For a complete list of publications, please see my CV.
Uncertainty and Persuasion. Essays on Behavioral Political Economy
Rational voters care about outcomes, while parties campaign on policy proposals whose outcomes are never perfectly known. Can parties exploit this uncertainty to shape public opinion? I present a spatial preference model for policy proposals with uncertain outcomes. Empirically, I conduct a large pre-registered survey experiment where I present respondents with predictions about the effects of three policy proposals. The findings show that respondents update their attitudes to the proposals as their beliefs about outcomes change and that partisan senders are no less able to influence beliefs than non-partisan experts. Contrary to previous research, respondents discount outcome uncertainty by giving equal weight to conflicting optimistic and pessimistic predictions. The study shows that parties can shape public opinion by influencing voter beliefs and that voters are not repelled by the uncertainty inherent in conflicting information.
Optimal Persuasion under Confirmation Bias: Theory and Evidence from a Registered Report
Journal of Experimental Political Science, 2023, 10(1), 4-20.
[Journal Version] [Pre-print] [Replication Material] [Pre-Registration] [Blog Post]
Political actors face a tradeoff when they try to influence the beliefs of voters about the effects of policy proposals. They want to sway voters maximally, yet voters may discount predictions that are inconsistent with what they already hold to be true. Should political actors moderate or exaggerate their predictions to maximize persuasion? I extend the Bayesian learning model to account for confirmation bias and show that only under strong confirmation bias are predictions far from the priors of voters self-defeating. I use a pre-registered survey experiment to determine whether and how voters discount predictions conditional on the distance between their prior beliefs and the predictions. I find that voters assess predictions far from their prior beliefs as less credible and, consequently, update less. The paper has important implications for strategic communication by showing theoretically and empirically that the prior beliefs of voters constrain political actors.
When Can Political Parties Credibly Change Their Policies?
(Contact me for latest working paper version)
With Pablo Fernandez-Vazquez
When can a party credibly change its policy on an issue? Nothing forces parties to keep their promises after being elected. Voters may thus view platform shifts as mere pandering, discounting its credibility. We propose that voters use the direction of a platform shift as a signal of the party’s motivation and policy commitment. Shifting to an unpopular policy position is a costly signal of principled motives, while a shift to a popular position suggests opportunistic motives. Two survey experiments, one using hypothetical parties and another using a real case of mainstream party accommodation of the radical right, show that voters infer party motivations and commitment from platform shifts in line with the predictions of our argument. This study provides an explanation for the persistence of the radical right, the stability of issue ownership, and why platforms often fail to affect perceptions of party positions.
How Party Reputations Help Citizens Grasp What Is at Stake in Policy Debates
(Contact me for latest working paper version)
With Rune Slothuus and Rasmus Skytte.
Understanding policy issues is fundamental for citizens’ democratic participation, yet most citizens lack detailed knowledge about even the most prominent policy proposals. We argue that citizens use parties’ policy reputations to infer the content and consequences of policies. We test our theory in a particularly demanding context: during the government negotiations following the Danish national election in November 2022. Two preregistered experiments examine how citizens infer the substance of two real and salient policy proposals from the election campaign, varying which single parties or potential government coalitions sponsored the proposals. The results show that citizens make different inferences about the policies based on which party or government coalition is proposing them, reflecting the parties’ policy reputations. A second study, a survey among top political journalists from the main news media outlets, validates the accuracy of citizens’ policy inferences. Overall, our paper contributes to the literature on party cues by showing that citizens are able to draw on multiple party cues in forming nuanced and accurate beliefs about the effects of policies. These results support our argument that parties help citizens grasp the meaning of policy issues.
We examine whether social identity ties facilitate the spread of violent conflict. To do so, we assess whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict causes hate crimes towards Jews and Muslims in the United States using daily data from 2000 to 2016. We measure the timing and intensity, and determine the instigators in the conflict using the number of conflict fatalities and US mass media coverage of the conflict. Analyses using both conflict measures find that conflict events trigger hate crimes in the coming days following a retaliatory pattern: anti-Jewish hate crimes increase after Israeli attacks and anti-Islamic hate crimes increase after Palestinian attacks. There is little evidence that the ethno-religious group not associated with the attacker is subjected to hate crimes during this period. Moreover, the lack of an effect of nonviolent conflict reporting suggests that hate crimes are not triggered by the salience of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in itself. Our findings show that victimization transcends the locality of the conflict, implying that violent conflict may be more costly than existing research suggests.