Elite Cues and Economic Policy Attitudes: The Mediating Role of Economic Hardship, Political Behavior, forthcoming [final version here].
Do voters update their attitudes toward economic issues in line with their material self-interest? The consensus among students of public opinion is that material self- interest plays a very limited role and that competing non-material factors, such as partisanship or ideological predispositions, do most of the heavy lifting. This paper moves beyond comparing the role of material and non-material factors. Instead, we examine how these factors combine to shape policy preferences. Specifically, we propose a friendly amendment to Zaller’s influential model according to which at- titudinal change results from the interaction between changes in elite messaging on the one hand and individual political predispositions on the other. In Zaller’s model, partisanship and ideological predispositions help explain why some resist and oth- ers embrace new elite messaging. We hypothesize that material self-interest also conditions the effect of elite messaging. Using British individual-level panel data collected over more than a decade, we show that material hardship predicts who, among left-wing voters, resist new right-wing partisan cues. Our results highlights the incremental impact of material self-interest on economic attitudes.
“A Decision Theoretic Approach to Understanding Survey Response: Likert vs. Quadratic Voting for Attitudinal Research” (with Daniel L. Chen and Karine Van Der Straeten), The University of Chicago Law review , forthcoming [final version here].
“Likert items” are standard and widespread survey instruments. The most common version asks respondents to evaluate a statement by picking one of 5 (or 7) ordered responses ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. To interpret these answers, researchers often assume that respondents are sincere and report their true opinion with some random error. Yet, sincerity is not the only motive driving repondents’ answers. Competing motives, most famously motives related to partisan identity, also matter. We propose a simple decision-theoretic model of survey answers that incorporates these different types of motives. We first show that respondents can systematically exagerate their views when asked about them using Likert items. We then show how, under certain conditions, Quadratic Voting for Survey Research (QVSR) can minimize this bias.
“Education and Anti-immigration Attitudes: Evidence from Compulsory Schooling Reforms Across Western Europe” (with John Marshall, Columbia University), American Political Science Review, forthcoming [final version here, appendix here].
Mentioned in Vox.
Low levels of education are a powerful predictor of anti-immigration sentiments. However, there is little consensus on the interpretation of this important correlation: is it causal or does it result from powerful selection biases? We provide a first step toward answering this question by exploiting compulsory schooling reforms in five Western European countries with politically-influential anti-immigration movements. We find that compelling high school drop outs to stay on for at least an additional year decreases anti-immigration attitudes later in life. Instrumental variable estimates imply that each additional year of secondary schooling re- duces opposition to immigration, and the belief that immigration erodes a country’s quality of life, by around ten percentage points. This study is the first to our knowledge to document that education causally reduces anti-immigration attitudes, and suggests that increasing education can breed tolerance for immigration. We discuss the implications for future research on the determinants of anti-immigration sentiment.
“The Two Facets of Social Policy Preferences” (With Kris-Stella Trump), Journal of Politics, 77(1), January 2015 [link].
Most political economy models start from the assumption that economic self-interest is a key predictor of support for income redistribution. A growing literature, in contrast, emphasizes the role of “other-oriented” concerns, such as social solidarity or affinity for the poor. These frameworks generate distinct, often conflicting predictions about variation in mass attitudes toward redistribution. We argue that this tension is in part an artifact of conceptualizing demand for redistribution as unidimensional and propose distinguishing between redistribution conceived as taking from the “rich” and redistribution conceived as giving to the “poor.” These two facets of redistribution prime different individual motives: self-oriented income maximization on the one hand and other-oriented social affinity with welfare beneficiaries on the other. We find strong evidence for this framework using British longitudinal survey data and cross-sectional data from four advanced industrial countries. We discuss the implications for studying changes in mass support for redistributive social policies.