My research engages with topics in political behavior, political economy, and political psychology. Substantively, my dissertation research and related projects examine the influence of past violence – resulting from interstate wars, civil conflicts, forced migrations, and genocide – on subsequent attitudes, behaviors, and institutions. Beyond the dissertation, I investigate the shorter-term political consequences of traumatic experiences like deterioration in individual health and public health crises. My work also examines the historical roots of contemporary economic and political development and the persuasiveness of rhetorical appeals to the past.
Does Health Vulnerability Predict Voting for Right-Wing Populist Parties in Europe?
with Nolan M. Kavanagh and Justin E. Heinze (Featured on the Monkey Cage)
Published online: 26 April 2021, American Political Science Review
Why do voters in developed democracies support right-wing populist parties? Existing research focuses on economic and cultural vulnerability as driving this phenomenon. We hypothesize that perceptions of personal health vulnerability might have a similar effect on voters. To test this argument, we analyze all waves of the European Social Survey (2002–2018). Our findings suggest that voters with worse self-reported health were significantly more likely to vote for right-wing populist parties. This relationship persists even after accounting for measures of cultural and economic vulnerability, as well as voters’ satisfaction with both their personal lives and their country’s health system. The influence of health on support for populist parties appears to be greater than that of education and self-reported economic insecurity, while lesser than that of income and attitudes about immigrants. Our findings suggest that policies affecting public health could shape not only health outcomes but also the political landscape.
Understanding Vaccine Hesitancy in the Context of COVID-19: The Role of Trust and Confidence in a Seventeen-Country Survey
with Allen Hicken, Pauline Jones, Laura Rozek, and Elizabeth J. King (Featured on the Monkey Cage)
Published online: 14 May 2021, International Journal of Public Health
An effective vaccine to SARS-CoV-2 is essential to controlling the current pandemic. However, it cannot be successfully deployed if a significant number of people worldwide are unwilling to accept it. We draw on recent research suggesting that there is a strong relationship between trust in scientists and medical professionals and perceptions of vaccine safety and effectiveness. We also build on past studies by exploring the relationship between confidence in global, national, and local health organizations and vaccine hesitancy. We conducted an online survey in seventeen countries/territories across five world regions between May 21, 2020 and June 24, 2020. Questions were designed to assess COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, confidence in public health organizations, and trust in key experts and leaders. A total of 17,158 surveys were completed. Our findings strongly suggest that confidence in the World Health Organization (WHO) combined with trust in scientists and domestic healthcare professionals is a strong driver of vaccine acceptance across multiple countries/territories. Survey respondents who expressed a lot of confidence in the WHO were almost three times less likely to express vaccine hesitancy compared to those who expressed no confidence in the WHO. Our global survey indicates that vaccine hesitancy is widespread and uptake is likely insufficient to achieve herd immunity. Our findings highlight that there is widespread confidence in how public health organizations, including the WHO, have responded to the current pandemic and that this is related to vaccine acceptance. Our results also highlight the important role of trust in domestic health care providers and scientists in reducing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy.
Global Adoption of Personal and Social Mitigation Behaviors during COVID-19: The Role of Trust & Confidence
with Allen Hicken, Pauline Jones, and Laura Rozek
Published online: 8 September 2021, PLOS ONE
What influences the adoption of SARS-CoV-2 mitigation behaviors – both personal, such as mask wearing and frequent handwashing, and social, such as avoiding large gatherings and physical contact – across countries? Understanding why some individuals are more willing to change their behavior to mitigate the spread of a pandemic will not only help us to address the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic but also to respond to future ones. Researchers have pointed to a variety of factors that may influence individual adoption of personal and social mitigation behaviors, including social inequality, risk perception, personality traits, and government policies. While not denying the importance of these factors, we argue that the role of trust and confidence has received insufficient attention to date. Our study explores whether there is a difference in the way trust and confidence in particular leaders and organizations affect individual compliance and whether this effect is consistent across different types of mitigation behaviors. Specifically, we utilize an original cross-national survey conducted during the first wave of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic (May-June 2020) to investigate how trust in scientists, medical professionals, politicians, and religious leaders and confidence in global, national, and local health organizations affects individual compliance in 16 countries/territories across five world regions. Our analyses, which control for the aforementioned factors as well as several others, suggest that trust in politicians and confidence in national health ministries have the most consistent influence on whether individuals adopt both personal and social mitigation behaviors. Across our sample, we find that greater trust in politicians is associated with lower levels of individual compliance with public health directives, whereas greater confidence in the national health ministry is associated with higher levels of individual compliance. Our findings suggest the need to understand trust and confidence as among the most important individual level characteristics driving compliance when developing and delivering messaging about the adoption of mitigation behaviors. The content of the message, it seems, will be most effective when citizens across countries trust its source. Trusted sources, such as politicians and the national health ministry, should thus consider working closely together when determining and communicating recommended health behaviors to avoid contradicting one another.
Pre-Colonial Warfare and Long-Run Development in India
with Mark Dincecco, James Frank, and Shivaji Mukherjee
Published online: 16 November 2021, The Economic Journal
Does pre-colonial history – and in particular the role of interstate warfare – help explain long-run development patterns across India? To address this question, we construct a new geocoded database of historical conflicts on the Indian subcontinent. We document a robust positive relationship between pre-colonial conflict exposure and local economic development today. Drawing on archival and secondary data, we show that districts that were more exposed to pre-colonial conflict experienced greater early state-making, followed by lower political violence and higher investments in physical and human capital in the long term.
Refugees and the Radical Right: Evidence from Post-WWII Forced Migrations
Featured on The Conversation
Winner of the 2020-21 Eldersveld Award (University of Michigan) and the 2022 Malcolm Jewell Award (SPSA)
Do refugees reshape long-term political behavior in receiving areas? To investigate this question, I focus on the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe into West Germany at the end of World War II. Expellees were strangers to the cultural practices in their new surroundings. Tensions with natives forced expellees to rely on each other and helped foster a strong group identity. I argue that this shared group identity in combination with political circumstances specific to Germany engendered support for the radical right among the expellee community. Using district-level data from 32 elections spanning 100 years, I find that communities which received greater shares of expellees remain more supportive of the radical right in the short, medium, and long term. This legacy of forced displacement is driven primarily by districts that received greater shares of those expellees who experienced the most trauma.
Difference in difference and event study analyses in a panel of Asian grid cells over nine centuries demonstrate that greater agricultural potential due to New World crops increased violent conﬂict after 1500. Rising caloric potential in a typical grid cell increased conﬂict by roughly its mean. The result holds across several New World crops and conﬂict types. It is largely driven by South Asia, a densely populated, diverse region with several competing historical states. The evidence supports a rapacity effect – increases in the gains from appropriation to Asian and non-Asian belligerents – as a mechanism. Population density, urbanization, and British imperialism signiﬁcantly mediate the impact of the Columbian Exchange.
Trust in Religious Leaders & Voluntary Compliance: Lessons from Social Distancing during COVID-19 in Central Asia
with Pauline Jones
How does trust in religious leaders affect voluntary compliance with government policies that impose a heavy cost on the individual? We have limited insight on this question because the existing literature highlights the influence of political trust on compliance. Yet, in many societies, religious leaders have the moral authority to affect individuals’ willingness to adopt pro-social behaviors. We contribute to this literature by focusing on how trust in religious leaders might have affected the adoption of pro-social behaviors in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we examine individuals’ willingness to comply with social distancing policies in two Muslim majority states in Central Asia (Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan). Both have a centralized religious structure and instituted similar social distancing policies during the period under study. We find that higher trust in religious leaders is positively associated with the adoption of social distancing behaviors in both countries, but the relationship is more consistent in Kazakhstan than in Kyrgyzstan. Religious leaders in Kazakhstan seem to have both advised their adherents to comply with state directives throughout the early months of the pandemic and offered them clear alternatives for celebrating holidays, which may have lowered the costs that individuals incurred for social distancing. In contrast, religious leaders in Kyrgyzstan do not appear to have done either on a regular basis. These findings suggest that the impact of trust in religious leaders on compliance may depend as much on the content and delivery of the message as it does on the source of the message.
Did the early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic differ by gender? Drawing on existing research, we hypothesize that women are likely to feel higher levels of anxiety than men and that this is associated with behavioral differences that have implications for slowing the virus’ spread: 1) media consumption; 2) information seeking; and 3) willingness to comply with mitigation behaviors. Specifically, we hypothesize that higher levels of anxiety are associated with increased media consumption and targeted information seeking aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. We hypothesize that this also corresponds with women being more knowledgeable than men about risk factors associated with contracting the virus. Moreover, the combination of greater anxiety and better knowledge, we hypothesize, translates into greater willingness among women to adopt mitigation behaviors. Our analysis of original survey data from 16 countries/territories across five world regions reveals strong support for most of our hypotheses.
This paper bridges research on political generations with work into the legacy of traumatic experiences. Specifically, we argue that periods of systemic societal upheaval engender durable political generations. We test this theoretical expectation in China, using 6 nationally representative surveys spanning 22 years. Our hierarchical age-period-cohort analyses reveal a distinct Maoist era generation, characterized by heightened political interest compared to pre- and post-Mao cohorts. This generational difference in political interest is absent across neighboring countries, providing additional confidence that our findings result from distinct political socialization environments of different cohorts. We also provide suggestive evidence for three channels that contribute to the generational effect: systemic state-led persecution, mass mobilization, and a political climate saturated with indoctrination, fear, and anxiety. Past research has emphasized the lasting impact of persecution and mobilization on political attitudes. Our findings demonstrate that enduring legacies can also manifest among peers not directly exposed to such experiences.
Varieties of Populists: Paths to Power and Implications for Regime Stability and Change
with Pauline Jones
Why do political actors like Vladimir Putin adopt populist platforms? To address this question, we conceptualize two dimensions that have been under-theorized to date: a political actor’s position within the political landscape (outsider versus insider) and level of ideological commitment (true believer versus opportunist). The resulting original typology of populists yields four ideal types: Pivot, Strategic, Classical, and Oppositional. It allows us to clearly distinguish among the myriad actors who have either laid claim to the populist mantle or been identiﬁed as such without focusing solely on their position along the political spectrum. This increased conceptual clarity, we argue, reveals fundamental differences among populist types concerning the electoral strategies they adopt, the aspirations they pursue once in ofﬁce, and their prospects for success. Finally, the typology also provides insight into why populists might evoke the past, how such evocations might differ across the different types, and why this matters.
Populist leaders often depict the past in a positive light and build their campaigns around the promise of returning to such halcyon times. However, academic discourse on the factors contributing to populist success largely ignores the rhetorical strategies employed by populist leaders. Their narratives are usually dismissed as epiphenomenal rationalizations, adopted by those who feel culturally and/or economically threatened, and are assumed to have no independent causal effect on support. The current paper attempts a systematic test of this proposition. Findings from a survey experiment provide cautious support for the effectiveness of such appeals to the past. Vague rather than specific appeals appear more efficacious in moving public opinion. The effectiveness of such appeals also appear more pronounced among those with less rigid ideologies and lower levels of education.
Selected Work in Progress
Shadow of the Past: How the Troubles shape political thought and action in Northern Ireland
Based on extensive field research in Northern Ireland, this project investigates how individuals and communities are grappling with the legacy of the Troubles. I have, thus far, conducted nearly 100 interviews with individuals from diverse backgrounds (security services, politics, victims groups, civil society, education, paramilitaries, and media), many of them either intimately involved with the conflict or with the post-conflict processes.
- Uncivil Agreement (Lilliana Mason)
- Enchanted America (Eric Oliver & Thomas Wood)
- Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal (Ben Sasse)
- Identity Crisis (John Sides, Michael Tesler, & Lynn Vavreck)
The Wrong Winners: Anti-Corporate Animus and Attitudes Towards Trade
(with Iain Osgood)