Political Considerations in Nonpolitical Decisions: A Conjoint Analysis of Roommate Choice

Abstract

Research shows the increasing tendency of partisan considerations to influence decisions outside the context of politics, including residential choice. Scholars attribute this tendency to affective distaste for members of the other party. However, little work has investigated the relative influence of political and nonpolitical factors in these situations—and it has not sufficiently ruled out alternative explanations for these phenomena. Do people mainly choose to socially avoid members of the other party for political reasons, or is partisanship simply perceived to be correlated with relevant nonpolitical considerations? In some settings, political affiliation may serve primarily as a cue for other factors. As a result, studies that manipulate partisanship but fail to include other individuating information may exaggerate partisanship’s importance in these decisions. To address this shortcoming, I assess the impact of political and nonpolitical considerations on roommate selection via conjoint analysis. I find that partisanship strongly influences this social decision even in the presence of nonpolitical-but-politically-correlated individuating information. Partisan preferences are also moderated by roommates’ perceived levels of political interest. Finally, other social traits do matter, but how they matter depends on partisanship. Specifically, partisans report increased willingness to live with counter-stereotypic out-partisans. This suggests that partisan social divides may be more easily bridged by individuals with cross-cutting identities.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    Economists describe this distinction as “taste-based” versus “statistical” discrimination (see, e.g., Guryan and Charles 2013). The former refers to discrimination grounded in animus toward an outgroup. The latter refers to the use of group membership to make inferences about some other trait or characteristic: for example, given limited information, an employer might attempt to assess a prospective employee’s projected productivity based on what he believes about the average productivity of other members of their race, gender, or ethnicity.

  2. 2.

    For example, imagine a respondent who particularly hates country music, but is largely indifferent about politics. This person might report that they are unwilling to live with a potential roommate who is described as a Republican not because of their political views, but because Republicans (stereotypically) tend to enjoy country music. A researcher might regard this reported “social distance” as symptomatic of affective polarization—since it is observationally equivalent—even though it is actually unrelated to politics.

  3. 3.

    Subjects were undergraduates enrolled in political science courses who were required to participate in research pool studies for course credit.

  4. 4.

    To enhance experimental realism, the levels for sexual orientation were weighted 80% straight, 20% LGBT.

  5. 5.

    Pure independents were excluded from this analysis due to the lack of a single outgroup category here; independent leaners were grouped with the party they preferred.

  6. 6.

    Evidence for an interactive effect is partly contingent on the precise operationalization. There is less to suggest an interactive effect in the binary outcome models; this may be due to the smaller amount of variation in the dependent variable. Regressing these variables on the rating outcome suggests an interaction between out-partisan affiliation and interest, with out-partisans being evaluated more negatively when they are described as more interested in politics.

  7. 7.

    There is additionally some evidence of an interaction between respondent political interest and roommate partisan affiliation, with out-partisan roommates being evaluated increasingly negatively as respondent political interest increases. However, this interaction is not robust across different model specifications.

  8. 8.

    Here, stereotypical Republicans had attribute levels of white, straight, evangelical Christian, likes country music, likes hunting and fishing, and values respecting traditions. Counter-stereotypic Republicans had attribute levels of black, LGBT, nonreligious, likes hip-hop, likes theatre/performing arts, and values treating others fairly. Counter-stereotypic and stereotypical Democrats had the same sets of attribute levels, respectively. The remaining attributes were held constant at “somewhat interested in politics,” “somewhat clean and tidy,” “likes to go to parties on weekends,” and “goes to bed at 11 pm.”

  9. 9.

    In part, we might expect these evaluations to relate to what social psychologists call the “black sheep effect”—i.e., the tendency toward attitude extremity when judging fellow ingroup members. The black sheep effect holds that people will judge likeable ingroup members more positively than comparable outgroup members—and unlikeable ingroup members more negatively than comparable outgroup members (Marques and Paez 1994). Interestingly, this is not entirely what we observe here: while “likable” (i.e., stereotypical) co-partisans are indeed evaluated more positively than counter-stereotypic out-partisans (who are identical in every respect save partisan affiliation), stereotypical out-partisans are still evaluated most negatively, again illustrating the strength of partisan affiliation in interpersonal evaluations.

  10. 10.

    One possibility, of course, is that exposure to counter-stereotypic out-partisans merely results in subtyping (Hewstone 1994). Such subtyping allows people to preserve their prior stereotypes of—and affect toward—the outgroup as a whole (Kunda and Oleson 1995).

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Acknowledgements

I thank John Bullock, Jamie Druckman, Laurel Harbridge-Yong, Chris Karpowitz, Teppei Yamamoto, members of the Druckman political science research lab, and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and advice. This research was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Northwestern University. Data and replication code for the analyses presented in this paper can be accessed at https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/GUATS6.

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Correspondence to Richard M. Shafranek.

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Appendix

Appendix

Sample Demographics

See Table 6

Table 6 Sample demographic characteristics

Main Results

See Tables 7 and 8.

Table 7 AMCEs corresponding to Fig. 2
Table 8 OLS model corresponding to Fig. 3

Binary Choice Outcome

See Tables 9 and 10

Table 9 AMCEs of roommate traits on preference evaluations, binary outcome
Table 10 Roommate-respondent trait correspondence and preferences, binary outcome

Instrument

  1. 1.

    Counting this quarter, what is your year in school?

    • First year

    • Sophomore

    • Junior

    • Senior, graduating this year

    • Senior, not graduating this year

    • Other

  2. 2.

    Please choose one or more races or ethnicities that you consider yourself to be (mark all that apply)

    • White (1)

    • Black or African-American (2)

    • Hispanic/Latino(a) (3)

    • Asian or Asian American (4)

    • Middle Eastern or North African (5)

    • American Indian or Alaskan Native (6)

    • Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (7)

    • Other (8)

  3. 3.

    Generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or what?

    • Democrat (1)

    • Republican (2)

    • Independent (3)

    • Other party (please specify) (4)

  4. 4.

    [strong/weak partisan or closer to which party]

  5. 5.

    Some people seem to follow what’s going on in government and public affairs most of the time, whether there’s an election going on or not. Others aren’t that interested. Where you would place yourself on a scale from (1) you rarely follow what’s going on in government to (7) you follow what’s going on in government and public affairs almost all of the time?

  6. 6.

    Please select your current age (in years).

  7. 7.

    What is your gender?

    • Male

    • Female

    • Other

  8. 8.

    Which of the following terms best describes your religious beliefs?

    • Catholic

    • Mainline Protestant

    • Evangelical Protestant

    • Jewish

    • Hindu

    • Muslim

    • Nonreligious

    • Other

  9. 9.

    Do you identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT)?

    • Yes

    • No

  10. 10.

    For the next few minutes, imagine that you are filling out a survey that will be used to match you with a potential roommate.

    Which of the following activities do you enjoy? Check all that apply.

    • Theatre/performing arts

    • Doing yoga

    • Watching foreign films

    • Cars and auto mechanics

    • Visiting farmer’s markets

    • Shopping

    • Swimming

    • Hunting and fishing

    • Playing golf

    • Watching sports

    • Reading

    • Playing video games

    • Rock climbing

    • Volunteering

    • Going to coffee shops

  11. 11.

    Out of the following options, what is your favorite genre of music?

    • Hip-hop

    • Country music

    • Jazz

    • Classic rock

    • Electronic

    • Heavy metal

    • Pop

    • Other

  12. 12.

    On a scale from (1) not at all clean and tidy to (7) very clean and tidy, how would you rate your level of personal cleanliness?

  13. 13.

    Which of the following statements best describes you?

    • I like to go to parties on weekends.

    • I like to stay in on weekends.

  14. 14.

    Below is a list of personal values, i.e., things people might consider important in life. Out of these options, which is most important to you?

    • Helping others around you

    • Treating others fairly

    • Following rules and behaving properly

    • Respecting traditions

    • Trying new things

    • Making your own decisions

    • Living in safe, secure surroundings

    • Enjoying life and having fun

    • Being successful and admired

  15. 15.

    Generally speaking, around what time do you prefer to go to bed?

    • 8 pm or earlier

    • 9 pm

    • 10 pm

    • 11 pm

    • Midnight

    • 1 am

    • 2 am or later

  16. 16.

    [CONJOINT TASK] For the next few minutes, we are going to ask you to act as if you were trying to pick a roommate to live with.

    We will describe to you several pairs of potential roommates. For each pair, please indicate your attitudes towards the two potential roommates and which one you would prefer to live with. Even if you aren’t entirely sure, please indicate which of the two you prefer.

    [Tasks 1–10 here]

    Which of these potential roommates would you rather live with?

    • Roommate 1

    • Roommate 2

    On a scale from 1 to 7, where 1 indicates that you would definitely NOT live with this person, and 7 indicates you would definitely live with this person, where would you place…

      Definitely would NOT live with Definitely WOULD live with
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7
    Roommate 1        
    Roommate 2        
  17. 17.

    Which of the following characteristics are most important to you in a potential roommate? Please rank these items in order from most important (1) to least important (10). (To reorder the items in this list, click and drag.)

    • Their sexual orientation

    • Their hobbies

    • Their taste in music

    • Their cleanliness

    • Their social preferences

    • Their political views

    • Their level of interest in politics

    • Their religious views

    • Their personal values

    • Their race/ethnicity

    • Their preferred bedtime

  18. 18.

    Think about each of the following hobbies. Generally speaking, would you say that each hobby is more commonly associated with Democrats, more commonly associated with Republicans, or not more commonly associated with one party over the other?

    • Theatre/performing arts

    • Doing yoga

    • Watching foreign films

    • Cars and auto mechanics

    • Visiting farmers markets

    • Shopping

    • Swimming

    • Hunting and fishing

    • Playing golf

    • Watching sports

  19. 19.

    Think about each of the following genres of music. Generally speaking, would you say that each genre is more commonly associated with Democrats, more commonly associated with Republicans, or not more commonly associated with one party over the other?

    • Hip-hop

    • Country music

    • Jazz

    • Classic rock

    • Electronic

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Shafranek, R.M. Political Considerations in Nonpolitical Decisions: A Conjoint Analysis of Roommate Choice. Polit Behav (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-019-09554-9

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Keywords

  • Partisanship
  • Affective polarization
  • Homophily
  • Conjoint