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
I propose a unified theory to explain parties' joint policy and emphasis decisions in campaigns. The theory bridges saliency theory and spatial analysis of party competition. Party platforms are anchored by the policy preferences of activists, core supporters and target voters, leading parties to disproportionately emphasize issues where their policies are popular with all key constituencies. However, which voters a party targets relates to its historical electoral performance ('party size'). Traditionally successful ('major') parties emphasize issues where the policies preferred by activists and core supporters are generally popular, but smaller ('minor') parties emphasize issues where their preferred policies may be unpopular but are distinctive. Using recent European data and various empirical strategies, I show that this framework has significant explanatory power beyond existing party typologies and theories of issue selection.
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) Presented at MPSA and EPSA 2018.
2. THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PARTY SYSTEMS
'Democratizing from Within: British Elites and the Expansion of the Franchise.' (with Carles Boix and Paulo Serôdio) (slides) (draft available on request)
Between 1832 and 1918, a set of gradual reforms broadened the franchise in Great Britain from less than 5% of all adult males before 1832 to over 80% in 1918. Why did the political class in Britain willingly cede power to the masses rather than seeking to preserve the status quo? We revisit this question by studying how elite preferences regarding the scope of democracy changed over the course of this period. We use roll call votes on franchise reform in the House of Commons between 1826 and 1918 to estimate the preferences of MPs regarding the size of the franchise. We follow Bateman et al. (2017) in using an adapted ideal point estimation procedure which uses information on the policy content of key votes to improve the intertemporal comparability of our estimates. Our preliminary results imply three main conclusions. First, the process of democratization in Britain was partisan rather than consensual: although the median MP generally came to support a more generous franchise with time, conservative MPs were almost united throughout in opposing almost any suffrage extension. Second, the pace of electoral reform was governed by two factors: the gradual leftward drift of Liberal MPs, which only accelerated from the mid-19th century onwards, and the conservatism of early Liberal leaders. Our initial analyses suggest that the process of social and economic modernization in Britain may explain much of the variation in legislator preferences we observe.
Papers in progress
'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
`Does Employment Make Women More Left-Wing? Evidence from Britain.' (with Christopher P. Donnelly) Presented at APSA 2016, MPSA 2017 and CES 2017.
'The (Non) Separability of Policy and Valence in Voter Preferences.' Presented at MPSA 2013.