My research explores how economic anxiety and inequality affect views on group membership, and how these changing perceptions influence political behavior and policy preferences. I am interested in how the context in which a person lives shapes attitudes toward minority groups such as immigrants and LGBT people, and how this, in turn, influences voting behavior and redistributive preferences. I use a variety of methodological tools, with a particular interest in experimental and quantitative methods.


Inequality, Immigrants, and Selective Solidarity

My dissertation, titled Inequality, Immigrants, and Selective Solidarity, examines how OECD citizens react to immigrants in times of rising economic inequality. I theorize that inequality triggers selective solidarity. While inequality nudges more people to support welfare redistribution, it also makes them less generous towards immigrants. I conjugate survey and conjoint experiments that I designed and executed in Italy, France, and the United States with analysis of observational data from surveys and administrative sources from 13 OECD countries.

The first article argues that economic inequality promotes selective solidarity by eroding beliefs in social mobility and economic opportunities, which, in turn, intensifies competition with outgroups. Immigrants suffer from selective solidarity because the welfare state has historically developed within the bounded community of the nation state, thereby generating a strong linkage between welfare and citizenship. I first present a cross-national analysis linking survey data from OECD countries to a measure of regional inequality. The analysis shows a strong correlation between economic inequality and conditional welfare support, with a negative effect on support for immigrants. I then use a survey experiment with a nationally representative sample of Italian residents to get causally identified measures of welfare attitudes. The experiment shows that inequality increases support for income subsidies for natives but not for immigrants. Inequality actually reduces support for welfare programs benefiting immigrants among socially conservative residents. To move beyond survey experiments that only focus on opinion effects, I also present a behavioral task, which shows that attitude changes induced by the treatment do not always translate into actual behavior. In fact, individuals who did not finish high school and are exposed to inequality become less likely to contact elected officials to express their views.

Bridging studies on welfare chauvinism, welfare deservingness, and the attribution theory of poverty, the second article uses conjoint experiments to show that immigrant identity – rather than separate but correlated characteristics – drives conditional welfare support. Immigrants are judged less deserving than individuals who are not looking for a job, who rely on welfare despite being fit and healthy, or who have never had regular jobs. Immigrants are severely penalized regardless of their country of origin, and even economically secure, liberal, and highly educated residents strongly favor citizens over immigrants. The conjoint experiments are embedded in two representative surveys of Italian and French residents and in a survey of a convenient sample of American residents.

Beyond affecting opinion, does inequality prompt citizens to take action? The third article uses the German Longitudinal Election Study and adopts structural equation models (SEMs) with latent variables. SEMs allow me to simultaneously consider different forms of participation, address measurement errors that often affect reported indicators of participation, and test the causal mechanism. I find that individuals dissatisfied with economic inequality turn away from conventional political participation, because deep economic disparity alienates citizens from a political system that seems to lack representational legitimacy. In contrast, they engage more in unconventional participation, but this effect is limited to citizens with high education.

Other projects

It’s the Emotions, Stupid! Anger about the Economic Crisis, Low Political Efficacy, and Support for Populist Parties (Electoral Studies 50: 91-102, 2017) (article)

This article examines the impact of anger about the economic crisis on turnout and vote choice. I argue that the impact of anger about the economy is moderated by feelings of political efficacy. Among citizens with low efficacy, anger decreases electoral participation and fuels support for populist parties. In contrast, angry voters with high efficacy do not vote less often; they also increase support for mainstream opposition parties. I test the theory with the 2005-2010 British election panel study, which allow me to address endogeneity concerns and control for pre-crisis political engagement and other negative emotions.

Does Sexual Orientation Matter at Election Time? The Impact of LGBT Candidate Identity on Vote Share in the UK Elections of 2015 (with Andrew Reynolds) (conditionally accepted, American Political Science Review)

After building an original dataset with constituency variables and individual-level data on more than 3,000 candidates in the 2015 UK election, we show that LGBT candidates did not decrease party vote share – even in conservative constituencies. To deal with compositional data, we adopt seemingly unrelated regressions with logistic ratio transformation of the dependent variable, and we control for candidate education, political experience, and campaign spending. This is the first quantitative investigation of the electoral impact of candidate sexual orientation.

Gender, Electoral Rules, and Political Representation: Field Experiments from Europe and Latin America (with Zoila Ponce de Leon)

We conducted an audit experiment on gender and representation conducted with 3,685 members of parliament from 11 countries in Europe and Latin America. In the experiment, a citizen alias – whose gender is randomized – sends an email to members of parliament inquiring about unemployment benefits in Europe and healthcare services in Latin America. The countries in the experiment allow for variation in electoral systems, which influence extrinsic motivations of elected officials, and proportion of female members of parliament, which could affect the link between gender and responsiveness. We find that legislators are overall significantly more likely to respond to women (+3%), especially in Europe (+4.3%). In Europe, this result is driven by the behavior of female legislators, who consistently reply more to women than men (+8.4%).

Career Politicians: Motivations, Attitudes, Behavior (with Donald Searing and Nicholas Allen)

The project clarifies, systematizes, and measures the concept of “career politicians.” We use unique longitudinal career data and interviews of members of the UK House of Commons, who were interviewed in the 1970s and re-interviewed between 2012 and 2015. We quantitatively explore the psychological traits that define career politicians, including need for power, need for achievement, need for affiliation, status, and public service motivation.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like any additional information on my ongoing research projects.