Can Populist Parties Increase Electoral Turnout? The Case of the M5S Movement in Italy2024
Can populist parties increase electoral turnout? On the one hand, classical scholarship suggests that populist movements mobilize disenfranchised citizens by providing an alternative to established parties – the “corrective for democracy” hypothesis. On the other hand, populist parties might as well decrease voter turnout by inflaming societal divides and excluding minority groups. We turn to the Italian Movimento Cinque Stelle, arguably one of the most relevant populist parties, which followed the unusual practice of coordinating all political activities on a public online platform. We webscraped the entire event history of the Movement’s more than 1,000 local branches with over 200,000 geocoded political activities to study how the staggered local emergence of M5S chapters affects electoral turnout. Using staggered difference-in-differences models on election results and surveys spanning thirty years, our preliminary analyses suggest that the rise of M5S decreases turnout. Our findings have important implications for the study of turnout in contemporary democracies and the negative consequences of populism in the electoral arena.
Social Desirability Bias as Substance and Not Nuisance2024
Social scientists have long debated the question of how threatening social desirability biases are for what scientists can learn from survey respondents. Until today such biases are treated as a nuisance at best. In contrast, we argue that social desirability biases are key to understand for social scientists as they are important proxies for social norms and the need for conformity within societies. We compare six different designs to measure social desirability bias in relation to support for democracy in three European countries. Besides a list experiment, we rely on various approaches that trigger respondents’ need to provide socially acceptable answers. We show that triggering social desirability is outperforming list experiments and observational measures for various reasons. Most importantly it allows researchers to test whether social desirability is actually manipulated. It also ensures that social desirability is not treated as a nuisance but as a matter of substantive research interest.
Social Norms, Local Opinion Leaders, and Support for Policy Proposals2024
By involving ordinary citizens in decision-making, citizens’ assemblies can help to strengthen legitimacy and trust in democratic institutions. While previous literature has focused primarily on the effects on citizens’ trust in democratic decision-making processes, we have little insight into the potential effects they have in influencing public opinion on salient policy issues. As the recommendations or decisions made by the participants can be widely publicized, the positions advanced by ordinary citizens can provide the public with relevant cues on social norms around a given issue. This may have significant implications for voters’ opinion formation, particularly if they share a common social identity with the citizen representative. To test this argument, we present a visual conjoint experiment designed to closely mirror the actual online participation forum of the Conference for the Future of Europe, one of the largest citizens’ assemblies ever undertaken. By virtue of the conjoint design, we experimentally manipulate the policy position of the message, the extent to which the sender is conceived as an opinion leader, the polarization associated with the policy position put forward, and the sender’s shared local social identity.
The Effects of Spirals of Electoral Violence on Extremist Voting2024
How do spirals of electoral violence shape electoral outcomes? A large body of research highlights that electoral violence serves as strategic tool of political elites trying to influence election results. In particular, violence aims at demobilizing opponents’ constituencies. We shift attention to another potential mechanism. In contexts of political polarization, elites can use violence to mobilize their own constituencies: spirals of violence, i.e. repeated attacks and counter-attacks by extremist parties on opposing ends of the political spectrum, allow candidates to portray themselves as resolute guardians against political radicals. Our analyses of the electoral effects of these spirals of violence focus on a most likely context: the final phase of the Weimar Republic before Hitler’s ascension to power. We draw on archival police records on more than 3000 violent clashes in the elections years 1930, 1932 and 1933. We combine this information with county-level election results and historical census data.
Can Simple Language Affect Voters’ Political Knowledge and Their Beliefs About Politicians?with Roman Senninger,revise & resubmit: Journal of Politics, 2023
How do the tone and style of political messages affect citizens? While research has unpacked which politicians demarcate themselves with their tone and style, we know little about how this resonates with citizens. We theorize that linguistic simplicity, as a communication style, should increase citizens’ political knowledge and affect their beliefs about politicians. Simple language is used as a heuristic signaling that politicians are among the “people” and this might increase politicians’ public support. In pre-registered and large-scale survey experiments conducted in Germany, respondents are shown political statements randomly varying in linguistic simplicity, among other factors. Simplicity increases respondents’ political knowledge and is used by them as a heuristic to fill informational gaps about politicians’ socio-economic backgrounds. In the electoral arena sophistication moderates the effect of politicians’ policy positions. Our findings showcase that linguistic styles can be a major tool for contemporary political campaigns.
(Mis-)Perceiving Support for Democracy: The Role of Social Norms for Democracies2023
Generations of political scientists seek to understand the relationship between citizens’ democratic values and democratic stability. The key premise of this research tradition is that democratic societies live on a “social consensus” over a set of democratic values; a democratic norm. Yet, until today scholarship has neither carefully theorized the role of nor measured this social consensus. Building on research in social psychology, we conceptualize democratic norms as social norms: citizens may think that most people in democracies support its institutions (descriptive norm) and also that one ought to do so (injunctive norm). Based on this, we provide a theoretical framework and derive observable implications of which country- and individual-level characteristics structure social democratic norms. Using existing surveys and large-scale original survey experiments, we will then measure these democratic norms in up to 15 democracies. Our research has important implications for research on democracy showcasing the role social norms play to craft democratic support in our societies.
The Consequences of Punishing Political Ideologies in Democracies – Evidence from Employment Bans in Germanywith Vicente Valentim,2022
How can states counter growing political radicalism? We look at the effect of states persecuting “extreme” individuals by studying the case of the Anti-Radical Decree in West Germany. Implemented in 1972, this policy allowed individuals with connections to mostly communist groups to be banned from working in the public sector. Drawing upon a newly collected data set of individuals targeted by the bans, we run regression models to estimate the effect of such bans on the political behavior of German citizens measured in surveys and official election results. In particular, we look at the long-term effects of the bans by estimating their effects on establishing the Green party, formed a few years after the policy was first implemented. We find that counties that experienced bans are significantly more likely to take protest against the bans on the streets and subsequently vote for the Green party. Added to that individuals, who voice opposition to the bans in surveys are more likely to support the Greens. The effect is stronger in counties that were more leftist, politicized, and had more public sector workers. Our findings have implications for the sets of policies democracies can use to ensure their institutional survival.
Using the Party as a Shield? How British MPs Explain Policy Positions to Constituentswith Vanessa Cheng-Matsuno, Gidon Cohen, and 6 more authors2022
How do legislators respond to constituents’ requests? Recent studies showcase that US legislators are particularly responsive to their voters, even tailoring their messages toward them. But little research investigates if these findings hold for parliamentary systems which are characterized by high party discipline forcing legislators to fall in line. We theorize that in such systems legislators use their party as a shield if their opinion contradicts their constituents’ positional wishes. We test our argument in an audit study involving both legislators and actual voters during the Brexit negotiations in 2019 in the United Kingdom. Contrary to conventional wisdom about party-dominated systems we find no evidence that MPs are less responsive to correspondence from party-incongruent constituents nor that they use their party as a shield. These null findings have important implications for our understanding of how legislative behavior in parliamentary systems is (not) constrained by party discipline.
Place-Based Policies and Inequality Within Regions2022
What are the distributional effects of placed-based policies? Drawing on household data from 2.4 million survey respondents in the European Union (EU), we show that income inequality within European regions is substantial, has widened since the 1990s and contributes more to overall inequality than cross-regional inequality. Using regression discontinuity and difference-in-differences designs, we find that the world’s largest place-based policy, the EU’s Cohesion Policy, increases incomes for affluent households but barely affects low-income households in supported regions. Evidence on mechanisms demonstrates that place-based funds exacerbate intra-regional inequality by primarily boosting labor incomes for the highly skilled.
Lost in Transition – Where Are All the Social Democrats Today?with Thomas Kurer,prepared for an edited book by Silja Häusermann and Herbert Kitschelt, 2021
This chapter follows individual voter flows using panel data for Social Democrats in Germany (1984-2018), the United Kingdom (1991-2018) and Switzerland (1999-2018). To our knowledge this chapter, thus, provides the first long running study of individual voting transitions amongst Social Democratic voters, following their transitions for almost 40 years. The key goal of this chapter is to understand where initial voters of the Social Democrats are today and which individual level characteristics correlate with leaving SDs. We find: 1) Social Democrats manage to keep some of their core 2) but a lot of their core gets de-mobilized or moves on to more progressive options (Greens, LibDem, Green Liberal Party). 3) SDs struggle in all countries to attract new voters, less so in Switzerland which we think is at least partly due to the progressive offer provided by the SP. In contrast, the German SPD loses to everyone and gains almost nothing. We also find evidence that SDs die out: the key factor correlated with ‘leaving’ is the generational cohort Social Democrats belong to. In contrast, often theorized and emphasized factors such as occupation, income or unemployment show much smaller correlations with former Social Democrats’ decision to leave the party behind.
The Political Legacies of Military Service: Evidence From a Natural Experimentavailable upon request, 2021
Does military service affect draftees’ political attitudes after service? While a rich body of research investigates the effects of combat participation on soldiers’ attitudes, we know little about the effects of military service in the absence of combat. However, a widely shared concern is that the military socializes its draftees into authoritarian values running orthogonal to the values of civilians’ lives in democracies. I identify the causal effect of compulsory military service on recruits’ political attitudes by studying the quasi-random assignment of the re-introduced draft in Germany in 1956 using the German Socio-Economic Panel. I find that draftees are more left-leaning and show higher trust in foreigners even 40 years after their service; but also that in most regards serving has no effects on recruits. To better understand the mechanisms behind these long-term legacy effects I rely on a three-wave panel of draftees conducted by the military in 1966. Panel analyses reveal that recruits’ experiences during service do not travel beyond the workplace. Overall, the findings imply that in many ways our experiences at our workplaces might have a much smaller effect on our attitudes and values than previous research suggests.
Does Exposure to Radical Right Rallies Affect Political Behavior and Preferences – Evidence From the Far Right Pegida Movement in Germanyavailable upon request, 2021
What are the effects of far right movements on citizens’ electoral behavior and preferences? Previous research implies that protests and social movements can sway the public towards their goals. However research that actually studies the effect of local protests on the local community and public is scarce. Collecting the full history of local mobilization by a German anti-migration, radical right movement – the ‘Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamicisation of the Occident (PEGIDA)’ – on the street-level I study the effects on the affected communities by using Difference-in-Differences and matching methods. I find that PEGIDA increased voting for radical right parties and made the public support stricter limits on migration. But not all citizens react equally: the effects are driven by mainstream right voters, while the left backlashes. The findings have important implications for the study of public opinion in contemporary societies and political science understanding of protesters’ relevance.
How Perception of Support Drives Vote Switching to Challenger Partieswith Denis Cohen,available upon request, 2020