Ongoing research projects and manuscripts

1) New project (starting 2018): The divided people: polarization of political attitudes in Europe

SNSF Ambizione Project, No PZ00P1\_174067, 2018 — 2022.

2) Representation and responsiveness in times of economic crisis

(SNSF-Project “Crisis of democracy? Party politics and representation in times of austerity“, with Silja Häusermann, 2014-2017)

How economic crises affect political representation: declining party-voter congruence in times of constrained government (with Silja Häusermann and Nathalie Giger). forthcoming, West European Politics.

Abstract: How do economic crises affect political representation in times of constrained government? Our paper shows that among voters salience of economic issues increases during economically harsh times. However, parties respond only to a limited degree to economic shocks, with the result that congruence between parties and voters decreases. We theorize the incentives and disincentives different political parties have in choosing a saliency strategy and we provide evidence on the extent to which congruence depends on the severity of economic shocks and the government/opposition status of the party. We draw on cross-national data to measure issue salience for parties (CMP) and voters (CSES). While our findings clearly indicate a decline of congruence in times of economic crisis, we also find that it remains best for government and office-seeking opposition parties. We substantiate this finding by unpacking the ways in which incumbent and office-seeking opposition parties address the economy in their manifestos.

Errors have been made, others will be blamed: blame avoidance and blame-shifting in Prime Minister speeches during the economic crisis in Europe (with Martijn Schoonvelde and Gijs Schumacher). Manuscript, under review.

Abstract: In this paper we investigate prime ministers’ communication strategies during the most re- cent economic crisis in Europe. We argue that when electoral risk is high but governments’ policy options are severely limited, prime ministers will use specific communication strate- gies to mitigate electoral risks. We analyze two such communication strategies – blame avoidance and blame-shifting – by applying state-of-the-art quantitative text analysis meth- ods on 5402 speeches of prime ministers in 9 EU member states. We find evidence for both strategies. Prime ministers talk about the economy more in response to both high (domes- tic) unemployment and low (domestic) GDP growth. Furthermore, we find the (domestic) unemployment rate to be the most consistent predictor of blame-shifting: as the domestic unemployment rate goes up, this is followed by an increase in blame-shifting towards banks, Germany, Greece and the Troika.

Polarization or convergence? How the economy shapes party policy positions Manuscript. Presented at 2017 APSA Annual Meeting, San Francisco.

Abstract: What are the consequences of a changing economy for party competition? A well-studied proposition in the political economy literature is that economic globalization leads to convergence of economic policies, since the room of maneuver of national policy-makers will be increasingly constrained. However, little is known about how parties adapt their policy positions in times of economic crisis — or more generally — in reaction to economic booms and busts. In this paper I argue that economic downturns lead to polarization of party systems. Because public salience of economic issues increases during economically harsh times, voters are likely to be better informed about the economy and have more distinct preferences. As a consequence, parties have an incentive to present a clear alternative to voters by taking more extreme positions. Based on data from the CMP and Eurobarometer for 20 countries between 1990 and 2015 the results show that polarization increases when the economy is getting worse, and when public salience of economic issues is high. Thus, the findings indicate that European parties are indeed responsive to changes in the economic context and adjust their policy positions in reaction to changing voter priorities, thereby increasing political choice along the salient policy dimensions.

3) The politics of trade-offs

(SNSF-Project “Hard choices. Preferences, trade-offs and reform opportunities in multidimensional welfare politics“, with Silja Häusermann (PI), Thomas Kurer and Michael Pinggera, Collaborator, Operative Leader 1st wave of survey, 2015-)

The Politics of Trade-offs: Studying the Dynamics of Welfare State Reform with Conjoint Experiments (with Silja Häusermann and Thomas Kurer). Manuscript, under review.

Welfare state reform in times of austerity is notoriously difficult because most citizens oppose retrenchment of social benefits. Governments thus tend to combine cutbacks with selective benefit expansions, thereby creating trade-offs: in order to secure new advantages, citizens need to accept painful cutbacks. Prior research has been unable to assess the effectiveness of compensating components in restrictive welfare reforms. We provide novel evidence on feasible reform strategies by applying conjoint survey analysis to a highly realistic direct democratic setting of multidimensional welfare state reform. Drawing on an original survey of Swiss citizens’ attitudes on an encompassing pension reform, we empirically demonstrate that compensation is indeed an effective strategy to offset retrenching reform elements. Built-in trade-offs strongly enhance the prospects of restrictive welfare reforms. Our findings indicate that agency matters: governments can and must tailor the right compensations to the relevant opposition groups in order to overcome institutional inertia.

Unequal representation in Swiss pension politics (with Michael Pinggera, Silja Häusermann, Thomas Kurer and Linards Udris).

4) Other work in progress

“Clutter”: How much information do party manifestos contain? (with Daniel Bischof).

What rich and poor consider important and how this matters for representation (with Nathalie Giger).

Guidance or neglect? Representation and vote intention in direct democratic votes (with Michael Pinggera, Céline Colombo, Silja Häusermann and Thomas Kurer).


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