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Eric Guntermann



Party influence where predispositions are strong and party identification is weak: Assessing citizens’ reactions to party cues on regional nationalism in Spain

I show that party positions on issues that are rooted in identity influence people’s opinions even if they lack a party identification. When exposed to competing party positions, citizens adjust their issue opinions to make them more consistent with their preferred party’s position even if they do not identify with that party. In two experiments conducted in Spain, I consider how citizens react to party cues on regional nationalism. Study 1, a lab experiment in Catalonia, shows that, when exposed to party cues on nationalism, citizens change their issue opinions in the expected direction but only weakly change their party evaluations. Study 2, a survey experiment in Galicia, shows that party cue effects only occur when participants are exposed to competing cues from their preferred party and from a disliked party. Parties thus influence opinions when they adopt contrasting positions even on issues that are rooted in identity.

Linking Party Preferences and the Composition of Government: A New Standard for Evaluating the Performance of Electoral Democracy (with André Blais and Marc André Bodet)

We propose a new standard for evaluating the performance of electoral democracies: the correspondence between citizens’ party preferences and the party composition of governments that are formed after elections. We develop three criteria for assessing such correspondence: the proportion of citizens whose most preferred party is in government, whether the party that is most liked overall is in government, and how much more positively governing parties are rated than non-governing parties. We pay particular attention to the last criterion, which takes into account how each citizen feels about each of the parties as well as the intensity of their preferences. We find that proportional representation systems perform better on the first criterion. Majoritarian systems do better on the other two.

A Study of Voting Behaviour in an Exceptional Context: The 2017 Catalan Election Study (with André Blais, Ignacio Lago, and Marc Guinjoan) 

The Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW) project conducted a unique survey prior to the election held on December 21st, 2017 in exceptional circumstances in Catalonia. In spite of a series of major events in fall 2017, overall election results were similar to those of the previous regional election, held in 2015. In addition to standard demographic, attitudinal, and vote choice questions, the survey included novel questions on identity, support for independence, perceptions of corruption, and acceptance of the result by losers. The data will be particularly useful to scholars seeking to assess the impact of long- and short-term factors on vote choice in such unusual circumstances, the crystallisation of public opinion, and voters’ willingness to accept that their side lost the election.

Papers under Review

Accounting for Vote Choice in An Historic Election: The 2017 Regional Election in Catalonia (with André Blais)

We seek to explain vote choice in the election held in Catalonia on 21 December 2017. We conducted an online survey of a representative sample of Catalan voters in the week leading up to the vote. We consider the impact of social demographic variables, general political attitudinal variables as well as reactions to recent events. We find that vote choice is most strongly explained by Catalans’ age, first language, and level of education. While political attitudes, particularly support for independence, are strong determinants of vote choice, reactions to the events of fall 2017 also matter.

Are Inequalities in Representation Lower Under Compulsory Voting? (with Ruth Dassonneville and Peter Miller)

In recent years, there has been considerable scholarly interest in inequalities in representation between rich and poor citizens. Just over 20 years ago, Lijphart argued that compulsory voting could reduce such inequalities by boosting the turnout of the poor. A number of recent studies on the effects of compulsory voting have mostly shown that it reduces inequalities in turnout but that the quality of the vote is lower in contexts where turnout is mandatory. We consider three measures of representation; (1) ideological congruence, (2) an indicator of whether a citizen’s preferred party enters government and (3) an indicator of how much citizens like governing parties compared to opposition parties. We find that the extent to which the rich are better represented than the poor varies strongly across countries. We also find that compulsory voting reduces gaps on two of the three measures. However, turnout is not a significant predictor of inequalities in representation.

Why electoral reform might improve representation and why it might make it worse

The debate over electoral reform has largely focused on representation in Parliament. However, the government largely controls policy-making in parliamentary systems like Canada. I show that a more proportional system would increase the likelihood of coalitions. The dominant approach to studying representation in government, ideological congruence, however, suggests that reforming the electoral system would make no change to the level of representation. I propose instead focusing on the representation of party preferences. I show that multi-party cabinets common under proportional systems involve a trade-off between including more citizens’ preferred parties in government, while reducing the overall level of party preference representation.

Select Papers under Preparation

Policy Voting and the Representation of Policy Preferences (with Mikael Persson)

Recent research suggests that policy preferences have little if any impact on citizens' vote choices and that elections fail to produce responsive government. However, previous research has overlooked one crucial question: does voting on the basis of issue opinions increase the influence of citizens' policy preferences on the implementation of related policies? We develop a theoretical framework which classifies different forms of issue voting and formulate expectations regarding the impact of each form on policy representation. Using Swedish data going back to 1960, we find that issues often do influence vote choice. By combining election study data with an original dataset on policy implementation, we show that, when issue voting that benefits governing parties occurs, the correspondence between public opinion and government policy is higher. The results thus indicate that voters often do vote on the basis of their policy preferences and that governments are more responsive when this gives them the strongest incentive to listen to people's preferences.

Income Distributions and the Relative Representation of Rich and Poor Citizens (with Mikael Persson)

In this paper, we consider the impact of the income distributions in different countries on the representation of preferences for more or less government spending in different policy domains. We show that the more right-skewed the income distribution, meaning the more incomes in the upper half of the distribution are spread out compared to those in the lower half, the closer the preferences of middle-income citizens are to those of the poor relative to those of the rich. Since policies are more likely to be implemented by governments the more citizens support them, the poor are advantaged relative to the rich when the income distribution is more right-skewed. We use survey data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), income distribution data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and government spending data from the OECD and the World Bank.


Parties and Nationalism: Assessing the Influence of Parties on Support for Regional Nationalism in Spain

I consider whether parties influence support for regional nationalism in four regions of Spain: the Basque Country, Catalonia, the Valencian Community, and Galicia. I argue that the fundamental way parties influence citizens' opinions is by offering party cues. Citizens adapt their opinions to party cues even in the absence of persuasive arguments or other information. The current literature suggests that such influence takes place via partisan motivated reasoning.

I then analyze both observational and experimental data to determine whether citizens of the four Spanish regions where nationalism is present adapt their nationalist preferences to the positions expressed by parties. In chapter 4, I focus on the measurement of party positions using automated text analysis of legislative speeches. In chapter 5, I consider whether people who like a party move in the same direction as that party when it changes its nationalist positions and whether those who feel distant from a party move in the opposite direction when it shifts its positions. We will see that the results suggest that nationalist parties influence their partisans in the Basque Country and Catalonia. Statewide parties seem to play a stronger role in Galicia and the Valencian Community.

In chapter 6, using experimental data, I show that, people who did not already know the position of their most liked party, when exposed to that position as well as to the position of a party they dislike, adapt their opinions to make them more consistent with the position of their most liked party. The positions of parties citizens like are not enough to induce them to change their opinions.

I conclude that parties influence the opinions of citizens on nationalism. However, this influence depends on the presence of the positions of parties citizens do not like. Parties cannot simply influence their own partisans by adopting the positions they would like them to adopt.

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