My research focuses on the relationship between political parties and public opinion, and the implications of this for the electoral process. This relates to a number of questions of central importance to democratic theory, including where public opinion comes from. Why does it change over time? Do elections compel parties to adopt policies consistent with public opinion? How do parties adapt to changes in public opinion over time? How do long term relationships develop between political parties and particular groups of voters? My research on these questions can be grouped into three general themes: (1) the study of party strategy and its implications for democracy; (2) the historical development of party systems; and (3) the nature and origins of public opinion.
1. PARTY STRATEGY AND IMPLICATIONS FOR DEMOCRACY
How do parties' positions relate to the issues they prefer to emphasize? I argue that party platforms are anchored by activists and core supporters, and past election results constrain parties' future electoral performance. Consequently, vote-maximizing incentives lead historically successful (`major') parties to emphasize issues on which activists and core supporters are relatively centrist, but lead smaller (`minor') parties to emphasize issues on which these groups are relatively extreme. I demonstrate that, throughout Europe, party emphasis strategy on positional issues is better explained by this theory than alternatives, e.g. whether a party is mainstream or niche. These analyses indicate that the appearance of policy moderation may be electorally advantageous for major parties, but costly for minor parties.
Although parties focus disproportionately on favorable issues in their election campaigns, it is also the case that parties spend much of the `short campaign' addressing the same issues -- and especially salient issues. If able to influence the importance of issues for voters through their emphasis, it is puzzling that parties spend any time on unfavorable issue positions. We suggest that while parties prefer to emphasize popular issue positions, they also face an additional incentive to emphasize issues that are salient to voters: clarifying their positions on these issues for sympathetic voters. Leveraging the surprise general election victory of the British Conservative party in 2015---which brought about a hitherto unexpected referendum on EU membership---we show that, consistent with this hypothesis, voter uncertainty is especially costly for parties on salient issues. We formalize this argument using a model of party strategy with endogenous issue salience.
I analyze the implications of elite influence on voter preferences and priorities for the study of representation. I consider five approaches currently used to evaluate democratic representation: the correspondence of parties' policy platforms with the preferences of the median voter; the extent to which parties adhere to their manifesto promises; the selection of good 'trustees' who will defend the constituency's interests; the ability of voters to 'throw the rascals out'; or the election of surrogates to represent the full range of relevant opinions in the electorate. I demonstrate that all five approaches are incomplete once we allow for either preference or salience endogeneity, and propose two supplementary criteria be added to our measures of representation: ease of access to political power, and opportunities for competing elites to contest the legislative process.
Papers in progress
'When Salience Strategies Work: Voter and Party Responses to the Real Economy.' (with Zachary Greene)
2. THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PARTY SYSTEMS
Papers in progress
'Democratizing from Within: British Elites and the Expansion of the Franchise.' (with Carles Boix and Paulo Serôdio)
'Revisiting the Origins of the British Labour Party.' (with Carles Boix, Jordi Muñoz and Sonia Giurumescu) 'World War One and the Rise of the US Civil Rights Movement.' (with Costanza Biavaschi, Giovanni Facchini and Cecilia Testa)
How does news media coverage influence voters' interpretation of political developments -- and could this be of electoral significance? I use data from the 2005--10 British Election Panel Study to investigate the effect of newspaper readership on British voters' attribution of responsibility for the financial crisis beginning 2007. Using an instrumental variables approach, I show that the news media had a substantial effect on British voters' understanding of the events of 2007 and onwards. For instance, my estimates suggest that regular readers of the right-wing broadsheet, the Telegraph, and also the left-wing broadsheet, the Independent, were substantially more likely to believe Brown was to blame for the financial crisis than similar individuals who did not read a daily newspaper. I show, further, that 2005 Labour voters were substantially less likely to vote Labour again in 2010 if they believed Brown responsible for the ongoing financial crisis. This study corroborates earlier work documenting the persuasive power of the news media, especially in Britain, and presents evidence for one channel through which editorial choices may influence electoral outcomes.
Papers in progress
'The (Non) Separability of Policy and Valence in Voter Preferences.'
'Female Employment and the Gender Voting Gap.' (with Christopher P. Donnelly)