so without making the electorate more descriptively representative of the voting-age population.

The Two Faces of Public Opinion, American Journal of Political Science.1999. 43: 1209-1230.
Public opinion polls appear to be a more inclusive form of representation than traditional forms of political participation. However, under certain circumstances, aggregate public opinion may be a poor reflection of collective public sentiment. I argue that it may be difficult to gauge true aggregate public sentiment on certain socially sensitive issues. My analysis of NES data from 1992 reveals that public opinion polls overstate support for government efforts to integrate schools. Specifically, selection bias models reveal that some individuals who harbor anti-integrationist sentiments are likely to hide their socially unacceptable opinions behind a "don’t know" response. As an independent confirmation of the selection bias correction technique, I find that the same methods which predict that opinion polls understate opposition to school integration also predict the results of the 1989 New York City mayoral election more accurately than the marginals of preelection tracking polls.