Friday, October 28, 2016

Multitasking and Political Knowledge

A 2016 study found that multitasking reduces factual knowledge but increases "subjective" knowledge. In other words, multitasking makes you feel informed, but it actually makes you less informed about politics and public affairs. Let that sink in. Multitasking = Bad. This fits their theoretical argument that we have a limited cognitive capacity. Or, as they put it, in standard academese (bold face added by me):
Given that cognitive resources are limited, resources available to a primary task necessarily become lower when one engages in two or more secondary tasks than when one performs a single secondary task (David et al., 2015). In other words, the more activities one concurrently performs, that is, the more complex tasks become, the more scattered attention to a primary task becomes. Individuals' attention to political news is more dispersed when, for example, they text friends and check friends' Facebook status updates than when they only perform one activity. As a result, those who engage in more than one media activity during news consumption learn less from news media and therefore have lower levels of factual political knowledge.
And even better is this. Read it.
Then, why do frequent multitaskers exhibit such tendencies and hold overinflated views of their political knowledge? It is possible that exposure to political news with shifting attention back and forth between the primary task and secondary tasks leads to the fa├žade of learning and the misperception in multitaskers that they have learned something even if their understanding is not comprehensive.
Very important, the difference between being informed and the perception of being informed, and the notion that multitasking, something we all do, inflates our perceptions of being informed when, actually, it makes us less informed. Think of that as people tickle their Twitter feed while watching the news, or a debate, or whatever.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Students By State at UGA

There have been dramatic shifts in what states send undergraduates to the University of Georgia over the last several years. Looking at full-time undergrads from 2000 to 2016, South Carolina dropped from being the 2nd (only to Georgia itself) in 2000 to 8th in 2016. Tennessee dropped from 3rd to 7th, and Louisiana from 7th to 12th. But look at the growth states. North Carolina, up from 5th to 2nd, and Texas up from 9th to 4th.

North Carolina
South Carolina
North Carolina
South Carolina
New Jersey
New York
New York

In raw numbers, let's look at Texas. Back in Fall 2000, 107 full-time undergrads from Texas attended UGA. In Fall 2016, we have 227 Texans as full-time undergrads -- a 112 percent increase. And Maryland. Back in 2000 only 43 full-time undergrads hailed from there. This Fall, we have 164 students from Maryland -- a 281 percent increase.

When I have time I'll map it for you, but basically the border states send fewer students to UGA while populous, more distant, states send more students. Is it because students from nearby states are less competitive as UGA became over time more and more academically difficult to gain admission to? Or have schools in Maryland and Texas, among others, become harder to gain admission to, thus sending students this way? No idea, but it is interesting.


Friday, October 21, 2016

About that Amendment 1 Poll

The AJC's most recent poll includes a question about the controversial Amendment 1, which gives the state added powers in taking over what it deems to be failing schools. According to the poll:
Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District has significant opposition just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8 election, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. 
The results released Friday found likely voters siding nearly 2-1 against Amendment 1, the referendum that would create a statewide school district to take over Georgia’s lowest performing schools.
Given the number of television ads against the amendment, this is not surprising. Plus teacher organizations hate it (and apparently have been hit today by an open records request from the governor himself, who of course wants the amendment to pass as it's his baby). There are charges the request is meant to intimidate teacher groups.

But there's another, more nerdy reason, why the amendment has little support in the poll. It's the question wording itself. See, the ballot measure is written in such a way as to make you think the amendment is necessary to save failing schools. But the poll question includes a lot more details. According to the AJC:
The poll question revealed more about the proposal than does the ballot question itself, which has been criticized by opponents as misleading because it does not clearly say that the state would take over schools.
And more specifically, later in the story:
They also say the ballot wording is misleading, since it does not mention that the state would take over schools and local tax dollars. It merely asks whether the state should be allowed to “intervene” in failing schools to improve them.
The poll question contained more context, indicating that supporters say the state would be able to improve student performance and increase flexibility while opponents say passage of the amendment would eliminate local decision-making and add bureaucracy.
So you can see the poll results may very well not reflect the vote on Nov. 8. The added explanatory information in the AJC poll is necessary -- they're not cooking the data -- as most respondents probably have no clue about the amendment itself. Unfortunately for those against the amendment, including teacher groups, the explanation voters will see on the ballot is written in such a way as to encourage it's passage.

My own prediction? A helluva lot closer than what's seen in the poll above, but I think the "teacher" side will win. Barely.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Debate Fun Facts

A few fun facts from the third and, thank you Lord, final presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

  • Trump used the word tremendous eight times, three of them in a single answer. Clinton never used the word.
  • The word wrong was used 10 times. The moderator, Chris Wallace, used it four times (twice in a single question). The rest belonged to Trump, including four times in a row where the transcript simply has him saying "wrong." again and again and again.
  • Putin's name shows up 16 times. Trump may not know Putin, but he knows how to use his name, including three times in a single answer.
  • Puppet shows up five times, one by Clinton to start the exchange and then these gems from Trump:
      • "No puppet. No puppet."
      • "No puppet. No puppet."
      • "You're the puppet."
      • "No, you're the puppet."
  • The word women shows up 36 times, in part due to the abortion discussion, in part Trump's responses to allegations by women, but a lot by Clinton herself. I didn't find any mention of men. Sexist debates.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Shooting Your Ballot (or Precinct)

I'm still working on this, but here's a first blush quick-and-dirty map of whether or not you can legally take a picture of your ballot or take a photograph in a voting precinct. I've got some more work to do checking on updates to laws, etc. Any corrections welcome. Click on a dot in a state to get the law there.

Again, updates or corrections welcome.

Initial data source is here.

Full Circle

It's weird and yet somehow comforting when your research area cycles back into the news. I've done work on people's trust in elections when they come out on the losing side. As William Riker wrote in 1983:
The dynamics of politics is in the hands of the losers. It is they who decide when and how and whether to fight on. Winners have won and do not immediately need to change things. But losers have nothing and gain nothing unless they continue to try to bring about new political situations.
But even more so, my interest has been on the surprised losers -- the folks who expected to win despite all polling evidence to the contrary. I published this study on it and here's a more digestible news story about the research. My point was simple, that losers matter, but surprised losers may matter even more in terms of negative feelings about government, democracy, and elections.

And then Donald Trump comes along and more or less makes my research area relevant again by challenging the fairness of the electoral process and predicting a "rigged" election.

Thanks, Donald. You da man.

I had another study submitted to a journal that compared 2004 and 2012 on this topic, as well as looked at data from 1952-2012, but that journal (I'm looking at you, JOBEM) didn't accept it. Boy, don't you feel dumb now, given what's happening today? You could have published research read by more then tens of people worldwide. Take a bow. I'll probably set that aside and use it later.

OK, academic bitterness aside, this race is cycling right into my research and, yes, I plan on analyzing the 2016 data on surprised losers and their attitudes about democracy and the election. This requires interviewing the same people before and after the election, asking them before who they expect to win, asking them after about their attitudes about democracy and the electoral process.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Frosh First Names

Yes, it's time for my annual list of the most popular UGA freshman first names. I've done this every year since 2008 thanks to the good people in the Registrar's office who provide it to me.

And this year, we have -BREAKING NEWS-.

Yeah, yeah, if you're CNN, everything is BREAKING NEWS, but this time I actually kinda sorta have some. For the first time since I started gathering these data, a male name holds the #1 spot all its own.

If you're a William and in this freshman class, congrats. Pat yourself on your back. You're #1. Go find any of the many other Williams and celebrate.

At the bottom you'll find a quick-and-dirty spreadsheet of the top names by year. As you can see, Emily and John tied for #1 last year, but this year William rocketed to the top spot in a stunning upset. Keep an eye on Caroline, though. It's moved up as a name in the last few years and is challenging for a top spot historically controlled by either Emily or Sarah.

I'll provide more analysis next week. Just got these data and wanted to share them to my tens of readers worldwide. Click on the list and you can get a bigger version of the table.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Spiral of Skepticism?

A new study is out in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, the closest thing my field has to a flagship academic journal, and it looks at skepticism and political knowledge. The short answer? As the abstract says: "We also found that skepticism leads to increased knowledge at the end of the election through information seeking."

Of course the study is deeply flawed as it fails to cite me, otherwise it looks good. Based on survey data and structural equation modeling (known by my PhD in stats brothers in law as smoke & mirrors), it finds that skepticism increases information seeking, which in turn increases political knowledge.

OK, let's talk briefly about their measure of "factual knowledge." Here's straight from the study:
Factual knowledge. Eight items asked participants to identify the characteristics and policy positions on various issues for each presidential candidate (Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) to measure factual political knowledge. Correct responses were identified as the answers provided by the campaigns and the candidates on each of their websites. Correct answers were coded as “1.” Incorrect and missing responses were coded as “0.” The items covered candidates’ religious affiliation, their position on increasing tax rates, their position on the impact of the Affordable Care Act on small businesses, and their proposed energy plan. The religious affiliation item was an openended question that we coded as being correct or incorrect. Correct responses for Obama included “Christian” and “Protestant.” Correct responses for Romney included “Christian” and “Mormon.” The remaining items were true/false questions.
I have a problem with including the religious affiliation item as we all know, in the case of Obama, it's rife with conspiracy theory thinking and even normally knowledgeable folks believe, for partisan reasons, he's Muslim. Otherwise this is really a measure of campaign knowledge.

Setting this aside, it's interesting to think of skepticism as a good thing. It is for journalists and, indeed, I insist on it from my journalism students, but seeing it treated this way is neat.