Photo by Jamison Wieser, Flickr CC. https://flic.kr/p/65rTBv
Photo by Jamison Wieser, Flickr CC.

Originally published February 16, 2016

In June of 2015, the United States Supreme Court answered a question affecting millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans—by declaring that the right of same-sex couples to marry is protected under the U.S. Constitution and no state may deny that right. Like many previous issues, the gay marriage issue has polarized American public opinion, and so there is the same possibility that a Court decision for minority rights could lead to widespread backlash and outright refusals to obey. That is what happened following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation in schools and in the aftermath of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights. In many states and localities, we can assume that the current Supreme Court ruling for gay marriage may also spark pushback from politicians, religious organizations, and interest groups. This brief draws on theories about backlashes to Supreme Court rulings to suggest how movements for minority rights can respond. more...

Image from Graham Lees via Flickr Creative Commons
Image from Graham Lees
via Flickr Creative Commons

Originally published February 25, 2016

Most politicians and journalists discuss immigration laws and reforms – everything from comprehensive immigration reform to border fences – in ways that imply only individual immigrants are affected. But immigration laws that claim to target individuals in certain statuses – such as undocumented individuals – regularly have broader social consequences for families, neighborhoods, and work groups where, of course, immigrants and citizens are intertwined in daily life. This intermingling of citizens and immigrants is visible in all corners of American life, from university campuses to fast food restaurants and neighborhood parks. Immigration laws, especially punitive laws, affect those settings when co-workers and neighbors are deported or withdraw from social life in an attempt to avoid detection.

Nowhere are the reverberations of punitive immigration laws and policies more strongly felt than in family homes with immigrant parents, spouses, or children. Because families so often include people of different legal statuses, mixed-citizenship families provide a unique lens through which to study the true reach of laws regulating both citizenship and non-citizenship. Through these families’ experiences, we see the spectrum of immigration laws’ effects on families and communities. My research on mixed-citizenship couples allows me to explore the full range of direct and indirect effects of laws that appear to target only non-citizen immigrants but actually affect many citizens at the same time. more...

Demonstrations about abortion were front and center at the Texas State Capitol in 2013. Ann Harkness//Flickr CC.
Demonstrations about abortion were front and center at the Texas State Capitol in 2013. Ann Harkness//Flickr CC.

Originally published October 19, 2015

The American abortion debate features “pro-life” activists wielding pictures of fetuses and “pro-choice” advocates telling horror stories about women forced to travel for hundreds of miles to access safe abortions. The struggle seems an irresolvable moral conflict – and both sides claim to be “pro-women.” Pro-choice organizations advocate that abortion be kept legal and made increasingly accessible because women have the right to privacy in matters of reproduction. Pro-life groups argue that the acceptance of abortion unjustly pits women against their children.

My research takes stock of activists on both sides – and identifies those that focus not just on the moral aspects but also on the socioeconomic context of abortion. In fact, abortion is mainly an issue for less privileged women, and if more pro-life and pro-choice groups recognized the economic realities, there would be possibilities for compromise.  more...

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...

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.”

A CONVENIENT UNTRUTH

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...

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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.

more...