Friday, August 31, 2012

Little Room to Bounce

At least one recent poll suggests Mitt Romney got the traditional convention bounce from the GOP gathering in Tampa.

But not much of a bounce.

According to the Reuters-Ipsos poll:
Romney leads with 44 percent support, compared with 42 percent for Obama, according to a Reuters-Ipsos national tracking poll released Thursday.

The Republican candidate started the week trailing Obama 46 to 42 percent. The swing of 6 percentage points is likely due to voter focus on the Republican National Convention, which concludes Thursday night in Tampa, Fla.

There may be a bit more of a bounce now that Romney did a good acceptance speech and Clint Eastwood finished mumbling at an empty chair.  The lede, as many point out, is that Romney slipped ahead of Obama.

Keep in mind that the poll above is an online poll.  I'll reserve judgement until a more traditional poll arrives on the scene.  But you expect a bounce.  There's just not much room to bounce right now, given how few "undecided" voters appear to be out there. And of course the Democrats get their chance to bounce back, so to speak, with their own convention.  That assumes anyone is watching.

Nate Silver, the guru of all that is polling over at 538, has a nice piece on measuring the convention bounce. Worth the time, especially if you're like me and love a good regression analysis.  And he makes this point at the end of his column:
Still, the forecast is our signature product. We expect the convention bounces to be small this year. But if Mr. Romney gets no convention bounce at all, or a bounce of only one or two percentage points, it will be appropriate to take a more pessimistic view of his chances of winning in November.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fox News is Just So ... Special

I'm working on a follow-up study to my earlier one on who thinks Barack Obama is Muslim.  I won't bore you with the details, but as part of the analysis I'm looking at a host of ways people get the news, down to specific sources.

So far, out of 18 ways to get news and information, only one stands out as resulting in a greater likelihood people think Obama is Muslim.

Yup, you guessed it.  Watching Fox News.

Watching Fox, in this early look at the numbers, makes you nearly twice as likely to say he's a Muslim.
And here's the wow factor.  Even if I statistically control for stuff like a respondent's racism score, education, race, living in the South, and political interest (just a few I tossed in quickly) -- watching Fox News still makes you more likely to perceive Obama is Muslim.

It's the only one that does this.

A bunch of them have no relationship at all with perceptions of Obama being Muslim (the major broadcast networks, listening to Rush Limbaugh (surprise!), getting news via social media like Twitter or Facebook.  A few reduce the likelihood of thinking Obama is Muslim (watching Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, CNN, MSNBC, or reading The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times).

This is a first blush of data that'll require deeper analysis, but I was so surprised -- okay not really surprised -- by only one network showing up, figured I had to share.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bill Nye is Right

Bill Nye the Science Guy is right about science, and right about creationism.  It's ain't science.

A Mating Theory of the Partisan Divide

Most everyone agrees there is a partisan divide, that gap separating liberals and conservatives --  one that many say is widening, has led to congressional deadlock, and may or may not have something to do with global climate change thanks to all the hot air spewing forth from cable television "news."

More on cable news in a minute.

For those of you luckily innocent of social science research, let me warn you that there are lots of theories out there that attempt to explain what makes someone liberal or conservative.  Some focus on how you were raised, or some major socio-political event in your formative years, or even the kinds of schools you attended.

Now we have one that's more basic. It's all about mating.  Sex.  Reproduction. In other words, liberals drawn to liberals, conservatives drawn to conservatives.  According to this study published in Political Behavior, mating leads to, well, you know -- the making of more little liberals and conservatives.

The authors looked at dating profiles (how neat is that?).  I have access to the full study through my university account (email me if you want a copy).  They find:
...that liberals and conservatives do not differ wildly in their assortative tendencies, with both groups typically demonstrating a strong preference to date similar others. This suggests that our desire for social homogamy influences who we encounter as we date, and then within that group of like individuals we inevitably choose a partner who shares our political preferences. That is, assortation on factors other than
ideology could be driving assortation on ideology.
This is PhDspeak for liberals wanna date liberals, conservatives wanna date conservatives.  Conservatives were "less accepting of dissimilarity" than liberals, at least when it comes to potential mates.  This fits other studies that find media fragmentation along cable news networks to be even greater among conservatives or Republicans.  Other research suggests conservatives are less open to ideas that challenge their predispositions than are liberals.

Who would've thought it also applies to mating habits?

So, as the authors point out, "like seeks like," but this ideological pairing seems to be "a fairly modern phenomenon." 

In the "yes it gets worse" category, their computer simulation suggests this will lead to a greater divide among subsequent generations.  The partisan divide, made wider through reproduction.  There's a joke in there somewhere.

A number of factors may blunt this trend, they note.  I suppose that's the good news.  But in general the results suggest mate selection may lead to even greater polarization, as if the country could get even more polarized.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Genetics and Politics

As scientists get better and better at analyzing our genetic code, they of course have moved beyond health issues to something really important -- such as whether we are conservative or liberal based on genetics.

A story today provides a little detail on this question:
Categories such as political knowledge and liberal versus conservative ideology were more likely to be influenced by genetics, whereas political party identification was strongly affected by upbringing, the researchers said.
I don't have access to the original studies on which the point above relies, so it's hard for me to evaluate their methodology and findings.  Do I buy it?  For ideology, yes.  For political knowledge?  Not so much.

Ideology can be traced to the Big Five Personality Traits, which very well may have genetic origins.  I have a more difficult time tracing political knowledge in the same way.  Perhaps certain personality traits, which can have genetic origins, may lead to a greater need to know stuff.  Openness to experience, maybe.  But for me, political knowledge is more a function of motivation, a need to know and understand the world.  Is there a genetic code for that?  Perhaps, but I've yet to see compelling evidence.  Yet.  It's an area ripe for investigation as it gets less and less expensive to do these kinds of sophisticated tests.

What has been linked to ideology?  Lots of stuff, some of it hard to buy into.  For example, this study that addresses, in part, low IQ and conservative ideology. I file that under the "damned unlikely" category.  Or this one on the dating preferences of liberals and conservatives (people wanna dates folks, ideologically speaking, like themselves).  This last one, I'm going to expand on later in another post because it looks an awful lot like our cable news preferences.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Obama and the Birthers

Mitt Romney may have just gotten my vote.

Today Romney joked in Michigan that "no one's ever asked to see my birth certificate," an obvious reference to the birther movement's doubts about President Barack Obama.

Why does Romney's comments make me so happy?  Because I've done quite a bit of research -- some of it published, some of it at a journal awaiting acceptance -- about myths and misperceptions about Obama.  You know, the Muslim thing.  The birthplace thing, which I've written about a lot.  By keeping the nutjob flame alive, Romney keeps my research relevant and current.  Thank you, Mr. Governor.  I very much appreciate it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Who's Gonna Win?

Surveys always ask respondents who they're going to vote for, and sometimes surveys ask who respondents think is going to win.  I'm big on that latter question. I've written about it far too often.

What's new?  An AP-GFK poll just out puts the race as a statistical dead heat.  But when respondents were asked whether Obama will get re-elected -- the prediction question -- we see a very different result.  Below, the results by date, earliest to most recent:

Will Barack Obama be ...

               Dec 2011  June 2012 August 2012
re-elected     49%           56%         58%
voted out      48%           35%         32%
don't know     4%             9%          11%
no answer       *                *               *

The * for "no answer" means it's too small to round to 1. There are some rounding errors in the table above.  Ignore all that.  Pay attention to the steady improvement (if you're an Obama fan) in the predictions of him getting re-elected and the steady decrease in those predicting he will be "voted out of office."  That last category seems to be people shifting from thinking Obama won't be re-elected to "don't know" in the survey.  That's kinda interesting and I don't have a good explanation for that, other than it suggests doubts about Mitt Romney.

People tend to believe their own preferred candidate will win.  That's called wishful thinking in the social science literature, and yes I've published research on the topic and even delivered a paper this summer that examined the connection between who people are for and who they think will win from 1952 to 2008.  I really should sit and write a version of it for a site better than this blog.  Yo, Politico, got space to fill?  In some years people are more wishful, and therefore less accurate, than others.  I'll save the details for another time, another post, or elsewhere. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Supreme Who?

Two-thirds of Americans can't name a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a survey reported, among other places, here.

You'd think after the big Obamacare decision people could do better, but apparently not.  I've written a lot about what people know about the Supreme Court and I don't want to dig into that today, but there are some methodological issues, at least in the past, with how the questions were asked and the responses coded. 

The problem here is I can't easily track down much of the methodology, other than it was a national survey of 1,000 respondents.  My guess?  It's an open-ended question and those generally produce meager results anyway, at least compared to close-ended (multiple choice) questions.  Plus folks who get their news mostly from TV do a terrible job at open-ended questions (or so says a certain brilliant manuscript now under review at a major academic journal).

So only 34 percent could name a justice, and among those the winner is Roberts and the loser is Breyer.  See below.

  • John Roberts – 20%
  • Antonin Scalia – 16%
  • Clarence Thomas – 16%
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg – 13%
  • Sonia Sotomayor – 13%
  • Anthony Kennedy – 10%
  • Samuel Alito – 5%
  • Elena Kagan – 4%
  • Stephen Breyer – 3%

Red & Black Redux

I thought my scribbling about the Red & Black was over, and I believe we can all agree that Monday's joint statement from the Board and the students moves us a long way toward ending the saga.  Yes, just when you think we're done, the R&B is the gift that keeps on giving.  And that's unfortunate.  Two points:

1.  The statement itself.  There's this line: "As journalists, it went against our instinct and training to walk out of a newsroom on deadline. We extend an apology to those who were adversely affected."  And yet there is no similar apology from the Board.  And let me be clear -- if anyone should apologize, it's members of the Board.  To the students.  To the UGA community. Hell, Brack and Easters couldn't even bother to stay outside last Friday and hear the two R&B alumni letters of support being read to the crowd.  Shame.

2.  Resignation of Board member Charles Russell.  Below is his statement.
Dear fellow directors of The Red and Black Publishing Company,

This will come as no surprise to any of you. I cannot in my mind--and will not in my heart--be a party to what you are about to do as a board today. Yet, because of my love for the institution and purposes we all serve, I will not stand in your way.

Effective immediately, I hereby tender my resignation from the board of directors of The Red and Black. Further, I respectfully call upon my friend and fellow director Kent Middleton, to tender his resignation as well, as I feel he has a conflict of interest which cannot be resolved in any other way.

I consider you all to be some of the finest leaders, people and friends I could ever have, and that will never change.

Very truly yours in service,

Charles Russell
I don't know Russell, but everyone speaks highly of him.  His "cannot ... be a party to what you are about to do as a board today" has a lot of people scratching their heads wondering which Board action he disagrees with.  Speculation seems to focus on the Board's "continued confidence in Harry Montevideo," a likely scenario given Montevideo's embarrassing wrestling match with a Grady student attempting to cover the news in a newspaper office or Montevideo's collective statements during this whole mess that makes you wonder just how disconnected from reality a Board and publisher can truly be.  I don't know.
The important news, the lede, is the students are back to work at The Red & Black.  
Only the Board, with some push from alumni, can change itself.  Indeed, the Board more or less "owns" the newspaper, if you read the bylaws.  There's no membership that approves a slate of Board members, no appeal process, no way at all to control membership.  The Board approves it's own members, some of them for life.  The bylaws need an overhaul, as does the Board.  And I'm convinced now that no UGA employee should serve on the Board, though department Chair Kent Middleton (a Board member) did a lot of work to bring this controversy to a reasonable close.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

Can We Measure Journalism's Impact?

Here's a fascinating column at the Nieman Journalism Lab that asks a simple yet compelling question:
If democracy would be poorer without journalism, then journalism must have some effect. Can we measure those effects in some way? 
Good question.  Plus I'm happy to write about something that doesn't involve my University's student newspaper.

Why worry about such a measure?  For me, it's important that journalism define its role in democracy.  Yes, theoretically we know the role of the press is essential to an informed electorate, a way for interests to converse an ideas to be vetted, a way for powerful institutions to be checked when they go astray.  But how do you measure that impact?  The column, by Jonathan Stray, explores some of the possibilities.  Read the column yourself.  No need for me to repeat his words.

However, at the end of the column he does bring up a topic near and dear to my heart, whether what people know, their knowledge, is a good measure of impact.
In one of the most limited, narrow senses of what journalism is supposed to do — inform voters about key election issues — American journalism failed in 2010. Or perhaps it actually did better than in 2008 — without comparable metrics, we’ll never know.
As I've written about extensively here for more years than I really want to remember, the measurement of political or current events knowledge is a tricky thing.  Without getting too PhDweebish about it, such measures are rife with conceptual and methodological difficulties, and interpreting those results can be even trickier.  Often, we're not measuring what we think we're measuring.

Okay, that aside, is knowledge a good measure?  No.  It's a terrible measure of journalism's impact for a host of reasons -- unless it's done well, with considerable caution.  It can be done, but with care.  No, I'm not positioning myself for a really lucrative consulting job (though hey, I'm available NYTimes!), I'm merely saying that tossing some current events questions at a random sample of Americans, which can be great fun and makes for terrific party talk, is a lousy way to measure journalism's impact.  It may measure to some degree the public's knowledge (and I even have my doubts there), but it's unconnected to the practice of journalism, at least in how such questions are usually framed.  Is there a way to do it well?  Absolutely.  But it'll require multiple methods, not merely surveys, to get at the real answer.

Quick examples:  Men guess on questions more than women, thus inflating their knowledge scores.  Also, how you ask the question (multiple choice, free response) gets different results with different kinds of people.  Rely on TV for news?  You'll struggle with free response.

In an era of Big Data, measuring journalism's impact seems more possible than ever.  Surveys, yes, but also analysis of Twitter and Facebook posts, experimental studies, and other ways are needed to really get at answering whether journalism has an impact.  I'd operate under a working hypothesis that it does, but to truly test that hypothesis, it's gotta be done right.  And we have to be open to being wrong, that the data tell us something else entirely.

The answer?  It's never been more important, at least to journalism folks.  I hope it gets done well.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Of Fink and the R&B Mess

I swore I wouldn't write any more about the recent Red & Black mess, but having attended Friday's "open" meeting and hearing the Board's statement, I found myself this morning thinking again of Conrad Fink.

If Fink had still been with us, he would've stopped this with a "See Me" to members of the Board. 

He's the only person who could have done it.

I've written a a few words in favor of the students.  I may have tweeted once or twice, given an interview or two, maybe talked to a couple of national journalism organizations.  Standard stuff, none of likely to influence the Board itself, and one of it really exceptional.

Let me be clear.  I'm no Fink.

No one is.

I'm a guy who teaches 3410 and tries single-handily to keep Jittery Joe's coffee in business.  What I might manage in a thousand words, Fink could do with a single look.  For 20 years I had lunch with Fink a couple of times a week.  When we talked about The Red & Black students and stories they were working on, after I gave my opinion, I could see that inside his head he was thinking: "Okay, maybe I can repair any damage Hollander does in Ethics class."

So I can't speak for Fink.  No one should.  My hunch, though, is he would've summoned everyone to his office, told the Board to back off, and then told the students to get out and find some news for the next day's paper.

Assuming editorial control now rests with the students, there remains some unresolved issues.  For example, will the board jerk around the students in terms of filling the top editor positions?  There's a certain logic to saying the positions are technically unfilled so you have to re-apply, but there is only one decision here and that's to put people back where they were before the Board created the problem in the first place.

And then there's the Board itself.  It's time to revisit the bylaws and reconstitute the Board.  Existing members should slowly rotate off, maybe a third at a time to provide some institutional memory.  A former editor-in-chief should be an automatic member.  I am not comfortable, however, with a member of the Department of Journalism serving on the Board.  Yes, my boss Kent Middleton, chair of the department, serves.  He's done so since before he was chair.  This placed him in an awkward position, but he worked tirelessly behind the scenes to resolve the issue (and I'm not saying that because he's my boss -- the joy of tenure and being a full professor is I can say whatever the hell I like).  Members of the journalism department made it clear to him our support for the students.  The Board could include a retired faculty member, for instance, rather than one presently employed by UGA.  There are a few in Athens or nearby and any one of them would  be fine, or at least do no serious harm.

Some good came out of this.  The UGA community responded with support for the students, who learned some important lessons.  It took courage to do what they did.  As they met Friday morning, I whispered to them that I was 65 percent confident a solution would be reached by that afternoon.  I actually thought it was more like 90 percent, but I didn't want to slow them down.  They were already plotting out stories, thinking about how to create a print publication, working out space and equipment needs.  You don't get that kind of training in a classroom, you get it in, well, the real world.  And that's what they got this week, a dose of the real world ... in all its ugliness, in all the joy that came from the support of their peers, their professors, and most of all the alumni of the paper who rushed to their defense.

Okay, gotta leave this on a high note, even when talking about Fink.  I'm convinced that when he isn't taking a red pen to God's copy, he's playing lead guitar for the Athens band Widespread Panic.  Video below, give it a minute or two before the guitarist gets featured. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Is It Over? R&B III

You can find lots of discussion and coverage of the meeting today at The Red & Black.  No need for me to rehash it.  Basically, at least on the surface, the students won.  Editorial control (we think) belongs to the students.  The board member who caused most of the problems, he's gone.  From the paper, from the board.

My main disappointment?  Two stiff-backed leaders of the board read a statement, answered a question or two, and then retreated inside the air-conditioned confines of the R&B building while two important letters were read from former editors and staff of the newspaper.  How dare you.  Sit there and listen dammit, to what former R&B people have to say. 

Who?  Elliot Brack and Melita Easters.  I hope to hell they vanity search their names via Google and come across this brief post, because them walking back into the building while students had their say, that's inexcusable.  The whole thing was a PR disaster.  If the R&B has hired some marketing people, you may want to re-open your search. These people don't have a clue.

All in all, I'm satisfied with the result.  I applaud the courage of the students who stood up to the board's foolish mistakes, and I applaud the R&B alumns who supported them. 

To the students who fought and won -- good for you.  Have a beer, have several, finally get some sleep, and then get back to doing good journalism.

The Red and Black Mess II

I wrote briefly yesterday about the battle between The Red & Black's board and the student editors who walked out in frustration.  Again, I hijack my own blog to comment because, hey, it's my blog.  I can do whatever the hell I want.

Of all that's been written about this mess, I think the Student Press Law Center has the best summation.  This piece gets to the heart of the problem which is, quite simply, an aging out-of-touch board and one board member in particular, some guy named Ed Stamper, who the board sent into the newsroom this summer to turn journalism into something akin to a sorority newsletter.

For me, the problem began with the clumsy shift from a daily paper to a once-a-week print and digital-first version.  This should have been done gradually, with some grace.  Instead, the paper quickly became irrelevant even as it did good stories online.  By the way, it's not digital first.  It's audience first.  Perhaps the board and paper management could return for some remedial journalism courses. 

The board approved that move, apparently without engaging its collective brain cells.

The result?  This summer, a knee-jerk reaction in which the board appears to have brought in one of its own.  He went rogue. The memo he produced, draft or not, is enough reason for him to leave the R&B and resign from the Board.   It's a sexist, racist, non-journalistic embarrassment.  Hell, he can't even spell libel.

The solution?  There's an open meeting today, 2 p.m., at the building on the hill.  I doubt much will get done there other than a massive bitch session, but maybe it'll work out.  I hope so.  If not, below are the minimum steps I think are necessary for the R&B to get back to doing the best student journalism in the country:

1.  Ed Stamper leaves the newsroom, leaves the board.  Non-negotiable.

2.  Editorial control is given, unequivocally, to the student editor-in-chief.  Again, non-negotiable.

3.  The R&B board begins a 1/3-at-a-time rotation off the board to bring in fresh folks who remember it's a student newspaper.  The quotes alone from a board member suggests there are people who honestly have lost touch with the University.

This story has been picked up by everyone, from Athens Patch to the New York Times to a host of journalism sources.  Today, the SPJ is sending someone down to monitor the meeting and do interviews for a story.  It's that serious, folks.  If you're on the board, take notice that nearly the entire planet knows you're wrong.  Knows it. 

Bend, board members, before you break The Red & Black.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Red & Black

This blog is usually how about people learn from the media, but I'm hijacking it today for a few brief comments about the controversy surrounding UGA's student newspaper, The Red & Black.

The student staff walked out of the R&B on Thursday.  If you want details, you can read their own site for an explanation, check out this onlineathens story, or find other mentions elsewhere.  Also, the Student Press Law Center has been a factor (its take here).  There is a Twitter feed worth following (@redanddead815).  In fairness, we've heard zilch from the R&B management or board on this issue.  None of them ever ask my advice anyway, so I'm not surprised they haven't called me overnight to make their position clear.

Okay, all that crud out of the way, let me first say I support the students.  I don't know if the Department of Journalism as a whole will issue an opinion, given our chair is also on the R&B board.  Kinda awkward, you understand.

And finally, I have something to add.  The first persons to walk out in this mess should not have been the students.  It should have been members of The Red & Black board.  It's a shame, but perhaps not surprising, when a bunch of 20-year-olds are the ones drawing a line in the ethical sand.

God, I miss Conrad Fink.

In conclusion, I suspect this may get resolved if the R&B board backs off on who has final editorial responsibility, the students or some paid position.  It's the students, stupid.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Academic Journals

Want an earful?  Put some academics in a bar, buy the beer, and bring up academic journals. 

Most of the complaints will be about dumb reviewers, which I understand as someone who reviews for several journals.  I no doubt deserve the criticism. 

While not naming names here, I've had an article at a mass comm journal since 2010.  Yes, I've swapped emails with the editor, the last back in 2011, until the editor has stopped responding to my queries.  I've stopped trying, but as I head to AEJMC (our major conference) this week, there's a good chance I might run into the editor. 

(Note how carefully I mask the gender and journal title.  It's not like I need the pub, but I am presenting the article at the conference on the idea that I need to get something useful out of it other than being told that one reviewer has read the piece, liked it, but we're waiting on one really really really really slooooowwwww reviewer to finish up the evaluation).

If I do come across the editor (who I don't know personally), do I ask: "What the hell?"  In my talk, do I slyly slip in some obscure mention of how the article has been sitting for quite a while on the desk of an editor, so that's why it seems a bit dated?  Do I wear a sign that says: JOURNALNAME SUCKS?

Probably none of these.  And yet, I have plenty to consider before I hit the conference Wednesday night.  After all, I'm there till Sunday afternoon.  Pissing someone off, that's a way to spend several days at an academic conference doing PhDweeb stuff.

Monday, August 6, 2012

People Lie

I've written about this extensively, research into how people lie (or fib, or fudge, or exaggerate) in surveys.  The most recent issue of Public Opinion Quarterly has a study that examines viewing of U.S. presidential debates. 

The finding? 

People lie.  Or, at least, they exaggerate about their viewing, not unlike previous studies that find people say they voted when they didn't, or that they inflate how often they consume the news and so on.

In the POQ study, Marcus Prior compared survey questions about debate exposure with, as a benchmark, Nielsen ratings of the vice presidential and presidential debates from 2000 through 2008.  Between 47 and 63 percent of voting-age residents said they watched the presidential debates, about double what the Nielsen ratings say is the more likely number.

But is Nielsen a good benchmark?  Probably so, and Prior addresses this by examining data in different ways to make clear his point -- that surveys make for a lousy way to evaluate exposure to a major political event.  It may be all we have, but one filled with error and inflation, so much so that it may affect studies that seek to understand the consequences of viewing on opinions and voting preferences.