Debate about America's proper role in the world and concerns about immigration, trade, and international terrorism are not new. These issues might be loosely classified under the heading of globalization, and they are linked in four important ways: (1) they produce cultural, economic, and social changes that profoundly affect ordinary citizens; and (2) they readily evoke images of the "other"; but (3) the issues themselves are far removed from the experience of most citizens; and, as a result, (4) politicians have enormous power to frame the debate and thereby arouse emotions that shape attitudes and behavior. Rising pressures of economic globalization coupled with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2000, have wrenched debates about globalization out of corporate boardrooms and chambers of government and dropped it into the living rooms of ordinary citizens. But public opinion on these issues seems uninformed, highly volatile, and thus open to manipulation by politicians both here and abroad. Most Americans are likely to depend heavily on information received through mass media to make sense of these issues. This project explores the impact of the political debate about immigration, trade, and responses to terrorism on public opinion and political behavior. The researchers investigate how the prevalence of certain information or cues in the mass media affect the ability of citizens to make sense of these important but remote issues. Recent studies have shown that emotions play a central role in shaping how people respond, attitudinally and behaviorally, to the world around them. But despite the recognition that politicians and events can influence emotions, little research has been done to document the capacity of specific threats and other political stimuli to elicit emotions. The investigators test how a number of key dimensions to public discourse about globalization influence opinion formation and motivations to take action by evoking anxiety, anger, compassion, and other emotions. They expect group cues e.g., racial, ethnic, national) to be particularly powerful. Their preliminary research indeed shows that cueing specific group identities can alter responses to otherwise identical information about immigration, a process that is mediated by emotions. The researchers also examine other factors that may modify the emotional and behavioral impact of messages, including an emphasis on costs or benefits, the locus of blame for problems, the degree of control over problems, the severity of a threat, and what is at stake (e.g., economic vs. cultural concerns, freedom vs. security). This project employs multiple methods of data collection to explore the impact of political communication on opinions about globalization. The central pillar of the project is a set of survey experiments administered to representative national samples to determine how public discourse affects the responses of ordinary citizens. However, the researchers are also keenly interested in the process whereby people choose to become more informed, the mechanisms that underlie the process of opinion formation, and actual behavioral change. Their laboratory is equipped with instruments for measuring physiological (emotional) arousal and cognitive accessibility, allowing them to pursue research on mechanisms further. Broader Impact: Globalization may well be the defining feature of the contemporary era. Recent years have witnessed significant opposition to further liberalization of trade and immigration. The 9/11 terrorist attacks and subsequent "war on terror" have exacerbated tensions over the free movement of people and commerce. These trends will only continue with increasing economic interdependence and political integration. Politicians, journalists, and interest groups have the ability both to educate and to mislead public on this complicated set of issues. Public opinion can in turn constrain the actions of policy makers and, depending on the forces aroused, fan the flames of either conflict and intolerance or prosperity and mutual understanding. Rigorous investigation is required to uncover the impact of elite political debate on mass opinion, so that the investigators may shed light on the capacity of political discourse to guide public responses during periods of social transformation.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Brian D. Humes
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor
United States
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