I conduct research on political attitudes and behaviour of citizens, political parties and political economy.  Much of my work is comparative in nature, studying established democracies, yet part of it looks at German politics in particular. A particular focus of my work is the interplay between economic globalization and domestic politics. As part of my dissertation, I wrote a series of three articles on how economic globalization affects turnout in national elections, for example (see below). Also during my PhD studies, I studied economic voting in Germany exploring (a) who responds to economic conditions and (b) the role of economic voting in the German 2013 election against the background of the Eurozone crisis (see below). Much of my current research looks into political attitudes towards globalization and political backlash against globalization (see below). Below you find brief descriptions of these larger research projects of mine.

Apart from that focus on globalization, public opinion and voting, other published work examines whether there is a political bias in Freedom House’s democracy scores. And current collaborations delve into…

  • the antecedents and consequences of intra-party heterogeneity in policy preferences which we measure via survey data from polls of party elites (with Matthias Mader; find our first article here of what we hope will turn into a series of publications)
  • citizen’s normative conceptions of democratic decision-making and their determinants and effects on political support and voting using original survey data from Germany (with Claudia Landwehr)
  • voter turnout and political support of citizens with economically left and socio-culturally authoritarian policy preferences, a preference combination not matched on the supply side of the typical post-World-War-II policy space of West European democracies (with Sven Hillen).

Economic Globalization and Voter Turnout in Advanced Democracies

The large increases in international trade and cross-border capital mobility have left advanced national democracies with less ability to control economic outcomes within their borders. International interdependence has meant an increase in tax competition, for example, that makes it costly for governments to tax mobile tax sources at high levels. As some policy options have become less feasible in a globalized economy, the economic policy positions of parties have converged to some extent. At the same time, we witnessed a nearly uniform decline in turnout in national elections in advanced democracies leading some observers to wonder whether these two trends might be causally linked. In this project, I examined this question through a set of quantitative studies relating to different levels of analysis. In a first study, I analyze aggregate level on data for parliamentary elections in 23 OECD democracies over the period 1965-2006 finding a negative association between different measures of economic globalization and turnout rates. A second study, co-authored with Christian Martin, investigates whether economic globalization and voter turnout are linked through a narrowing of parties economic policy positions. It employs aggregate-level data on legislative elections in 24 established democracies to study (a) the association between economic globalization and the polarization of party positions on an economic left-right scale and (b) the association between this economic policy polarization of the party system and voter turnout. We obtained evidence supporting both links. In a third study, I turned to individual-level data to test for a direct link between citizens’ perceptions of the government’s influence on the economy within a globalized world and their individual turnout decisions. Drawing on the 2001 British General Election, it is shown that citizens who believe that economic globalization leaves the national government with less influence on the economy are less likely to report to have voted. Further findings also support the proposed theoretical model according to which perceptions of the national room to maneuver affect turnout via views on the importance of elections and matter specifically for citizens that tend towards the left side of the left-right scale. These three studies were also part of my paper-based dissertation I submitted to the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in 2015. You can access the manuscript accompanying my paper-based dissertation here. It contains an in-depth discussion of these three studies (and a fourth one, the one on a political bias in Freedom House’s democracy scores mentioned above), reflecting on how they build upon previous research and relate to each other.

Economic Voting in Germany

The economic situation is one of the most important determinants of election outcomes. In this research project, I looked into specifically how the economy matters for voting behavior focusing on the case of Germany. One study (Steiner, Nils D./Steinbrecher, Markus (2012): Wirtschaft und Wahlverhalten in Westdeutschland zwischen 1977 und 2007: Wer sind die ökonomischen Wähler?, inSchmitt-Beck, Rüdiger (ed.), Wählen in Deutschland: Sonderheft der Politischen Vierteljahreschrift 45/2011. Baden-Baden: Nomos, 321-344.), co-authored with Markus Steinbrecher, aims to find out who the economic voters are, i.e. which citizens react most strongly to economic conditions. In order to study this issue, we combined a large number of cross-sectional opinion surveys from the period 1977 to 2007 with economic indicators. Our findings indicate, inter alia, that those without a party identification and ideological moderates react more strongly to economic fundamentals. A second study (Bauer, Simon R./Steiner, Nils D. (2015): Eurokrise, Economic Voting und der Erfolg der Union bei der Bundestagswahl 2013. Positions- und performanzbasierte Sachfragenorientierungen als Determinanten der Wahlentscheidung, in: Giebler, Heiko/Wagner, Aiko (eds.): Wirtschaft, Krise und Wahlverhalten, Baden-Baden: Nomos, 51-83.), co-authored with Simon Bauer, explores the role economic voting as well as performance and position issues regarding the Eurozone crisis played in voting decisions for the Christian-Democrats in the 2013 Bundestag election. Inter alia, we show that the Christian-Democrats profited from very positive assessments of the economic situation that resulted in overall positive performance evaluations of the government’s and chancellor Merkel’s crisis management, despite notable disagreement on the level of issue positions of how to deal with the Eurozone crisis.

Attitudes Towards Globalization and Backlash Against Globalization

We live in a world of unprecedented international economic interconnectedness, yet it is unclear whether the current levels of international economic openness are politically sustainable. In the established democracies, economic openness is endangered by the rise of right-wing populist parties and politicians who oppose internationalization in its cultural, but partly also in its economic dimensions. Despite the efficiency gains from international trade and investment, economic globalization, at least under some conditions, increases economic inequality within (rich) nations and challenges national democracy by diminishing the room to maneuver of national governments. Such negative consequences are hard to deal with politically and, especially if not properly dealt with, are a source of opposition to globalization. Current developments—such as the successful Brexit-referendum, public opposition to TTIP, CETA and TPP, the rise of right-wing populist parties in the wake of the Eurozone crisis in Europe as well as the election of Donald Trump who run on a nationalist-protectionist platform—underscore the relevance of these issues. Against this background, I investigate the determinants of citizens’ opposition to globalization and the political mobilization of these potentials by political elites. A number of specific ongoing or planned projects aim to contribute to this broader research agenda of mine. Here are some examples of what I am working on specifically at the time of this writing:

  • Attitudes Towards TTIP in the EU and Germany: I have a working paper on citizen support for TTIP in the EU member states which you can access via SSRN. It shows economic explanations to be of some, but limited help in accounting for variation in support for TTIP: Perceptions of the economic benefits of globalization correlate with support for TTIP; yet, country-level differences in support for TTIP are hard to account for with economic fundamentals. I find that attitudes are strongly influenced by heuristic cues: Orientations towards the EU and dissatisfaction with national democracy are robustly associated with stances towards TTIP as are orientations towards the US in a society. TTIP also divides individuals and societies with different issue priorities. In enhancing our knowledge of how preferences towards specific salient trade policies are built, these findings complement previous research on citizens’ general stances towards trade. A separate follow-up paper (work in progress) analyzes answers to a question on individual attitudes towards TTIP in Germany that I submitted to the GESIS Panel. Inter alia, it replicates the finding that orientations towards TTIP are closely connected to citizens’ general opinions on the US.
  • Support for Trade with Specific Countries: Another work-in-progress paper leverages survey data from the US and Germany on support for increased trade with specific countries. Why is this interesting? A lot of studies have argued that trade policy preferences follow economic self-interest as predicted by factor endowment models of international trade (Heckscher-Ohlin, Stolper-Samuelson). Yet, when it comes to supporting increased trade with specific countries, factor endowment models of international trade imply that preference divides should not be constant, but vary with the economic characteristics of these countries (particularly their factor endowments). Such fine-grained attitudes on international trade, thus, provide critical leverage for testing models of economic self-interest, but have not been used for that purpose to date.
  • Import Competition and Nationalism: This contribution addresses an ongoing controversy over the economic (or material) and cultural (or symbolic) sources of popular discontent with globalization. Previous research has established that individuals’ stances towards economic globalization are not only, or not even primarily, shaped by their economic self-interest, but reflect individuals’ cultural orientations towards foreign influences (i.e. xenophobia). It has been shown that individuals with nationalist and ethnocentric views are more likely to oppose international trade (e.g. Mansfield/Mutz 2009); and a causal interpretation of these associations is supported by experiments which show that priming individuals to think about the socio-cultural consequences of international economic integration can change their attitudes towards economic globalization (Margalit 2012). These studies have implicitly treated individuals’ cultural orientations towards out-groups and foreign influences as exogenous. What is missing is an investigation whether a reverse pattern also holds: Does exposure to negative economic effects of economic globalization render people more nationalistic in cultural terms? I aim to answer this question by combining individual-level panel data with information on import competition at the industry level. The goal is to identify the effect of import competition on intra-individual changes in nationalism over time via repeated measures of items on national identity.