Ongoing projects

Álvarez-Benjumea, A., and Valentim, V. (2022). The Enforcement of Political Norms

Abstract: Are individuals willing to sanction stigmatized political preferences? In an original survey, we showed respondents pictures of individuals with different political views. We then asked a number of questions to capture their first and second-order normative views of the individual, their views on whether sanctions would be appropriate, their perception of others’ views of the appropriateness of sanctions, and self-reported willingness to sanction. Our findings show that respondents clearly view radical-right preferences as less desirable than other political preferences. Individuals view indirect sanctions as most appropriate and report a higher likelihood of engaging in them. Sociodemographic characteristics (age, gender, education) and emotional responses correlate with willingness to sanction, but political attitudes (ideology, interest) do not. Our findings uncover the micro-level mechanisms of enforcement of social norms in the political realm and highlight how norms affect politics in ways that are similar to other realms of social life.

Working paper

(Working papers, data, and materials might be available upon request. Please, feel free to contact me)

Alvarez-Benjumea, A., and Winter, F. (2022). Social Sanctions against Online Hate Speech: Three Experiments on Counterspeech


The increase in online hate speech poses a challenge to democracy. Counterspeech is currently advocated by many as the best strategy to counteract hate speech as it does not carry the negative externalities of other interventions like censoring content. We investigate whether and how frequently counterspeech is produced as a spontaneous response when participants encounter hate speech online. We find the rate of spontaneous counterspeech to be small. Participants with a positive attitude towards the target of hate were also more likely to use counterspeech. No other specific variables related to the participants, such as their gender or level of education, were important in determining whether or not they used counterspeech.

In a second experimental study, we test different strategies to increase the willingness to sanction online hate speech. First, we test whether participants are more likely to respond to hateful messages with counterspeech when they can observe previous participants have done so. Exposure to counterspeech by anonymous others strongly encourages participants to act against hate. Second, we test whether informing participants of the inappropriateness of using hate prior to participating in an online platform, thus increasing the salience of the norm, increases their willingness to sanction. Increasing the salience of the norm does not have an effect on the number of sanctions and, if anything, participants are less willing to sanction.  In a third experiment, we test the mechanisms behind the behavioral results by investigating how observing the normative message or counterspeech affects social norms of the expression of hate speech.  The results highlight the importance of normalizing and spotlighting counter-speakers as a measure to increase spontaneous counterspeech.

Updating Social Norms After the US 2020 Election (together with Fabian Winter, and Nan Zhang)


Social norms stigmatizing the expression of offensive attitudes against social minority groups constitute a powerful bulwark against the expression of prejudice. Because normative behavior depends on social expectations, new information on private behavior and beliefs can change individuals’ perceptions of what others think. Elections, as aggregators of opinions, can lead to fast normative changes.

This project investigates changes in social norms governing prejudice in the aftermath of the 2020 U.S presidential elections. We draw upon data from an original survey measuring U.S citizens’ perceptions of the social acceptability of bigoted speech. The survey captures responses to a wide range of expressions of prejudice targeting different minority groups. The selection includes different types of statements ranging from “micro-aggressions” to explicit racial slurs. Participants (N= 1144) rated the social acceptability of a set of randomly chosen statements as a measure of the strength of the anti-prejudice norm, as well as their personal belief about the offensiveness of the statements. Participants were contacted the week before the U.S. Presidential Election and re-interviewed in the week following it.

We found that the 2020 election affected the participants’ perception of the social norm. Overall participants perceive the norm to be more permissive after the election. We find that the direction of the effect depends on participants’ predicted winner: those who predicted a Trump win perceive the norm to be more permissive whereas those who predicted a close Biden victory perceive the social norm to be stricter after the election. We discuss these results in the context of polarizing norms.


Zhang, N., Alvarez-Benjumea, A., and Winter, F. (2021). Party Trumps Race: How Black, Hispanic and Asian Republicans React to Explicit Racial Rhetoric.

Abstract: As racial hostility has become increasingly evident within the Republican party in recent years, scholars and political observers are challenged to explain continued GOP support amongst segments of minority voters. Against this backdrop, we examine the racial attitudes of minorities within the Republican Party. Our research draws from a large-scale original survey measuring Americans’ reactions to the racially-offensive speech. We find that Black, Hispanic and Asian respondents who identify with the GOP are consistently more tolerant of prejudice than their non-Republican counterparts, even with respect to statements targeting their “own” race. Further, in some instances, minority Republicans react similarly to White Republicans when presented with racially-hostile comments about other minorities. These patterns are largely consistent with accounts of social sorting and partisan influence which have been advanced to explain the political alignments of White Americans and provide an explanation for why some minorities may choose to remain within the GOP despite its stance on racial issues.

Alvarez-Benjumea, A., Freund, L., Luckner, K., Winter, F. Public Signals as Coordination Devices: The Moderating Effect of Group Identity.

Abstract: Experiments on social norm intervention suggest that public information, which creates common knowledge, is more effective in increasing norm conformity than privately disseminated information, regardless of other factors affecting norm conformity, such as group identity. We present a theoretical model and an experimental test of the effect of the channel of dissemination (public vs. private) of a normative message under different levels of group identity on norm compliance in a public goods game with heterogeneous groups of actors. In the theoretical model, we derive an actor’s pecuniary and identity utility, as well as the conditions under which they will coordinate on a correlated equilibrium. In the experiment, we play a public goods game in which we provide the participants with a normative message about the fairness norm. The conditions vary between low/high group identity and public/private information. We test the coordination on the provided fairness norm in each setting. To increase the strength of the test, we introduce heterogeneous endowments. This increases the number of alternative fairness norms on which coordination is feasible. Our results suggest that group identity increases norm compliance, while the public dissemination of normative information has no, or even negative, effects on norm compliance depending on the type of actor in question.

The effect of anomie on norm-compliance (together Winter, F.)

Tracking the Trump Effect (together with Winter, F. and Zhang, N.)

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