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Title Public Opinion on Politician Incivility & Apologies in the United States
Post date 02/27/2019
C1 Background and Explanation of Rationale

Conversations among politicians are often heated and passionate, but sometimes politicians cross the line of civility: they make “comments that convey an unnecessarily disrespectful tone toward the discussion forum, its respondents, or its topics” (Coe, Kenski, and Rains 2014). While some large political figures, such as President Trump, often ignore and even bash a harsh backlash from the media and public opinion to their uncivil comments, other politicians apologize after making these comments. For example, a candidate for Arizona’s first Congressional District apologized for saying “99 percent of (mass shootings) have been by Democrats pulling their guns out and shooting people” (Press 2014). Another political candidate, who was running for the North Carolina state House, apologized after an old expletive-filled rant on Mexicans she made surfaced (Specht 2018). However, how much do these apologies matter?

Past studies in political science and psychology find that anger expression and incivility are not effective as a persuasion tactic, and can even cause politicians to be viewed less favorably and as unfriendly and incompetent (Brooks and Geer 2007; Brooks 2011; Riet, Schaap, and Kleemans 2018). These reactions are also nuanced: according to Brooks (2011), Druckman et al. (2018), and Eggers, Vivyan, and Wagner (2017), the identities of a politician and a respondent can affect how the respondent reacts to the politician’s actions and words. However, no study has yet to examine how people react when politicians apologize for their uncivil comments, compared to when they ignore criticism by the media and the public. Do these apologies affect voters’ evaluations of and their response to the politicians in general? Also, do the genders of politicians and voters interactively influence the voters’ evaluations of and responses to the politicians?

C2 What are the hypotheses to be tested?

We test the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1a: People will evaluate a politician who makes an uncivil comment worse than a politician who does not make an uncivil comment.
Hypothesis 1b: Women will evaluate a female politician who makes an uncivil comment worse than a male politician who makes the same comment.
Hypothesis 2a: People will evaluate a politician who makes an uncivil comment worse than a politician who makes the same uncivil comment and apologizes.
Hypothesis 2b: Women will evaluate a female politician who makes an uncivil comment and apologizes worse than a male politician who apologizes for the same comment.
Hypothesis 3a: People exposed to an uncivil comment by a politician will write more about how they feel about the topic and the politician than people not exposed to an uncivil comment.
Hypothesis 3b: People exposed to an uncivil comment by a politician will be more likely to have an angry tone when writing about how they feel about the topic and the politician than people not exposed to an uncivil comment.
Hypothesis 4: The effects of uncivil communications (specifically, Hypotheses 1a, 2a, 3a, and 3b) will be smaller for conflict-seeking individuals compared to conflict-avoidant individuals.

In addition to our confirmatory analysis to test these hypotheses, we will undertake a range of exploratory analysis. The research questions (RQs) include the following:

RQ1: Will people evaluate a politician who makes an uncivil comment and apologizes worse than a politician who does not make an uncivil comment?
RQ2: Will people react to politicians differently given the interaction of topics (gendered or ungendered) and the politician’s gender?
RQ3a: Will people write less about how they feel about the topic and the politician when they are exposed to an uncivil comment with an apology compared to when they are exposed to an uncivil comment without an apology?
RQ3b: Will people have an angrier tone when writing about how they feel about the topic and the politician when they are exposed to an uncivil comment with an apology compared to when they are exposed to an uncivil comment without an apology?
RQ4a: Will women write less about how they feel about the topic and the politician if the politician is a woman compared to if the politician is a man.
RQ4b: Will women have an angrier tone when writing about how they feel about the topic and the politician if the politician is a woman compared to if the politician is a man.
RQ5: Will men react differently to an uncivil comment or an uncivil comment with an apology from a female politician compared to a male politician?
RQ6: Will men and women evaluate politicians differently based on their own gender and the gender of the politician?
RQ7: Will these effects be different by people’s partisanship?

C3 How will these hypotheses be tested? * We will conduct a randomized survey experiment to test these hypotheses and examine exploratory research questions. Participants will be United States citizens, who are 18 years old or older, and recruited through the Qualtrics Panel. We will conduct analyses using all respondents, as well as some subgroups of respondents. See the attached appendix for the survey instruments and our plan of statistical analysis.
C4 Country United States
C5 Scale (# of Units) 1,000
C6 Was a power analysis conducted prior to data collection? No
C7 Has this research received Insitutional Review Board (IRB) or ethics committee approval? Yes
C8 IRB Number STUDY00031356; MOD00008410, MOD00008656
C9 Date of IRB Approval 10/17/2019; 01/28/2019; 02/22/2019
C10 Will the intervention be implemented by the researcher or a third party? Researchers
C11 Did any of the research team receive remuneration from the implementing agency for taking part in this research? No
C12 If relevant, is there an advance agreement with the implementation group that all results can be published? not provided by authors
C13 JEL Classification(s) D70, D80, C90