Apr 212021

How important are social incentives for turnout?

Since the earliest election studies, we have assumed that social networks are important for turnout, and that voting more generally is a form of social behaviour (and also a habit). While there are heaps of data to support these ideas, this study from Denmark is quite something. Thanks to Scandinavia’s love for efficiency and science, as opposed to her glorious disregard for data protection and stuff, the authors are able to link panel data to fine-grained information on when people living in the same household entered their local polling station in various elections. Yes, that’s right.

Bhatti, Y., Fieldhouse, E., & Hansen, K. M. (2020). It’s a Group Thing: How Voters Go to the Polls Together. Political Behavior, 42(1), 1–34. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11109-018-9484-2

What we liked

The data: we observe actual behaviour, over years. We know where people live, and with whom. Plus, we also have socio-demographic information on them. And there are so many of them. Wow. Just wow.

What we were reading: Voting as group behaviour 1

What we did not like so much

Students did not at all worry about data protection. In this regard at least, my work on this plane is done. Otherwise, they were quite critical. They said that the paper was a bit short on theory (wow again), and that they wanted a better explanation for the “potential voting companion” effect. They also argued that local and EU elections were not necessarily comparable and worried about some other (rather specific) points. But in the end we agreed that this is seriously cool stuff.
Apr 172021
Family parking

Is there a political gender gap amongst young Germans?

Gender gaps are everywhere, but there are some places where they are less likely. According to the authors, young Germans represent a least likely case for gender differences in political activity: female levels of educational attainment are actually higher than male ones, and adolescence is a time (for many) before those aspects of family life kick in that tend hold women back.

But as it turns out, “least likely” is actually “not determinstically likely, but very likely”. The authors find substantial differences in the socialisation of young men and women, which are linked to rather dramatic differences in internal efficacy and self esteem. They also uncover evidence that men benefit more from factors that contribute to political activity, particularly in institutional settings. Intriguing, depressing, hardly surprising.

Pfanzelt, H., & Spies, D. C. (2019). The Gender Gap in Youth Political Participation: Evidence from Germany. Political Research Quarterly, 72(1), 34–48. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1065912918775249

What we liked

Students were over the moon. They praised the clear structure, the strength of the theoretical argument, the clear exposition and the empirical strategy. Also (for once), this was about something that they actually deemed relevant. According to them, this was easily the best paper that we read all winter. I agree.

What we did not like so much

Nothing to declare.

Apr 142021
What we were reading: Campaign Effects and Issue Voting 2

How much of a difference do campaigns make?

Conventional wisdom says that electoral campaigns remind voters who they are and what they want. So they do not change much, but still matter, because the outcome could be very different without all the reminders. This little gem here is a bit unusual, because it tracks a referendum campaign in Denmark, not a normal electoral race. Also, there is detailed information on the timing of information.

Beach, D., & Finke, D. (2020). The long shadow of attitudes: differential campaign effects and issue voting in eu referendums. West European Politics, (online first), . http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402382.2020.1780829

What we liked

Students loved the fact, how the authors made use of panel data. They were also convinced by the rather intricate hypotheses that link to the literature on motivated reasoning. These complications not withstanding, they found the text quite accessible.

Politikens Hus, the central offices for Denmark’s biggest newspaper ‘Politiken’.

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash

What we did not like so much

Ordered logit regression comes with problems of its own (hello parallel regressions assumption). We were not convinced that OLR is really necessary or even justified in this application. We also found some of the graphs a bit confusing. And like last week, students said that the summary (and even the presentation of the findings) were a bit too concise.

Apr 142021
What we were reading: Cross-cutting exposure and political participation 3

Does cross-cutting exposure help or hinder participation?

Somewhat predictably, I fell off the seminar-blogging wagon shortly after the break. But hey, this is a digital semester, so we have actual archived notes of our virtual meetings.

One of the first texts we read in the new year was this one: a specimen of the meta-analytic approach that is becoming more and more popular in Political Science. In this one, the authors want to find out if cross-cutting exposure (i.e. escaping from the filter bubble) has any positive or negative effects on political participation. Turns out that there is insufficient evidence for either.

Matthes, J., Knoll, J., Valenzuela, S., Hopmann, D. N., & Sikorski, C. v. (2019). A meta-analysis of the effects of cross-cutting exposure on political participation. Political Communication, 36(4), 523–542. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10584609.2019.1619638

What we liked

Most students had never heard of meta-analyses and were quite intrigued. They found the idea of pooling evidence from several published studies “stimulating” (their words) and were particularly happy that the authors had carefully documented each of their steps. They also liked the presentation of research questions and hypotheses.

Finally, some students had previously heard of publication bias. They were impressed that the authors applied a test for that, and were even more impressed that a journal had the guts to publish null results.

What we did not like so much

Some students were disappointed that the authors did not conduct any primary analysis, but (wait for it!), that’s the whole point of a meta analysis, right? A more serious criticism (levelled more at the journal and its page limit than at the authors) was that at least two interesting graphs were relegated to the appendices. And finally, students said that the summary & outlook section was too short. While I agree, I can also relate to the authors: you do all the work, you write it up, why should you have to summarise it again?

Dec 162020

Everyone and their grandfather are worried about (right-wing) populism, filter bubbles, frames, and their effects on western publics. But do they actually work? This large team ran an experiment in many European countries to find out. You will be shocked when you see hypothesis #7!

Bos, L., Schemer, C., Corbu, N., Hameleers, M., Andreadis, I., Schulz, A., Schmuck, D., … (2020). The effects of populism as a social identity frame on persuasion and mobilisation: evidence from a 15-country experiment. European Journal of Political Research, 59(1), 3–24. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12334

In other words, here is another article that we tackled in my reading course on political participation.

What we liked

Experiments are cool. Large-scale, multi-national experiments with fixed country effects are double cool. This is an actual test of causal effects (although one can always worry about external validity). The effects are very weak (and sometimes counter-intuitive), but that is empirical social science for you. Have I mentioned that we were really impressed by the design?

What we are reading: populism, identity, and mobilisation 4

What we did not like so much

Students said that the authors used a lot of theory to derive relatively simple (but plausible) hypotheses. Conversely, they introduced an interaction between the frames without explaining why this interaction should occur. More importantly, the interpretation of the interactions’ statistical significance was a bit iffy (paging Brambor et al. 2006), and the graphical presentation and interpretation of the interaction effects is … suboptimal? Having said that, we liked how the authors demonstrated susceptibility to their stimulus varies in a predictable way within experimental groups. Incidentally, this was also useful for illustrating the idea of average treatment effects.

Dec 092020
What we are reading: Immigration attitudes and the city 5

Why are city folk more tolerant?

In the olden days, people claimed that city air would set you free. In our times, that may not be true in a strict sense (hey, surveillance capitalism!), but people living in big cities are certainly much more relaxed about many things, including immigration. Is this a result of the more liberal urban context, or do open-minded individuals congregate in cities?

In the fifth week of our reading seminar on participation, we turned to this text to find out :point_down:

Maxwell, R. (2019). Cosmopolitan immigration attitudes in large european cities: contextual or compositional effects? American Political Science Review, 113(2), 456–474. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0003055418000898

What we liked

Students loved the research question, and the range and quality of data sources that went into this paper is fantastic. The author uses national long-term panels to demonstrate that moving to a city (or planning to move) does not change attitudes. That’s pretty solid. Students were not sure if they found the main findings surprising or not, but they were certainly impressed with themselves: while the analysis is quite complex, the exposition was so clear that they could follow without a hitch. Yay us, yay the author!

What we are reading: Immigration attitudes and the city 6

What we did not like so much

I have fed my students a steady diet of short articles from good journals. Encountering the result of the APSR’s 12,000 word limit was a bit of a shock. According to them, there were too many hypotheses, of which they lost track eventually. They found the sheer amount of data somewhat overwhelming. And they could not believe that someone would seriously cap all this with approximately 50 pages of online appendices.

Nov 252020

What has salience to do with it?

In the third week of my reading class, we read this recent paper

Dennison, J. (2020). How issue salience explains the rise of the populist right in western europe. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 32(3), 397–420. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ijpor/edz022

The author argues that various explanations for radical right support are all linked to the salience of their issues (first and foremost immigration).

What we liked

The students (and I) thought this was an interesting new approach to an already crowded (but still interesting) field. Students found the text accessible and well-structured, liked the models (particularly the presentation of the fixed effects approach, which was new to most of them) and the literature review. They also said the benefited from the carefully written introduction and the extensive conclusions.

What we did not like so much

There was not much we did not like, but some minor points were raised. The figures were less than perfectly readable. The argument for aggregating individual data was not immediately obvious (but became clear once we discussed the alternatives). Students would have liked some explanations re the random effects specification and asked for replication data.

What we are reading: Issue salience and the rise of the radical right 7
Nov 182020
What we are reading: Party Activism in the Populist Radical Right 8

In the second week of my reading class, we had a go at this one.

Whiteley, P., Larsen, E., Goodwin, M., & Clarke, H. (2019). Party activism in the populist radical right: the case of the uk independence party. Party Politics, online first. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1354068819880142

Big guns, and Paul Whiteley was the friendliest next-door (office) neighbour I could wish for in a previous life. Apart from that, the research question is intriguing: are/were members of UKIP motivated by the same factors as members of more “normal” parties? Or are/were UKIP members different, because their party was a (self-styled) outsider? The text is also a convenient introduction to the subfield of party member studies/surveys, something my students were not really aware of.

What we liked

The data set is amazing: thousands of UKIP members, many of them without doubts graduates from the school of hard knocks, were willing to talk to, you know, boffins. Students really liked that. They also appreciated the choice and framing of the research question, and that the authors tried to address the issue of relative deprivation (though the students pointed out that they were talking about a macro concept while using micro data).

What we did not like so much

United Kingdom Flag Map

Having said that, students were quite critical. They kicked off by pointing out that the general incentives model is not so totally different from but rather a special case of the Civic Voluntarism model. So a bit of a straw man/false dichotomy to start with?

The text is rather short (less than 8,000 words including the tables but excluding the references). Cynics might think that students would like that, too, but some of them actually complained that they wanted more information on the wording of the items and the construction of the variables, something that they could not even find in the online appendix (yes, they are perverted like that). More generally, they felt that one or two extra pages would have been required for the presentation of the findings and a fuller discussion of their implications.

They also said that additional factors such as religiosity and Islamophobia should have been included in the model and were concerned that UKIP and the UK were not necessarily very representative of the Radical Right and Western Europe. All good points.

And I’m really proud that they spotted one major issue: Whiteley et al. find that the same general incentives that work for other parties also explain variation in participation levels within the UKIP membership. But a more interesting question is perhaps whether they also explain the decision to join a party, and more specifically UKIP. Which reminds me of another piece that I could have selected for this course:

Poletti, M., Webb, P., & Bale, T. (2019). Why do only some people who support parties actually join them? evidence from britain. West European Politics, 42(1), 156–172. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402382.2018.1479921

do exactly this: by comparing party members and non-members, they show that general incentives can explain the crucial step of joining. Then again, they have a much smaller sample of UKIP members.

All that ends well…

In the end, students said they had learned a lot from the text, even if they disagreed with some of the authors’ choices. What more can you ask for?

Nov 112020

What is this about?

Every long, dark, depressing winter term (mid-October to mid-February, thank you very much), I run a reading class for/with my MA students. The rules are simple: I pick a broad topic (in this year’s instance: participation), then I select 12-14 peer-reviewed articles that have been published over the last 20 months or so. Each week, we read one article. One student is responsible for guiding us through the text, which we collectively pick apart to see what its strengths and weaknesses might be.

What we are reading: The continuous expansion of citizen participation: a new taxonomy 1

The aim of this exercise is twofold. On the one hand, students are exposed to cutting-edge research in at least one (fairly narrow) domain of political science. It’s an obvious point, but authors are usually standing (and sometimes tip-toeing) on the proverbial shoulders of giants. Trying to make sense of a recent and often very specific contribution is a roundabout but still interesting (I hope) way to learn more about the received wisdom in a (sub)field. But, ideally, students also acquire an understanding of how political scientists and the discipline work, warts and all. In many cases that means that they learn how to deduce test and empirically interesting hypotheses, and how to effectively communicate results, all in 8,000 words or fewer. In other cases, they learn (to their silent horror) that peer-reviewed research sometimes gets away with stuff that would earn them a massive bollocking if they did this in their coursework or thesis. Either way, it’s instructive.

I always urge my students to make copious notes about the readings, both at home and in class, so that we can take stock at the end of term. Needless to say that I do not always (cough) follow my own advice. But this term is different: I’m teaching from behind my laptop, from the safety and comfort of my private study/home studio/spare bedroom, and I can download the content of the very virtual whiteboard in four different digital formats with a single click. So I’m rather good (by my standards) at keeping notes of our sessions at the moment, and I thought I might as well put them here as a sort of public log. Like, you know, a web-log?

So what is this about?

We kicked off this term with this one:

Theocharis, Y., & van Deth, J. W. (2018). The continuous expansion of citizen participation: a new taxonomy. European Political Science Review, 10(1), 139–163. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1755773916000230

This article does two things: First, it presents a re-cap of van Deth’s (2014) new typology for classifying various acts of political participation, which also covers online participation. Second, it applies this framework to a representative and fairly recent (2015) sample of about 1,000 German adults.

What we liked

Shining a light on social media and internet use as one form of political participation obviously appealed to my students (all of them digital natives). More generally, we found the structure of the article very clear and the general rationale behind the new typology convincing. Last not least, the substantive findings were interesting. The take home message (in my students’ view) was that social media may be getting more and more important, but are still seen as an add-on by many Germans.

What we did not like so much

The students would have been interested in a slightly more thorough discussion of said empirical findings. They also suggested that the article might have benefited from more figures. Perhaps too much space was devoted to discussing respondents’ replies to an open question. And they would have liked to hear more about the intensity/frequency of political participation.