Originally published May 12, 2015

In January 2015, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin sported a new beard as he announced he would not seek the GOP presidential nomination for 2016. Commentators rightly connected the announcement to the new beard, because it has been more than a century since the presidency of William Howard Taft, the last White House incumbent with facial hair. In fact, ever since the mustachioed Taft completed his term in 1913, just a few years before American women won the right to vote, few U.S. politicians with facial hair have run for or served in national elected offices. Currently, fewer than five percent of the members of the U.S. Congress have beards or mustaches, according to recent estimates.

Although there has been little research about politicians’ facial hair, analysts have learned that voters make inferences about candidates based on appearance. Skin color, facial structure, and smiles all matter, because voters are ever on the lookout for short cuts, for easy clues to candidates’ issue positions and personal traits. Assessments of appearance are one way voters make guesses about candidates, so it is reasonable to assume that beards and mustaches could influence voter perceptions. Along with two colleagues, Jeanette Morehouse Mendez and Ben Pryor, I have done experiments showing that facial hair does indeed matter for politicians. more...

The San Diego Tijuana border. Photo by Kordian bia Flickr.com
The San Diego Tijuana border
Photo by Kordian via Flickr.com

Originally posted on September 28, 2015

Donald Trump has made immigration into a front-burner issue in the 2016 presidential election, in ways that encourage unworkable, politically hyped solutions appealing only to a hard-core minority of voters. Released on August 16, Trump’s six-page immigration program blended appeals to nationalism, populism, and nativism with sketchy policy ideas based on little understanding of the realities of U.S. immigration. Given Trump’s rise in the polls, the rest of the Republican primary field is reacting to his claims, so it is important to specify their inadequacies.

Repealing Birthright Citizenship

Taking a step that some other GOP candidates have been hesitant to fully endorse for fear of alienating Latino and moderate voters, Donald Trump declares that he would “end birthright citizenship” – the principle that babies born in the United States are automatically citizens. Trump wants to look tough on the “anchor baby” problem, the notion that undocumented pregnant women try to gain legal status by giving birth in the United States. The general public probably does not realize that the undocumented parents have to wait 21 years, until their child born in the U.S. grows up, to file an application on their behalf. Most immigrants come for jobs, not to have babies, so abolishing birthright citizenship would do little to reduce undocumented entries. In an equally deceptive move, Trump tries to make abolishing birthright citizenship sound easy, neglecting to mention that it would require amending the U.S. Constitution, a protracted process that has happened only 27 times in all of our nation’s history. Birthright citizenship was first established by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution adopted in 1877 to ensure full citizen status for African-American ex-slaves; and it was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in 1898. more...

If you can "vote with your feet," can you vote with your key strokes? Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr CC.
If you can “vote with your feet,” can you vote with your key strokes? Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr CC.

Originally posted on Jan. 19, 2016

In every election cycle, news stories tout the potential of online activism to engage people who have historically been less engaged in offline politics – particularly young people, women, and people with less education and income. Could this be true? If so, there would be new possibilities for enlarging American democracy – in an age when one in three eligible U.S. adults skips voting in presidential elections and two thirds of potential voters fail to show up in midterm elections.

But what if online activism mainly offers ways for citizens who are regularly politically active offline to amplify their already loud voices? In that case, online political opportunities would largely reinforce existing political inequalities.

Using national data on Americans who engage in various types of online and offline political participation, our research examines the evidence about these competing “new mobilization” and “reinforcement” perspectives on the impact of online activism. more...

Shoppers at North Bonneville, WA's "Cannabis Corner," a municipally-owned retail marijuana shop. Image via TheCannabisCorner.org.
Shoppers at North Bonneville, WA’s “Cannabis Corner,” a municipally-owned retail marijuana shop. Image via TheCannabisCorner.org.

Originally posted on April 25, 2016. 

Don Stevens is the mayor of North Bonneville, Washington, a town of about 1,000 people on the banks of the Columbia River near the Oregon border. Using authority granted by a state statute, Stevens established a retail marijuana outlet owned and operated by the town. He wears a shirt that says “Reefer Madness is not a documentary,” and his business cards list his job title as “The Marijuana Mayor.” Stevens thinks North Bonneville’s outlet is the only one of its kind in the country, but that is likely to be only temporarily true. North Bonneville’s initiative is part of a broader movement to legalize marijuana, regulate its distribution, and reap benefits for governments.

The Spread of Marijuana Legalization

As of January 2016, the states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska had authorized the sale and consumption of social marijuana. Twenty-three other states permitted use of marijuana for medical purposes. Governments benefit, not just by reducing crime but also from new revenues. According to the Washington Post, Colorado expected revenues of over a billion dollars in 2016. The realities of economic competition suggest that legal marijuana eventually will become as commonplace as alcohol.

Legalization also makes sense as good public policy. In his 2016 state of the state speech, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin proposed to allow the sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana. He acknowledged that drug addiction was a threat to Vermont’s social fabric and blamed pharmaceuticals such as OxyContin “which lit the match that ignited America’s opiate and heroin addiction crisis.” But Shumlin argued that marijuana falls into a different category and “should be authorized and regulated by the state.” He asked lawmakers to cooperate with him to develop legislation “that thoughtfully and carefully eliminates the era of prohibition that is currently failing us so miserably.”

Outright prohibition fails because demand for marijuana distorts the economics of legal production. A January 2016 report from the Associated Press described the exportation of marijuana from Colorado to other states, noting the various creative methods used in this distribution, such as “the one in which authorities say 32 people used skydiving planes and posed as licensed medical marijuana caregivers and small business owners to export tens of thousands of pounds of pot grown in Denver warehouses, usually to Minnesota.” This operation made more than $12 million in four years according to criminal indictment, because profits follow the trail of illegality. As Governor Shumlin argues, legalization will reduce the economic incentives for marijuana smuggling. more...

I Voted Photo courtesy Letta Page
Photo courtesy Letta Page.

A Scholars Strategy Network Scholar Spotlight. Originally posted on November 3, 2014

In a democracy, the equal right to vote should be sacrosanct, but across the country many states are throwing up new obstacles to voting.

SSN experts probe why this is happening – and explain how constructive reforms could enlarge voter participation and insure the integrity of U.S. elections

In 2013, in Shelby v. Holder, a divided Supreme Court invalidated a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to seek federal approval before making changes to their voting rules. Given a free hand, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and other states jumped to pass new rules that have the effect of making it harder for many minority and low-income citizens to vote. The impact will be felt immediately in those states, but the issue matters to Americans everywhere. As Yale University’s Marcus Anthony Hunter explained in the Washington Post on Martin Luther King Day, “Voter Suppression is a Threat to All.”


Fraud by individual voters in the modern United States is vanishingly rare, so the claim that new voter restrictions are necessary to combat such fraud does not hold water. Yet just because an idea is demonstrably false does not mean that it cannot powerfully shape public policy. New SSN briefs unravel what is really going on.

The Misleading Myth of Voter Fraud in American Elections
Lorraine C. Minnite, Rutgers University-Camden

A review of thousands of prosecutors’ records and media reports shows that the average American is more likely to be hit by lightning than to commit individual fraud at the polls.

Convincing Evidence that States Aim to Suppress Minority Voting 
Keith Gunnar Bentele and Erin O’Brien, University of Massachusetts Boston 

New voter restrictions are most likely in Republican-controlled states where growing groups of African American and Latino voters are turning out to vote in increasing numbers. more...

Photo by Sarah Goslee, Flickr CC https://flic.kr/p/drck21
Photo by Sarah Goslee, Flickr CC

Originally published on March 28, 2016.

Strict voter identification laws are proliferating all around the country. In 2006, only one U.S. state required identification to vote on Election Day. By now, 11 states have this requirement, and 34 states with more than half the nation’s population have some version of voter identification rules. With many states considering stricter laws and the courts actively evaluating the merits of voter identification requirements in a series of landmark cases, the actual consequences of these laws need to be pinned down. Do they distort election outcomes? more...

Posters in Washington D.C display a popular photo of Hillary Clinton texting while she served as Secretary of State

Originally posted on Oct. 14, 2015

Nearly 175 women ran for House and Senate seats in the 2014 congressional elections, and enough of them won to push women’s ranks to a record high of 104 members in Congress. More women are running for U.S. political offices then at any other time in history, but they remain underrepresented at all levels. Women hold only a fifth of seats in Congress, a quarter of state legislative posts, and six out of fifty gubernatorial seats – and of course no woman has as yet been nominated for the presidency by a major party. Female candidates face many obstacles – including lack of support from party gatekeepers. My research focuses on the role of gender stereotypes as a potential source of bias among voters. more...

Bill O'Reilly of Fox News is among the most influential of outrage mongers. Photo via FutureAtlas.com
Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is among the most influential of outrage mongers. Photo via FutureAtlas.com

Originally posted in December 2015

Pundits regularly bemoan “incivility” in American politics, but the coarseness of political discourse has moved far beyond mere incivility, generally understood as showing lack of respect. The acrimony and intensity of much political speech and behavior today is best understood as outrage talk – political speech that uses theatrical rhetorical tactics such as ad hominem attacks, slippery slope argumentation, belittling, and mockery in an effort to provoke emotional responses from the audience such as anger, fear, and moral indignation.


Just the threat of stigma can adversely affect health and psychological well-being. Photo by Evgeniy Isaev, Flickr CC.
Just the threat of stigma can adversely affect health and psychological well-being. Photo by Evgeniy Isaev, Flickr CC.

Stigma refers to social views or treatment that undervalues people for having conditions like mental illness, or for engaging in behaviors such as substance abuse. Specifically, stigma happens when people express prejudicial views toward such vulnerable groups or take prejudicial actions. Individuals who are stigmatized may try to limit the effects of stigma by withdrawing from others, hiding aspects of themselves, or avoiding situations where their vulnerabilities may be revealed. Scientific studies increasingly find that worries about being stigmatized – along with actual experiences of stigma – adversely affect health and psychological well-being and keep vulnerable people from using preventive health care.

Even common experiences can make some people vulnerable to stigma. Although unintentionally becoming pregnant and having to make decisions about how to proceed with an unintentional pregnancy are issues that many American women face, these conditions can prove stigmatizing. Young women in the United States have especially high rates of unintentional pregnancy, and may worry about stigma for having an unexpected pregnancy in the first place, as well as stigmas related to the decisions that follow (parenting, adoption, or abortion). This may be a greater concern for women whose experiences are different from the norms within their communities. more...

A Georgia group, Strong4Life, targets childhood obesity with its advertisements. Saguy's research shows such ads increase stigma and negatively affect health, even if obesity might not. Collage via ShareItFitness.
A Georgia group, Strong4Life, targets childhood obesity with its advertisements. Saguy’s research shows such ads increase stigma and negatively affect health, even if obesity might not. Collage via ShareItFitness.

“That’s the Hollywood secret! Don’t put food in your dumb mouth!” That’s how Amy Schumer, a 34-year-old comedian, mocks the tyranny of thinness in Hollywood and American society. As Schumer recounted on the television show Ellen, as she prepared for her film “Trainwreck,” movie executives hired a personal trainer to try to help her slim down. They gave her a meal plan that consisted of “a smoothie for breakfast, and then like for lunch you journal about that smoothie…like, there’s no food!”

At 5’7” and 160 pounds, Schumer’s Body Mass Index is 25.1, just barely over the current cut-off between “normal weight” and “overweight” and slightly below average for the current U.S. population. But she counts as heavy in Hollywood, where weight-based discrimination prevails and bigger bodies are devalued and rendered invisible in the contemporary United States. Unlike most women performers, Schumer has defiantly refused to resemble an “undernourished bird.” Her normal weight has not hurt her romantic life or her career. On its opening weekend, “Trainwreck,” the movie Schumer wrote and starred in, grossed $30 million. more...