Research

My research focuses broadly on democratic representation and the relationship between citizens and elites in advanced industrial democracies. In particular, my interests encompass political parties and party systems, public opinion, regional politics, and the European Union. My research has primarily concentrated on the politics of Europe, but the applicability of my work extends to democracies with a history of programmatic politics. Below you can read more about my dissertation, as well as my ongoing research.

Dissertation

My dissertation, entitled Multidimensional Party Competition: Stability and Change in European Party Systems, brings together a series of papers on multidimensional party competition in Europe. A brief outline of each paper is provided below.

A Change of Heart?” (paper)
The dominant view of party competition has long been that political parties continuously and strategically alter their policy positions. At the same time, however, scholars have stressed the historical stability of European party systems, as they reflect deeply-rooted socio-economic divisions in society. The first paper of my dissertation deals with this apparent contradiction head on, and provides one of the first attempts to reconcile these two perspectives by distinguishing between a party’s primary and secondary dimension. I argue that parties enjoy strong, durable ties with their supporters on their most salient dimension, and, thus, have a reputation to uphold and defend. Using cross-sectional time series analysis of party positions and a novel measure of the relative salience of an ideological dimension, I show that party change is severely constrained on an ideological dimension that is highly salient to both the party and its voters. Positions on issues secondary to their core agenda, however, are more flexible.

  • This paper was awarded the 2017 James W. Prothro Award for Outstanding Research for best paper by a graduate student in the Department of Political Science at UNC Chapel Hill.

Disentangling Blurring
In a second paper, I explore the interplay between multidimensionality and salience by arguing that parties may, at times, have a strategic incentive to avoid taking clear policy positions at all. Although scholars typically assume that position avoidance is costly, I argue that it could be a viable strategy for a party looking to alleviate potential disagreement among internal party factions or with supporters, especially on issues outside of its main agenda. Building on a growing literature on position blurring, I propose that parties can obfuscate their positions either by avoiding an issue altogether or by taking up conflicting positions. I develop a novel measure of the content of a party’s manifesto to gauge its strategy. Analyses across 14 Western European countries from 1999 to 2014 show that position blurring is neither uniform across parties nor ideological dimensions. Specifically, older, larger, and governing parties have more established reputations, and this limits the extent to which they can mute their policy positions. This paper has fundamental implications for our understanding of party strategy. In particular, it sheds light on how parties try to manipulate the dimensional structure of party competition.

United in Diversity
This paper studies parties’ behavior on their less salient, secondary dimension in more detail by analyzing European regionalist parties. Despite their recent successes, our understanding of these actors is limited. Existing theories do not explain how a regionalist party develops an economic platform that falls outside of its autonomist agenda. As political authority is increasingly relocated to the subnational level, away from national governments, it is vital to analyze the ideological positions of the main political drivers behind this push for increased regional autonomy. I formulate the following hypotheses: (1) regionalist parties will initially avoid the economic left-right dimension, (2) their eventual positions will reflect the ideological complexion of their regions, but (3) they will be more ideologically flexible than those policy positions related to the center-periphery divide. I use both public opinion and expert-level data on voter and party positions to test these theoretical predictions. I find that the relative economic left-right position of the regional voter as compared to the nationwide electorate is an important determinant of regionalist parties’ economic positions. This study breaks new ground by evaluating the quality of democratic representation in a time when regional identity continues to inform the preferences of voters and parties alike, especially because regionalist parties will play a pivotal role in shaping the economic policies of the regions they represent.

 

Ongoing Research

In my other research, I continue to challenge key assumptions and findings of the mainstream party competition literature. In a stand-alone paper entitled “Who’s at the Helm?,” I explore the main finding of a recent study which suggests that the internal balance of power between party leaders and activists might be the driving force behind whether a party responds to shifts in the mean national voter position or the mean party voter position, respectively. Extending a cross-sectional time series analysis of 55 parties in ten European democracies between 1977 and 2003, I test this finding by accounting for several additional party (system) characteristics that should undermine the underlying assumptions of the party organization literature. The results show that important qualifications are in order, because a party’s electoral performance and party system polarization affect the relationship between intra-party politics and party change. This paper has received a “revise and resubmit” from the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties. (paper)

Since 2014, I have been a primary contributor to the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES). This dataset collects and aggregates expert evaluations of political parties’ positions in more than thirty European democracies, and is one of the most widely used and cited datasets in the field of party politics. I am a co-author on the latest publication of this research group, entitled “Explaining the Salience of Anti-Elitism and Reducing Political Corruption for Political Parties in Europe with the 2014 Chapel Hill Expert Survey Data”, which was published in Research & Politics in 2017. (article)

Furthermore, as part of my interest in how political institutions condition the relationship between citizens and elites, I have co-authored a book chapter with Andre Krouwel (VU University Amsterdam) on government formation and executive-legislative relationships in the Netherlands. It explores the largely informal process of government investiture and the way in which parliament has taken an increasingly dominant role in guiding cabinet formation. The chapter appeared in an edited volume entitled Parliaments and Government Formation: Unpacking Investiture Rules, published by Oxford University Press in 2015. (book)

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