Publications of Simonovits, G.

Seeing the world through the other’s eye: An online intervention reducing ethnic prejudice

We report the results of an intervention that targeted anti-Roma sentiment in Hungary using an online perspective-taking game. We evaluated the impact of this intervention using a randomized experiment in which a sample of young adults played this perspective-taking game, or an unrelated online game. Participation in the perspective-taking game markedly reduced prejudice, with an effect-size equivalent to half the difference between voters of the far-right and the center-right party. The effects persisted for at least a month, and, as a byproduct, the intervention also reduced antipathy toward refugees, another stigmatized group in Hungary, and decreased vote intentions for Hungary's overtly racist, far-right party by 10%. Our study offers a proof-of-concept for a general class of interventions that could be adapted to different settings and implemented at low costs.

The Electoral Consequences of Issue Frames

What happens after issue frames shape public opinion? We offer an account of the downstream effects of issue frames on candidate choice. We then use three studies combining issue framing experiments with conjoint candidate choice experiments to directly assess these downstream effects. Despite an ideal setting for elite influence on public opinion, we find that frames ultimately have modest effects on how the public later evaluates politicians. Our theoretical framework highlights two sources of this disconnect. Frame-induced opinion change is only one component, often outweighed by other factors, in candidate choice, and the issues most amenable to framing are the least relevant for evaluating candidates. This introduces a new consideration into debates about the political consequences of issue frames. Even after they change the public’s policy opinions, issue frames may still have limited implications for other political outcomes.

Centrist by comparison: Extremism and the expansion of the political spectrum

While it is well understood that policy suggestions outside the range of mainstream debate are prevalent in various policy domains of American politics, their effects remain unexplored. In this paper, we suggest that proposing policies far from the political mainstream can re-structure voter perceptions of where alternatives lie in the ideological space. We provide support for this hypothesis using results from six survey experiments. We find that the introduction of extreme alternatives into the public discourse makes mainstream policies on the same side of the spectrum look more centrist in the public eye, thus increasing support for these moderate alternatives.

The interdependence of perceived ideological positions: Evidence from three survey experiments

Theoretical and empirical models describing how voters form perceptions of political candidates assume that such perceptions are independent of each other, even though decades of evidence in cognitive science have shown that context influences the perceptions of various stimuli. In this research note, we argue that such perceptions depend on the full range of available ideological platforms. Data from three survey experiments in Israel provide strong support for the hypothesis that voters consistently view candidates as more centrist when a more extreme candidate appears next to them on the ideological spectrum. Our results imply that voters consider the full spectrum of political actors when they form opinions about the ideological stance of any candidate, and the same pattern holds for the perception of the ideological position of parties.

Costly Values: The Limited Benefits and Potential Costs of Targeted Policy Justifications

Can politicians use targeted messages to offset position taking that would otherwise reduce their public support? We examine the effect of a politician’s justification for their tax policy stance on public opinion and identify limits on the ability of justifications to generate leeway for incongruent position taking on this issue. We draw on political communication research to establish expectations about the heterogeneous effects of justifications that employ either evidence or values based on whether or not constituents agree with the position a politician takes. In two survey experiments, we find small changes in support in response to these types of messages among targeted groups, but rule out large benefits for politicians to selectively target policy justifications toward subsets of the public. We also highlight a potential cost to selective messaging by showing that when these targeted messages reach unintended audiences they can backfire and reduce a candidate’s support.

Developing Standards for Post-Hoc Weighting in Population-Based Survey Experiments

Weighting techniques are employed to generalize results from survey experiments to populations of theoretical and substantive interest. Although weighting is often viewed as a second-order methodological issue, these adjustment methods invoke untestable assumptions about the nature of sample selection and potential heterogeneity in the treatment effect. Therefore, although weighting is a useful technique in estimating population quantities, it can introduce bias and also be used as a researcher degree of freedom. We review survey experiments published in three major journals from 2000–2015 and find that there are no standard operating procedures for weighting survey experiments. We argue that all survey experiments should report the sample average treatment effect (SATE). Researchers seeking to generalize to a broader population can weight to estimate the population average treatment effect (PATE), but should discuss the construction and application of weights in a detailed and transparent manner given the possibility that weighting can introduce bias.

Underreporting in psychology experiments: Evidence from a study registry

Many scholars have raised concerns about the credibility of empirical findings in psychology, arguing that the proportion of false positives reported in the published literature dramatically exceeds the rate implied by standard significance levels. A major contributor of false positives is the practice of reporting a subset of the potentially relevant statistical analyses pertaining to a research project. This study is the first to provide direct evidence of selective underreporting in psychology experiments. To overcome the problem that the complete experimental design and full set of measured variables are not accessible for most published research, we identify a population of published psychology experiments from a competitive grant program for which questionnaires and data are made publicly available because of an institutional rule. We find that about 40% of studies fail to fully report all experimental conditions and about 70% of studies do not report all outcome variables included in the questionnaire. Reported effect sizes are about twice as large as unreported effect sizes and are about 3 times more likely to be statistically significant.

Economic hardship triggers identification with disadvantaged minorities

We explore the effect of economic hardship on the identification with a disadvantaged ethnic minority using longitudinal data on 10,000 adolescents in Hungary. Fixed-effects and first-differenced panel models show that adolescents having Roma descent are more likely to identify as Roma when their families experience economic hardship, an effect strongest among adolescents with mixed-ethnicity parents. Adolescents who identify as Roma are substantially less prejudiced against the Roma and less supportive of exclusionary policies than those with Roma descent but not identifying as Roma. These findings support self-perception-based theories of ethnic identification and imply that changes in ethnic identity can reinforce stereotypes.

Underreporting in political science survey experiments: comparing questionnaires to published results

The accuracy of published findings is compromised when researchers fail to report and adjust for multiple testing. Preregistration of studies and the requirement of preanalysis plans for publication are two proposed solutions to combat this problem. Some have raised concerns that such changes in research practice may hinder inductive learning. However, without knowing the extent of underreporting, it is difficult to assess the costs and benefits of institutional reforms. This paper examines published survey experiments conducted as part of the Time-sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences program, where the questionnaires are made publicly available, allowing us to compare planned design features against what is reported in published research. We find that: (1) 30% of papers report fewer experimental conditions in the published paper than in the questionnaire; (2) roughly 60% of papers report fewer outcome variables than what are listed in the questionnaire; and (3) about 80% of papers fail to report all experimental conditions and outcomes. These findings suggest that published statistical tests understate the probability of type I errors.

An experimental approach to economic voting

The relationship between economic conditions and political behavior has received great attention for several decades. While it is widely accepted that incumbents are more likely to get reelected when the economy performs better, some methodological challenges have made it difficult to test this theory on survey data. This article reports on a series of studies that manipulate individual assessments of economic conditions, and use the downstream of these experiments to identify the causal effect of those assessments on presidential approval. Our findings suggest that changes in voter’s perceptions of the economy indeed translate into substantial changes in political support for the president.

The impact of candidate name order on election outcomes in North Dakota

A number of studies have explored the possibility that the ordering of candidates’ names on the ballot might influence how those candidates perform on election day. Strong evidence of an order effect comes from investigations of election returns in states that implemented quasi-random assignment of candidate name orders to voters. Although most such studies have identified benefits for earlier-listed candidates, much of the evidence comes from a limited set of elections in only a handful of states. This paper expands our understanding of order effects to 31 general elections held in North Dakota between 2000 and 2006; these include all state-wide races involving 2 candidates. A primacy effect appeared in 80% of the contests. The first ballot position reaped the largest benefits in nonpartisan contests and in presidential election years. These findings are consistent with earlier studies from other states and provide evidence in line with proposals that a lack of information and ambivalence underlie candidate name order effects.

Identifying the bandwagon effect in two-round elections

We propose a new method to test for the existence of the bandwagon effect, the notion that voters are more likely to vote for a given candidate if they expect the candidate to win. Two-round election systems with a large number of single-member districts offer an ideal testing ground because results from the first round provide a better benchmark for voter expectations than any possible alternative measure. Using data from the 2002 and 2006 general elections in Hungary, we find that the lead of a candidate in the first round is magnified by about 10 percent in the second round, controlling for country-wide swings of the electorate between the two rounds and for the behavior of voters of smaller parties. A separate exercise suggests that at least part of the effect is caused by the lower probability of individuals voting in the second round if their preferred candidate is likely to lose by a large margin.

Publication bias in the social sciences: Unlocking the file drawer

We studied publication bias in the social sciences by analyzing a known population of conducted studies—221 in total—in which there is a full accounting of what is published and unpublished. We leveraged Time-sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS), a National Science Foundation–sponsored program in which researchers propose survey-based experiments to be run on representative samples of American adults. Because TESS proposals undergo rigorous peer review, the studies in the sample all exceed a substantial quality threshold. Strong results are 40 percentage points more likely to be published than are null results and 60 percentage points more likely to be written up. We provide direct evidence of publication bias and identify the stage of research production at which publication bias occurs: Authors do not write up and submit null findings.

Competition and turnout revisited: The importance of measuring expected closeness accurately

This study aims at contributing to the literature on the effect of political competition on electoral participation. I test the Downsian Closeness Hypothesis (DCH) on data from runoffs in general elections in Hungary. The expected closeness of the runoffs is proxied with first round margins of victory. The findings of the paper are consistent with the DCH: increases in margins between two parties in the first round significantly decrease turnout in the second, even when turnout in the first round is controlled for. This is in line with the theoretical considerations of the DCH but contrary to a large part of the existing empirical literature. The estimates of closeness are substantially greater than in previous papers and suggest that previous studies of the DCH using actual closeness as a proxy for expected closeness encountered a serious measurement error problem.