Monday, June 11, 2018

In Our Polarized Era, Are We More "Warm" or "Cold" Towards Our Presidential Candidates?

In preparing for a special topics class next year on "Polarization in American Politics," I'm working through a set of books this summer, beginning with James E. Campbell's "Polarized: Making Sense of American Politics." It is a well-written and easy read, both in-depth and broad in its questions and Campbell's answers about polarization in our politics, and fits nicely in my thinking about the course. I'll likely assigned it after the students read Morris Fiorina's "Culture War? The Myth of Polarized America" and Alan Abramowitz's "The Polarized Public: Why American Government is So Dysfunctional," which serve as the "polarized opposites" in the controversy over political polarization in America.

There are many testable and intriguing questions to further explore polarization from Campbell's book, but one that struck me was on page 210, where Campbell notes that in 2004's American National Election Studies survey, only 62 percent of voters who were "relatively cool" to their party's candidates turned out to vote, while those who were "hotly enthusiastic" about their party's candidates had a turnout rate of 86 percent. Campbell measured "cool" and "hot" via a "feeling thermometer" that ANES has asked in its various surveys of the American electorate. In asking respondents to the ANES studies, the interviewer would describe the thermometer, which goes from 0 for "cold" to 100 for "hot," in the following way:

"If you don't feel particularly warm or cold toward a person, then you should place (that person) in the middle of the thermometer, at the 50 degree mark. If you have a warm feeling toward (the person) or feel favorable toward (the person), you would give ... a score somewhere between 50 degrees and 100 degrees. On the other hand, if you don't feel very favorable toward a person--that is, if you don't care for (them) too much--then you would place (that person) somewhere between 0 degrees and 50 degrees." 

In his study, Campbell uses the ranges of below 59 as "cool" towards the individual and above 80 as being "hotly enthusiastic." But he only cites the 2004 ANES study for his evidence in regards to turnout. As I was reading this section, I thought about whether we would see any trends over time and, if so, what differences there were in the "coolness" or "hotness" by voters and partisan identifiers towards presidential candidates, using Campbell's coding for the feeling thermometers.