Working Papers

Interested in what I am currently working on? Below I list some of my current research papers. If you are interested in obtaining the most up-to-date version of one of these papers or have any questions or comments, feel invited to contact me.

Subjective Losers of Globalization

Nils D. Steiner, Matthias Mader & Harald Schoen

Abstract: A frequent diagnosis of political transformations in established democracies is that a new cleavage between the “winners” and “losers of globalization” has emerged. Yet, despite a growing interest in subjective group membership, research on the new cleavage has not studied whether individuals accept these labels for themselves, and to what effect. Based on survey data from Germany, we report evidence of a division between “globalization losers” and “winners” at the level of subjective group membership that is (partially) rooted in social structure and associated with globalization-related issue attitudes and party choices. We thereby confirm many of the ideas from prior research—such as that (self-perceived) losers of globalization tend to hold lower levels of education and that they tend towards the radical right. At the same time, self-categorizations prove to be political consequential in their own right, and we conclude that these are important to understand how political entrepreneurs appeal to voters along the new divide. This study has important implications for our understanding of emerging cleavages, the political consequences of globalization, and voting for the radical right.

The Shifting Issue Content of Left-Right Identification: Cohort Differences in Western Europe

Nils D. Steiner

Abstract: What do citizens make of “left” and “right” when new contested issues emerge? This study extends previous single-country studies on the shifting issue content of citizens’ left-right positions in times of realignment to a cross-national European level. Drawing on theories of political socialization and the idea that left-right identities are sticky, I argue that the issue content of citizens’ left-right positions varies with the salience of and polarization around issues at the party level during their formative years. Analyzing ESS data for 12 Western European countries from 2002 to 2018, I find that environmental protection and immigration attitudes are more strongly associated with left-right positions among those born later. In contrast, attitudes towards redistribution are less relevant within more recent cohorts, suggesting a moderate crowding out of old issues. These general patterns are nuanced by differences across countries, in line with historical and persistent cleavage constellations. These findings have several important implications—for understanding the changing lines of political conflict in Europe and their future evolvement, for potential conflicts within the “left” and the “right”, and for the usage of the left-right scale in empirical research. [PDF]

Class Voting for Radical-Left Parties in Western Europe: The Libertarian vs. Authoritarian Class Trade-Off

Nils D. Steiner, Lucca Hoffeller, Yanick Gutheil & Tobias Wiesenfeldt

Which classes vote for radical-left parties (RLPs) in Western Europe? Have these parties become the domain of highly educated socio-cultural professionals, or can they still attract support from the working class? Building on previous work on class voting in the two-dimensional policy space, this article shows how class voting for RLPs is shaped by these parties’ positions on the cultural dimension of political competition. Combining voter-level data from the European Social Survey (2002 to 2018) with information on RLPs’ positions for 12 Western European countries, we find evidence of a class trade-off: RLPs with more authoritarian positions receive relatively more support from production workers but relatively less support from socio-cultural professionals. These findings add to evidence that parties shape class voting. Ours is the first study to demonstrate that this is true for RLPs as well, showing how, in the early 21st century, cultural positions matter for class voting. [LINK]

Rallying around the EU Flag: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and Attitudes toward European Integration

Nils Steiner, Ruxanda Berlinschi, Etienne Farvaque, Jan Fidrmuc, Philipp Harms, Alexander Mihailov, Michael Neugart & Piotr Stanek

This paper uses a survey among students at European universities to explore whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has affected attitudes toward European integration. Some respondents completed the survey just before Russia’s assault on February 24, 2022, and some did so just afterwards, thus delivering a quasi-experimental design situation, which we exploit. Our results suggest that the ominous news about the Russian attack increased the participants’ interest in EU politics, consolidated their attachment to the EU, and made them more mindful and appreciative of the benefits of deeper European integration. In effect, the war so close to the EU Eastern border provoked a rally around the supranational EU flag, with convergence of public opinion toward shared
European values. [LINK]

Generational Change in Party Support in Germany: The Decline of the Volksparteien, the Rise of the Greens, and the Transformation of the Education Divide

Nils D. Steiner

Abstract: Motivated by the eroding support for the old “Volksparteien” CDU/CSU and SPD, especially among younger voters, this study conducts an age-period-cohort analysis of vote choices in all twenty German elections, from 1949 to 2021. I study both generational differences in levels of party support and the changing effect of education on voting. The results, first, point to the importance of generational replacement in understanding party’s shifting fortunes, with the CDU/CSU and the SPD being weaker in more recent cohorts and the Greens stronger. Second, while high education divides voters of the old right (CDU/CSU and especially FDP) and left (SPD) in earlier cohorts, it increasingly divides voters of the new-left Greens and the radical-right AfD in more recent cohorts. This study enhances our understanding of the changing patterns of party support in the German electorate and, as a broader lesson, shows how electoral realignment is driven by generational replacement. [PDF]

Income Inequality and Populist Attitudes: Evidence from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems

Nils D. Steiner

Abstract: Economic inequality figures prominently among the factors that have been discussed as drivers of the success of populist parties. One plausible underlying mechanism is that economic inequality increases populist sentiment among voters which in turn leads to higher support for populist parties. Yet, we lack evidence on whether populist attitudes are more widespread where economic inequality is higher. In this study, I use data on 40 elections from the 5th Module of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES)—the first large cross-national survey dataset containing a measure of populist attitudes—to contribute such evidence. The analysis uncovers a substantively strong and robust positive cross-country correlation between income inequality and populist attitudes. Yet contrary to expectations, economic inequality does not make a larger difference for populist attitudes among those with lower socio-economic status. These findings add to evidence pointing to a connection between inequality and populism—but suggest that higher inequality contexts provide conditions conducive to populist sentiment among broad segments of the population.

Plurality Rule, Majority Principle, and Indeterminacy in German Elections

Salvatore Barbaro & Nils D. Steiner

Abstract: In German federal elections, district representatives are chosen by plurality rule⁠—a voting system that can fail to select the Condorcet winner. With heightened party system fragmentation, violations of the Condorcet criterion may become increasingly frequent. In light of the “horseshoe theory”, it also becomes questionable whether Condorcet winners exist in the first place. In this study, we simulate preference orderings over district candidates for the 2017 Bundestag election based on survey data. The simulation identifies Condorcet winners in every district and indicates that plurality rule fails to select those in about one in ten districts. [LINK]