My research focuses focuses on the roots of extremism and moderation in individuals’ attitudes.  I discuss each of my major research projects in the subheadings below.

Please contact me for materials relating to any of these papers or projects.


When does meeting someone different change your views and actions? And how does the difficulty of interacting matter? My dissertation looks at these questions, focusing on how interactions with social difference change political attitudes and political tolerance. The dissertation involves three experiments, each of which considers the ease of communication as a key moderator in understanding the result of experiences with outgroups. In these experiments, I draw from theories on processing fluency and racial threat from political and social psychology. The project aims to understand when social encounters improve or worsen relationships between social groups by relying on theories from social and political psychology.


Busby, Ethan and James N. Druckman. Forthcoming. Football and Public Opinion: A Partial Replication and Extension”. Journal of Experimental Political Science.

Do events irrelevant to politics, such as the weather and sporting events, affect political opinions? A growing experimental literature suggests that such events can matter. However, extant experimental evidence may over-state irrelevant event effects; this could occur if these studies happen to focus on particular scenarios where irrelevant event effects are likely to occur. One way to address this possibility is through replication, which is what we do. Specifically, we replicate an experimental study that showed the outcome of a college football game can influence presidential approval. Our results partially replicate the previous study and suggest the impact is constrained to a limited set of outcome variables. The findings accentuate the need for scholars to identify the conditions under which irrelevant effects occur. While the effects clearly can occur, there relevance to politics remains unclear.

Busby, Ethan, James N. Druckman, and Alexandria Fredendall. 2017. “The Political Relevance of Irrelevant Events”. Journal of Politics 79(1): 346-350.

Do events irrelevant to politics affect citizens’ political opinions? A growing literature suggests that such events (e.g., athletic competitions, shark attacks) do in fact shape political preferences. We present an experiment that largely replicates a widely noted irrelevant event effect. Specifically, we find that the outcome of a sporting event (i.e., a football game) affects presidential approval and likely does so by affecting individuals’ moods. We also show that the effect is short-lived.

Busby, Ethan, D.J. Flynn, and James N. Druckman. (Forthcoming). “Studying Framing Effects on Political Preferences: Existing Research and Lingering Questions.” Doing News Framing Analysis II (Paul D’Angelo, ed.). New York: Routledge

This chapter reviews the state of framing research, noting strengths, weaknesses, and unexplored areas of this literature.

Busby, Ethan C., David Doyle, Kirk A. Hawkins, Nina Wiesehomeier (Forthcoming). “Activating populist attitudes: the role of corruption.” The ideational approach to populism: Concept, theory, and method.  (Kirk A. Hawkins, Ryan Carlin, Levi Littvay, and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, eds.). New York: Routledge.

Recent advances in the study of populism, particularly at the individual-level, have conclusively demonstrated the importance of elite framing for activating and directing latent populist attitudes among the electorate. Ideational work in this vein however, has yet to explain exactly how policy failure and the political context also incentivize populist behavior. We expect that policy failures that result from intentional misconduct are more likely to trigger a populist response than those resulting from negligence or external causes, and that such a response is likely to be greater when this type of corruption is endemic. We tested these theoretical expectations in two laboratory-based experiments: one on a student sample at Northwestern University in the United States, the other on a mixed student/resident sample at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Ongoing research:

Prompting Populism—with Joshua R. Gubler and Kirk A. Hawkins. Revise and resubmit

Scholars have long known that the rhetoric of populist politicians is an important part of their appeal; however, less is known about how that rhetoric operates. Drawing on data from two large experiments conducted with American adults, we show that survey questions encouraging individuals to consider political problems within a dispositional blame frame activates latent populist attitudes, while an encouragement to consider these same problems in a situational blame frame does not. In our second experiment, we connect this framing change to voting intentions and find that subjects exposed to dispositional frames are more likely to express support for Donald Trump and less likely to express support for Hillary Clinton than subjects exposed to situational frames. Importantly, the impact of framing is contingent on pre-existing populist attitudes; subjects with moderate levels of populist attitudes are much more likely to demonstrate an increase in expressed populism and support for Trump.

Pigeonholing Partisans: Mass Stereotypes of Party Supporters and Partisan Polarization—with Jacob Rothschild, Adam Howat, and Richard Shafranek. Revise and Resubmit

What comes to mind when people think about rank-and-file party supporters? What stereotypes do people hold regarding ordinary partisans, and are these views politically consequential? We utilize open-ended survey items and structural topic modeling to document stereotypes about rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans. Many subjects report stereotypes consistent with the parties’ actual composition, but individual differences in political knowledge, interest, and partisan affiliation predict their specific content. Respondents varied in their tendency to characterize partisans in terms of group memberships, issue preferences, or individual traits. Most importantly, we show that partisan stereotype content is politically significant: individuals who think of partisans predominantly in an essentialist or traits-based manner display dramatically higher levels of both affective and ideological polarization

“I hear you loud and clear – and that’s the problem: Intergroup experiences, political attitudes, and political tolerance”

Brief, informal interactions with strangers is a common way people come into contact with individuals from other social groups. Can these encounters shape group-specific political attitudes and tolerance people extend to others? I address this largely unexplored question by offering evidence of the frequency of such encounters. I then isolate a primary aspect of these interactions that I expect to shape their impact: specifically, how easy or difficult communications are in the interaction. I review distinct theories about this element, one of which suggests easy interactions will lead to more positive out-group attitudes and another that posits the opposite. The latter occurs because individuals feel threatened by competent, socially proximate outgroups. I test these competing explanations with a novel laboratory experiment involving cross-racial interactions. I find clear evidence of a backlash such that white subjects respond to easy interactions with more negativity towards racial minorities and less support for demonstrations by groups advocating in behalf of racial minorities. I verify these findings with a similar field experiment. The results ironically imply that ostensibly better self-presentations can vitiate group support.

“Political Stereotypes and Independent Identification”—with Adam Howat, Jacob Rothschild, and Richard Shafranek. Working paper

Research on partisanship has begun to explore the social-psychological dynamics of partisan affiliation, including the role played by stereotypes of rank-and-file party supporters. For the most part, however, this work has focused on partisan identifiers, with less attention paid to those who eschew party labels. We help to fill in this gap with a series of novel surveys measuring top-of-the-head considerations regarding both partisans and political independents. We utilize open-ended survey items and structural topic modeling to document stereotypes of people who identify as political independents – as well as independents’ stereotypes of fellow independents and of rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans. We present a descriptive overview of the stereotypes people hold of political independents, as well as the partisan stereotypes held by independents. Following research which suggests that many people identify as independent for presentational rather than political reasons, we explore how these stereotypes influence independent identification relative to other factors such as ideology and issue preferences, and examine their correlates among other political perceptions and outcomes.

Let’s Agree to (Not) Disagree: A New Look at Orientation Toward Conflict and Participation—with Richard Shafranek and Josh Pasek. Working paper

Recent research has moved from studying the effects of political disagreement to understanding people’s orientations towards political conflict and the consequences of these orientations. Some prior work suggests that conflict aversion may reduce political participation; however, other research fails to observe these patterns. We highlight the measurement strategies employed by previous research, and discuss the implications these choices may have. To clarify this literature, we use a panel study conducted in 2014 to attempt to replicate previous findings regarding the effects of conflict orientations on political participation. Using a number of different operationalizations of conflict orientations and political participation, we demonstrate that measurement choices have important consequences. We suggest that future research should continue to explore different operationalizations of conflict orientation and participation in order to more rigorously understand this concept.