Wednesday, May 13, 2009

When a Good Idea Unravels

Another good theory -- shot down by the data.

I'm looking at how much people trust the government and are satisfied with democracy after an election. There's been a lot of work that shows, much of the time, losers are -- not surprisingly -- more unhappy with government and democracy after they become, well, losers. It occurred to me that when you expect to win, but lose, you'd be even less satisfied with democracy or the government.

Not so much.

Playing with data from the 2000, 2004, and 2008 presidential elections, I really found no significant effect. I was sure people who predicted their candidate would win but ended up on the losing side would be really pissed, for all kinds of solid theoretical reasons. But noooo, the data says I need to find something else to think and write about, at least for publication in a respected academic, peer-reviewed journal. So instead I write about it here, and a not-so-respected, no-peer-review blog

The winner-loser thing doesn't always work, either. In fact, winners in 2000 (Republicans) actually score lower on trust than the winners. This gets all mired in partisan and ideological feelings about big bad federal government that goes beyond mere winning and losing. A lot of the research fails to take this into account, by the way. A serious failing.

Anyway, I'm gonna set this one aside as one of those great ideas that didn't quite pan out, one I may revisit at some point if inspiration strikes.

But while I'm in prediction mode for elections, I am going to do some work in a favorite topics of mine, wishful thinking, which is basically the notion that we tend to see our own candidates (or sports team, or whatever) as the likely winner. This effect is robust and even exposure to polls that tell us our guy/gal is certain to lose does not moderate this preference-expectation link.

Basically, who we prefer is who we think will win, and all other information be damned. Gonna play with that and examine the effects media consumption might play, because dammit it ought to moderate the effect. But ... and here's an angle worth exploring, selective exposure/attention to bias-confirming information (conservatives watching Fox News, for example) may actually enhance wishful thinking. Here we have two competing hypotheses -- that means if I present 'em both, maybe I'll nab support for at least one of 'em.

Time to get the old SPSS rolling ...

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