Ongoing Research

Social Distancing as a Public Goods Dilemma: High Economic Cost Reduces Voluntary Compliance

(with Peter Loewen)

Participation in social distancing can be seen as a contribution to a public good that is influenced by 1) the marginal costs and benefits of those contributions and 2) expectations that other citizens will participate. We test our theory using an official government economic report on job loss as an exogenous, negative information shock. Using Canadian data, we show that this shock increased aggregate-level mobility and reduced self-reported social distancing among respondents surveyed throughout the pandemic (N=17,539), especially for younger respondents – a group that faces higher costs relative to benefits of compliance. We also conduct three survey experiments on nationally representative samples to unpack a possible mediating effect of expectations of others’ participation. Our results reinforce our principal findings, while also showing that 1) information on prospective economic cost reduces expectations of compliance by other citizens; and 2) expectations of compliance by others cause expectations of respondents’ own compliance.

Pre-print link:

The Social Dimension of Mass Polarization in Canada

One key component of mass polarization in the United States has been the increasing alignment of social identities with partisanship. Scholars have argued that this is a key driver of affective polarization and a likely source of the social consequences we have observed, such as a reluctance to form relationships with people from political outgroups. This line of research, however, has not extended far beyond the American context. This paper has two objectives: 1) to evaluate the level of social polarization and perceptions of this polarization in the Canadian public and examine their relationships with affective polarization; and 2) to identify a possible social consequence of polarization: a preference for romantic relationships with politically similar individuals. Using a pair of studies featured in the Digital Democracy Project’s 2019 study of the Canadian federal election and C-Dem’s May 2020 Democracy Checkup, I find that, while levels of social polarization are low in Canada, people tend to greatly exaggerate social differences between left and right-leaning parties, and both of these factors heighten animus toward political outgroups. I also demonstrate that people have a preference for romantic connections with politically similar individuals at levels comparable to that of shared religion and education. The degree of bias against political opposites varies considerably by levels of out-party animus and partisan-ideological sorting.

Paper presented at CPSA 2021 here.