Research projects


Sexuality and political behaviour

Voting like their rights depended on it. Sexuality and turnout in Western Europe. (with Joshua Townsley) – under review (submitted December 2019)

Abstract: In this paper, we provide the first empirical assessment of the effect of sexuality on electoral participation and political interest across twelve Western European countries. Empirically, we employ a recently applied method of identifying lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals using data on the gender composition of cohabiting partner households from the European Social Survey. We theorise that LGBs are incentivised to be more politically engaged because the political process allows them to expand their in-group welfare. Our findings show that there is a “sexuality gap” in turnout in Western Europe and a similar effect is observed on political interest, one of the primary predictors of individual-level turnout. Testing the conditionality of the gap reveals that leftist party mobilisation and within-group interactions likely explain LGBs “over participation” in electoral competitions. LGB individuals’ increased likelihood of voting makes this group a prime target for political persuasion.

Where is the party? Explaining Political Party Shifts in Positions on LGBT Rights. (with Scott Siegel) – APSA 2020 paper

Abstract: Legislative action has been the primary vehicle for change in LGBT+ rights in Europe the political saliency of these concerns has remained much lower in comparison to the US. LGBT+ rights are of interest to only a small minority of voters yet the partisan endorsement of these policies by mainstream, large catch-all parties has been necessary for pro-LGBT rights legislation, such as same-sex marriage to be passed. There is not a perfect linear relationship between changes in public opinion and the approval of pro-LGBT+ legislation. This paper asks: what explains support for LGBT+ policies positions among mainstream parties and why they may change over time.

EU intervention

EU intervention, economic perceptions & satisfaction with democracy. (with Dan Devine) – under review

Abstract: The dramatic decline in political support in the aftermath of the Eurozone crisis has sparked a debate regarding the role of the European Union’s intervention into a small collection of its member states and the negative consequences this intervention signals for representative democracy. Primarily, there are two arguments made to explain the decline of political trust within the intervened-in states. One argument is that EU intervention undermines representative democracy as it ties the hands of political parties, castrating the room for manoeuvre of governments which reduces the ability of voters to choose between demarcated political alternatives. This reduced room for manoeuvre or “democracy without choice” engenders dissatisfaction with the democratic system as voters become aware of their inability to shape the policies of those who seek to govern them. A different argument suggests that EU intervention serves as an information cue  that signals to citizens that their government is unable to provide competent economic governance. As a result, a decline in political support in the intervened-in economies is brought about by citizens’ updating their subjective evaluations of economic performance. In this paper we ask what effect do economic interventions have on satisfaction with democracy, economic perceptions, and the mechanisms that are at play between these three variables.

Does EU Judicial Intervention Increase Euroscepticism? Experimental Evidence from Spain (with Dan Devine) – under review

Abstract: The mantra of “take back control” has become a staple within the rhetorical repertoire of eurosceptics on both the left and right across member states of the EU. At the centre of the slogan’s message is a call to arms against the (perceived) challenge that membership of the EU represents for national state sovereignty. When the autonomy of member states is perceived to be infringed upon by decisions taken at the supranational level, individuals become more sceptical of European integration and less happy with the state of democracy in general. In this paper, we argue that decisions taken by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) can lead to increase polity scepticism, that is increased opposition to the EU and decreased satisfaction with democracy, as supranational court decisions can cue citizens regarding the extent of EU integration on the dilution of national sovereignty. Empirically we leverage data from a quasi-experimental setting in Spain to assess how ECJ rulings impact both euroscepticism and dissatisfaction with democracy. Our results provide strong evidence that ECJ rulings can have a negative causal effect on support for the EU and satisfaction with democracy. The implications of our findings suggest that EU institutions seeking to ensure compliance with the rule of law and EU norms should proceed with caution. Interventionist action may backfire by increasing the scrutiny of the EU’s legitimacy and undermining polity support. [paper]

Electoral campaigns & Voter Mobilisation

Mobilising voters to lobby their MPs on Brexit. Field experiment evidence from the UK.
(with Joshua TownsleyFlorian Foos and Denise Baron) – under review

Abstract: Mass emails are a common tactic by which advocacy groups try to mobilise like-minded others to lobby political representatives. This paper assesses whether a large-scale campaign conducted by the UK’s main anti- Brexit advocacy group effectively induced constituent-to-legislator lobbying. The organisation conducted a large-scale field experiment in which 119,332 supporters were randomly assigned to receive one of four email messages, or to a control group. The emails urged supporters to lobby their local MP to support a second Brexit referendum, randomly varying whether or not they informed recipients of: i) their MP’s opposition to a second referendum, and ii) the urgency of the issue. We find that this email campaign generated around 3,247 individual emails to 346 non-aligned MPs, corresponding to an increase in emails of 3.4 percentage-points over the control group. We find no differential effect of revealing an MP’s incongruent Brexit position or of emphasising urgency. These results suggest that in high-stakes contexts, mass emails can be highly effective at mobilising supporters of a cause.
[pre-reg] [paper] 

Brexit identities and campaign framing experiment.
(with Katharina Lawall, Joshua Townsley and Florian Foos)

Abstract: Over recent years, there has been an increase in negative partisanship across Western democracies, as well as an emergence of new political identities structured around the liberal-authoritarian dimension. Emerging issue-based identities compete with traditional party identities and politics is increasingly characterised by strong feelings towards outgroups. In times of such political turmoil, how can political parties use salient political identities to mobilise supporters? We conducted a large-scale pre-registered randomized field experiment in collaboration with a major political party in the UK. We test whether supporters of the party were more likely to donate and volunteer if they were exposed to negative rather than positive political identity cues, and whether the effect of these cues varied depending on whether they primed traditional party identities or salient issue identities. Party supporters either received an email invoking a positive party identity (helping the in-party win), an email invoking negative party identity (stopping the out-party from winning), an email invoking positive Brexit identities (supporting Remain), and an email invoking negative Brexit identities (stopping Brexit). We expect that negative political identities are more powerful in encouraging costly political behaviour than positive ones, and that negative cues should be more effective when paired with traditional party identities.