Samara Klar, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Government and Public Policy. She studies how individuals’ personal identities and social surroundings influence their political attitudes and behavior. Her book, Independent Politics, (co-authored with Yanna Krupnikov) was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016. In it, they examine why so many Americans prefer to identify as independent, rather than with a party, and what the broader consequences are for American politics. Her work addresses political behavior and opinion, with a particular emphasis on how social identities and social settings influence people's political choices. Her research appears in lots of different journals in political science, including the American Journal of Political Science, The Journal of Politics, Political Psychology, Public Opinion Quarterly, and many others. Her updated CV is available at www.SamaraKlar.com.
Elections, Election Administration, and Voting Behavior
American Political Parties
How does sharing a common gender identity affect the relationship between Democratic and Republican women? Social psychological work suggests that common ingroup identities unite competing factions. After closely examining the conditions upon which the Common Ingroup Identity Model depends, I argue that opposing partisans who share the superordinate identity of being a woman will not reduce their intergroup biases. Instead, I predict that raising the salience of their gender will increase cross-party biases. I support my hypotheses with a nationally representative survey of 3,000 adult women and two survey experiments, each with over 1000 adult women. These findings have direct implications for how women evaluate one another in contentious political settings and, more broadly, for our understanding of when we can and cannot rely upon common identities to bridge the partisan divide.
Recent scholarship suggests that American partisans dislike other party members so much that partisanship has become more divisive than race. We argue that at least one measure of this “affective polarization” conflates a dislike for members of the other party with a dislike for partisanship in general. The measure asks people how they feel about their child marrying someone from another party. What seems like negative affect toward the other party is, in fact, negative affect toward partisans from either side of the aisle and political discussion in general. Relying on two national experiments, we demonstrate that, although some Americans are becoming more politically polarized, more simply want to avoid talking about politics. In fact, many people do not want their child to marry someone from their own party if that hypothetical in-law were to discuss politics frequently. Our measure provides a more nuanced analysis of how affective polarization can exist alongside weakening partisan identities.
How does network structure influence opinion? Relying on theories of preference formation and social networks, we randomize a sample of adults into networks that vary in structure. In one (a clustered lattice), individuals’ connections tend to be connected to each other; in another (a random network), individuals’ connections tend not to be connected, instead providing access to different regions of the network. We seed messages that reflect competing sides of policy debates in each network: one underdog viewpoint is seeded less often, while a dominant viewpoint is seeded more often. We track their diffusion and find that the random network increases exposure to underdog views, compared with the clustered lattice. Individuals in the random network subsequently learn more about the policy debates and become more sympathetic toward the underdog perspective. This has implications for how less funded information campaigns can strategically target social networks to maximize exposure and change minds.
No factor appears more powerful in explaining how individuals evaluate political information and form political preferences than partisanship. Yet, virtually all work on the effects of partisanship on preference formation neglects the crucial role of social settings. In this study, I examine how social settings can fundamentally change the influence of partisanship on preferences. I demonstrate that, in fact, social settings exert an independent influence over preference formation – one that is even larger than the influence of partisan ambivalence. The central implication of these findings is that, going forward, we cannot fully explore how citizens apply their partisanship in evaluating political information without also accounting for the social settings in which individuals find themselves.
Political ideology is not always best measured along a unidimensional spectrum. With a multidimensional construct, we are better able to understand the complexities of Americans' ideological views. This research note presents new survey data from a nationally representative sample of over 2,000 Americans. The survey asks respondents to place themselves on distinct ideological scales regarding social and economic issues, then to prioritize the importance of these issues. The first of its kind to include both ideological preferences and attitude importance, this survey contributes new insights into the complex dimensionality of ideology. Results reveal a plurality of individuals identifying as conservative on both social and economic issues, and a smaller group that is consistently liberal on both policy spectrums. Eleven percent of respondents self-identify as liberal on one scale and conservative on the other, yet choose to identify as "moderate" on the traditional unidimensional scale. By analyzing an extensive set of attitudinal and behavioral measures-including vote choice in the 2012 presidential election-this research demonstrates that true moderates are substantially different from those who mix both social and economic beliefs. It further shows that the vast majority of Americans place more importance on economic issues than on social issues, which has greater influence over respondents' unidimensional ideological placement as well as their presidential vote choice. This study reveals important consequences of the multidimensional nature of ideology at the mass level.
Political behavior among independents has been documented for decades, yet we are left with limited insight into their political engagement. What, if anything, motivates independents to engage in politics? In this study, I apply psychological theories of attitude importance to explain high variation in political-engagement levels among independents. Using two recent datasets, I find engagement levels are comparable across independents and partisans, yet predictors of their engagement differ substantially. Ideological strength predicts engagement for partisans—but not for independents. Instead, my data show that independents' engagement is best predicted by the importance they place on their independent identity. These data provide evidence that independence is a meaningful political identity and that identity importance is a key to explaining what motivates the independent voter to engage with politics.
In our increasingly diverse society, most Americans identify with more than one group. These multiple identities often align with conflicting policy choices, such as when a Democratic parent may support increased social services spending from a partisan perspective but may also worry about the increasing national debt as a parent. Given the significance of identity, political elites often work to prime identities that will win over the most supporters. A large literature documents the substantial role such identity priming can play in shaping preferences, but virtually no work considers the reality that identity primes often compete with one another. That is, different groups simultaneously prime different identities that align with their interests. In this article, I explore what makes one identity prime more effective than another. I do so by offering a theory of what types of rhetoric makes for a stronger identity prime (relative to other types of rhetoric). I test my expectations with a unique survey experiment addressing three issues. I find that, in a competitive setting, certain rhetorical techniques dominate and drive the identities people rely on when forming preferences. The results have implications for public opinion and identity in the ever-changing demographic world in which we live.
The number of independent voters in America increases each year, yet they remain misunderstood by both media and academics. Media describe independents as pivotal for electoral outcomes. Political scientists conclude that independents are merely 'undercover partisans': people who secretly hold partisan beliefs and are thus politically inconsequential. Both the pundits and the political scientists are wrong, argue the authors. They show that many Americans are becoming embarrassed of their political party. They deny to pollsters, party activists, friends, and even themselves, their true partisanship, instead choosing to go 'undercover' as independents. Independent Politics demonstrates that people intentionally mask their partisan preferences in social situations. Most importantly, breaking with decades of previous research, it argues that independents are highly politically consequential. The same motivations that lead people to identify as independent also diminish their willingness to engage in the types of political action that sustain the grassroots movements of American politics.
Professor Klar discusses the appeal of outsider candidates in American elections.
Professor Klar comments on Trump's planned visit to Phoenix
Open Phones with Samara Klar Samara Klar talked about her book, Independent Politics: How American Disdain for Parties Leads to Political Inaction, and responded to viewer comments and questions. Professor Klar co-wrote the book with Yanna Krupnikov.
"Arizona US Senate Seat: Big Dollars and Names in Play" by Christopher Conover
"In America, Every Day Is Independents' Day" by Danielle Kurtzleben
Independent voters like the Trump economy. But is that enough to win their vote?
"The Politics of #HimToo" by Thomas Edsall
"Yes, Trump is an “independent”" by Hans Noel
"'Hang in There.' Muslim Senate Candidate Gets Support From Republican Incumbent" by Alana Abramson
"Arguing About Politics Online Might Not Actually Be A Bad Idea" by Samantha Cole
"Arizona asks 'the unprecedented': could Democrats sweep the west?" by Maria La Ganga
"Forbes 400 Members Who Crossed The Party Line For Presidential Donations" by Daniela Sirtori-Cortina
"Could undecided voters swing the election?" by Steven Shepard
"Donald Trump keeps saying the system is rigged against Bernie Sanders. Here's why.." by Tara Golshan
"Why Sanders Does Better With Independents" by Dan Hopkins
"Super Tuesday sees Trump and Clinton triumph: scholars around the globe react" by Bryan Cranston
"In Elizabeth Warren We Trust" by Bob Burnett
"How dueling D-M surveys reached vastly different conclusions" by David Wichner
"How Politicians Scare Voters to Their Side" by Katy Steinmetz
"There may have been shy Trump supporters after all" by Elizabeth Connors, Samara Klar, and Yanna Krupnikov
"9 media myths about independent voters, debunked" by Samara Klar and Yanna Krupnikov
"Why people call themselves “independent” even when they aren’t" by Samara Klar and Yanna Krupnikov
"Independents didn’t decide the midterm election" by Samara Klar and Yanna Krupnikov
"Trump and Sanders allow partisans to stick with their parties while also rejecting them" by Samara Klar and Yanna Krupniikov
"Why are so many Democrats and Republicans pretending to be independents?" by John Sides"
"Women Fight More Than Men Over Politics" by Samara Klar