Monday, August 12, 2013

My Research Sabbatical

Normally I'd be scrambling to prep for Fall classes, but this semester I have a research sabbatical. All those journalism students, they're the real winners.  I'm not teaching.  It takes a village to replace me, especially for jour3410.

So how will I spend Fall?

Drinking coffee, of course, but in part recovering from the joy that is thyroid cancer surgery -- more or less done except for something called I-131 treatment later this month in which I'll glow in the dark for a week.  Lemme walk you through research topic:
  1. My underlying assumption is a successful democracy relies on the consent of the losers in an election.  I'm not breaking dramatic new ground here.  There's a great book on the topic written from a comparative political science perspective, with no media role examined.  Losers matter.  If losers fight an electoral outcome, goes the argument, it can affect "the legitimacy and viability of democratic institutions."
  2. What are these viability factors?  Likely criterion (dependent) variables include trust in elections and government and belief in democracy.  All kinda important.
  3. Elections of late have become closer, more contested, and a partisan divide in the political elite appears to now exist among the public.  The 2000 election is a famous example of this, of an election never quite over.  Remember Fox News on 2012 election night, as Karl Rove refused to believe it was over?  Yeah, he's my lede. 
  4. People usually expect their preferred candidate will win an election, something in the literature called wishful thinking, a form of projection explained by a host of theoretical factors, from self-esteem maintenance to selective exposure to motivated reasoning.  We expect our own candidate will win in part because we want that candidate to win, and in part because we hang out with, or consume media, that supports our position.
  5. But ... not everyone is a winner.  Someone's gotta lose, even those who expected otherwise.
  6. So ... is it possible those who expected to win, but did not, are less likely to support democracy and elections and government itself?  
  7. And what's the role of news media here?  Theoretically, the more we consume news media, the more exposed we are to "cross-cutting information" and poll results that tell us our preferred candidate is not going to win even though we generally think so due to wishful thinking.  But the media is more fragmented now.  Is consuming Fox or MSNBC likely to add to the wishful thinking effect?
  8. And finally ... has this changed over time?  See the graf below.
To do this, I'm knitting together data from the 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 presidential elections. It's a time-consuming process: identify data and likely variables, code them all in similar fashion, come up with a plan to merge it all together, and do analyses and writing.  Right now I'm going through hundreds of pages of codebooks before the real SPSS work begins.  Some days will be data crunching days, others will be lit review and writing days.  Other days I'll drink.

What I like about this study is its real-world implications while still being theoretical, using national survey data to be generalizable, and being fun as well.  I suspect this will turn out longer than a traditional journal article but probably not long enough to support a book.  I'll know more as I dip into it.

No comments: