For a complete list of publications, please see my CV.
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.
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.
Do social identity ties facilitate the spread of violent conflict? We assess whether the Israel-Palestine conflict causes hate crime towards Jews and Muslims in the U.S using daily data between 2000-2016. We measure the timing, intensity and instigator in the conflict using the number of conflict fatalities and U.S. mass media coverage of the conflict. Analyses using both conflict measures find that conflict events trigger hate crimes in the following 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. Moreover, the lack of an effect of non-violent conflict reporting suggests that hate crimes are not triggered by the salience of the Israel-Palestine conflict in itself. Our findings suggest that victimization transcends the locality of the conflict, implying that violent conflict may be more costly than existing research suggests.
(Contact me for latest working paper version)
With Pablo Fernandez-Vazquez
In campaigns, parties try to win votes by taking positions on issues. Voters cannot take these statements at face value, since politicians, after being elected, are not bound to enact what they promised. How can parties signal that they are motivated by and committed to policy and not by winning office? We theorize that voters may use policy shifts as cues to infer valence characteristics. While a shift to a popular position signals opportunistic motives, a shift to an unpopular position signals principled motives. We first test our theory with a stylized experiment using hypothetical parties and find that policy shifts strongly signal motivations and commitment in the expected ways. We then apply our theory to the real case of Social Democrat accommodation on the immigration issue in Sweden. A survey experiment shows that policy shifts affect the perception of Social Democratic political motivations, but we find no effect on perceived commitment to policy. The study points to a significant first-mover advantage which may explain the persistence of the radical right, the stability of issue ownership and the competitive advantage of niche parties.