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.

Trade Shocks and the Nationalist Backlash in Political Attitudes: Panel Data Evidence from Great Britain

Nils D. Steiner & Philipp Harms

Abstract: This article leverages individual-level panel data on nationalist attitudes to contribute to the debate on the (economic) roots of popular opposition to globalization. We propose a ‘nationalist backlash’ hypothesis: Individuals living in regions suffering from stronger import competition form more nationalist attitudes as part of a broad counter-reaction to globalization. Analyzing data from the British Household Panel Study (BHPS), we document not only a decrease in support for EU membership but also a general shift towards more nationalist attitudes among respondents from regions exposed to higher imports from low-wage countries—in particular, China. We thus uncover a direct individual-level response to import shocks in the form of rising nationalist attitudes that helps to explain these shocks’ aggregate electoral consequences in terms of increased vote shares for the radical right. [PDF]

Subjective Losers of Globalization

Nils D. Steiner, Matthias Mader & Harald Schoen

Abstract: A prominent line of research points to the emergence of a cleavage between “winners” and “losers of globalization” in developed democracies. Surprisingly, it has not been studied whether individuals think of themselves in these terms, and how such self-categorizations matter for the new divide. Drawing on survey data from Germany, we find a sizable share of citizens to self-categorize as “losers of globalization”, especially but not exclusively among the low educated and in deprived regions. Self-categorized losers of globalization hold distinct positions on globalization-related issues—such as trade, immigration, and European integration—and overproportionately support the radical-right AfD. Our evidence points to a political division between “globalization losers” and “winners” at the level of subjective group membership that is partly rooted in objective divides, but also varies and matters independently of those. This study adds to recent calls to pay more attention to how group attachment shapes emerging cleavage constellations.

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]

Economic Inequality, Unfairness Perceptions, and Populist Attitudes

Nils D. Steiner

Abstract: One popular explanation for the rise of populism points to growing economic inequality. This explanation remains contested, however, not least because direct evidence on the link between economic inequality and support for populism is scarce. This contribution puts forth the simple argument that anti-elite populist sentiments flourish in contexts of high economic inequality, when and because individuals perceive income distributions to be unfair. To probe the different observable implications of this argument, several survey datasets are analyzed. First, German survey data indicate that individuals who think that differences in income are too large are much more inclined to hold populist attitudes. Second, international survey data from the ISSP show the trend towards growing income concentration to be reflected in a growing tendency of the public to view income differences as too large. Third, international survey data from the latest wave of the CSES suggest that populist attitudes are more widespread in countries with higher levels of economic inequality. Collectively, these findings point to the plausibility of a link between growing inequality and populism’s upsurge, thereby contributing to the ongoing debate.

Support for Direct Democracy in Germany and the Brexit Referendum

Nils D. Steiner & Claudia Landwehr

Abstract: The June 2016 Brexit referendum sent international shock waves, possibly causing adjustment in public opinion not only in the UK but also abroad. We suggest that these adjustments went beyond substantive attitudes on European integration and included procedural preferences towards direct democracy as such. Drawing on work on the instrumental nature of referendum support and on opinion updating, we argue that the signal sent by the outcome of the Brexit referendum led politically informed individuals to update their attitudes towards direct democracy based on their views towards European integration. Using panel data from Germany bracketing the Brexit referendum, we find that those favoring European integration turned more skeptical regarding the introduction of binding referenda at the federal level in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. In line with our argument, this effect is mainly driven by the politically informed. Our study contributes to research on preferences for direct democracy and documents a curious case of how—seemingly basic—procedural preferences can, in today’s internationalized information environment, be shaped by high-profile events abroad.