Working Papers

“How Distributional Conflict over In-Kind Benefits Generates Support for Far-Right Parties,” with Jeremy Ferwerda, Dartmouth College. Winner of the 2017 Best Paper Award for the APSA Migration and Citizenship section. [R&R]

Mentioned in Le Monde, The National Review and Folha de Sao Paulo

Does granting immigrants access to the welfare state increase support for far-right parties? This paper makes two contributions to this debate. Theoretically, we narrow the focus to welfare programs that provide benefits in-kind. Because they are prone to congestion, in-kind programs are vulnerable to localized demand shocks that can activate distributional conflict between na- tives and immigrants. Empirically, we identify the impact of distributional conflict on national electoral outcomes by leveraging an exogenous shock to welfare eligibility criteria. Focusing on an EU directive which forced Austrian municipalities to open public housing to previously excluded immigrants, we demonstrate that the reform sharply increased support for far-right parties with welfare chauvinist platforms. Data on housing diversity, quality, and rents suggest this response was largely driven by material concerns among affected voters. Our findings provide novel evidence that distributional conflict accelerated the rise of far-right parties in countries with substantial in-kind welfare programs.


“Who Cares? Measuring Preference Intensity in a Polarized Environment,” with Daniel L.Chen (TSE-IAST) and Karine Van Der Straeten (TSE-IAST). [Under Review]

Among all the policy issues voters have preferences over, some are more likely than others to matter for people’s thoughts, intentions and behavior. Such differences in preference intensity are rarely measured in surveys. We test a new survey tool — Quadratic Voting for Survey Research (QVSR) — designed to address this methodological gap. QVSR gives respondents a fixed budget to ‘buy’ votes in favor of (against) a set of policy proposals. Because the price for each vote is quadratic, expressing support for (opposition to) a given proposal becomes increasingly costly. In a polarized political context, we expect QVSR to better measure preference intensity relative to existing ordinal survey tools (e.g. Likert and issue importance items). To test this expectation, we ask participants to take the same survey, varying only the survey technology. We find that QVSR better differentiates between intense and weak preferences, as proxied by respondents’ behavior on simplified real-world tasks.


“Elites Cues and Economic Attitudes: The Mediating Role of Economic Hardship,” with Anja Neundorf, University of Glasgow. First version presented at the European Political Science Association, Vienna, June 2015. [R&R]

Do voters change 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 attitudinal 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 others embrace new elite messaging. We hypothesize that 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 cues from partisan elites. Our results highlight material self-interest’s incremental impact on economic attitudes.


Free Riders There, Free Riders Everywhere? The Moral Foundations of Free Riding Beliefs.” First version September 2020. [Part of the book manuscript]

People who oppose generous social benefits for the poor and the unemployed often believe that recipients are free riding, i.e. failing to take the available steps that would improve their plight and consequently abusing society’s generosity. The latter beliefs — free riding beliefs for short — are correlated with authoritarian-liberal (in the philosophical sense) attitudes, explaining why a large segment of low-income (high-income) individuals often oppose (support) generous social transfers. This paper argues that the correlation between cul- tural attitudes and free riding beliefs is rooted in moral reasoning. Authoritarians and liberals differ in how they reason about the monitoring of free riding: authoritarians seek to punish free riders even if it means sometimes unfairly punishing pro-social actors, liberals seek to minimize the latter even if it means letting some free riders get away with their behavior. Under the right conditions, these differences in error preference can results in large differences in error beliefs, i.e. in perceptions of the prevalence of anti-social behavior. I provide a tentative test of this argument using survey data collected in Great Britain. The results show that people do indeed differ in terms of their error preference and that this difference correlates with cultural attitudes. Differences in error preference, in turn, help identify individuals who, when faced with information about the financial situation of the National Health Service, become less supportive of universal access to the NHS. Instead, they chose to exclude not only immigrants but also smokers. Traditional left-right economic attitudes, in contrast, have no predictive power. In a context of resource scarcity, smokers’ lifestyle decisions make them free riders, which, in line with differences in error preference, triggers a different reaction among cultural authoritarians and cultural libertarians.


“The Consequences of Moral Reasoning: Why Some Care More about Free Riding than Others and Why It Matters.” First version September 2015. [Current version here (May 2017), Part of the book manuscript]

A common assumption in political economy is that voters are self-regarding maximizers of material goods, choosing their preferred level of social spending accordingly. In contrast, students of American politics have emphasized the role of an other-regarding motive that ties social policy preferences to beliefs about recipients’ propensity to free ride. The two motives often conflict as large portions of the poor (rich) believe free riding to be ubiquitous (rare). Under what conditions might one motive trump the other? I argue that material self-interest overruns beliefs about free-riding when the share of income affected by social transfers is high. Using European data, I show that low (high) income individuals are less (more) likely to be driven by free riding considerations. This framework has important macro-level implications: the more working-age benefits are evenly spread across income groups, the less likely beliefs about the ubiquity of free-riding will permeate public debates on welfare state reform.


“Fiscal Stress and the Erosion of Institutionalized Social Solidarity.” [Part of the book manuscript]

To address income inequality, governments rely on pre-distribution policies, progressive taxation and institutionalized social solidarity (ISS). ISS describes not only means-tested programs but also the design features that make some social benefits accessible to all, irrespective of past contributions. This paper argues that fiscal stress can undermine mass support for ISS, something overlooked by existing work on austerity politics. A key mechanism is the reversion to self-interest among `altruistic’ voters who do not benefit from ISS but are generally supportive because it is the `fair thing to do.’ Observational and experimental evidence from France provide support for this argument, with no evidence that migration shocks and parochial altruism are driving the observed decline in support for ISS. With the pandemic and soaring deficits, the erosion dynamics documented in this paper are unlikely to abate.