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:

Can In-Person Voting Safety Precautions Mitigate the Threat of COVID-19 to Voter Turnout?

(with Thomas Bergeron, Peter Loewen, Angelo Elias, and Miriam Lapp)

Scholars have linked cost and life stress to lower voter turnout. When deciding whether to turnout, the COVID-19 pandemic heightens both of these factors.  Here we ask whether COVID-19 reduces turnout and if there are precautions that can be taken by election administration agencies to mitigate this effect. We use a series of six survey and conjoint experiments implemented in a survey of over 28,000 Canadians between July and November, 2020 to show that: 1) priming people to think about COVID-19 reduces turnout intention, especially among those who feel most threatened by the disease; 2) safety measures for in-personal voting such as mandatory masks, numerical limits, physical distancing, and hand sanitizer provision can improve safety perceptions and willingness to vote, especially among those who feel the most threatened by the disease; and 3) providing people information about safety precautions for in-person voting mitigates the negative effect of COVID-19 on turnout intention. Taken together these studies illustrate the challenge that the COVID-19 pandemic poses to democratic participation and the importance of both the communication and implementation of measures by election administration agencies designed to make people safe, and feel safe, while voting in-person. It also provides more general insights into the nature of the costs of voting.

Polarization Eh? Ideological Divergence and Partisan Sorting in the Canadian Mass Public

There has be increasing concern among commentators and scholars about a possible polarization of the Canadian public that resembles what we have seen south of the border. There are, however, multiple competing conceptual definitions and perspectives on polarization, and we do not yet have a full and complete picture on which dimensions Canadians have or have not polarized, nor on the magnitudes of any patterns. This paper uses the cumulative file of the Canadian Election Study (CES) to measure trends in ideological divergence, ideological consistency, and partisan sorting in the Canadian mass public. It finds little evidence that Canadians are becoming more polarized. They are, however, becoming modestly more ideologically consistent, and much more sorted – that is, partisanship, ideology, and policy beliefs are increasingly interconnected, particularly among those with high levels of political interest. This paper also provides some evidence as to the mechanism undergirding partisan sorting using the 2004-2008 CES panel. Partisan sorting appears to be driven by people switching their partisanship into closer alignment with their beliefs rather than vice versa. These findings call for additional research on the causes and consequences of partisan sorting in Canada, and further efforts to situate them in a comparative context.

APSA 2020 iPoster here

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.

Protest Under Uncertainty: Evidence from a Survey Experiment

(with Miriam Matejova)

**Revise and resubmit at Environmental Communication**

Environmental disasters generate uncertainty, which is a crucial element of post-disaster political dynamics. Does communication of uncertainty affect public willingness to participate in political activism such as protest? In theory, uncertainty framing may trigger emotions like anxiety, which reduce people’s willingness to engage in protest activity. Since uncertainty frames are often used to reify the status quo, the dampening effect of uncertainty will be stronger among those who are ideologically conservative. This article provides a content analysis of news coverage to show that uncertainty framing is prevalent in the aftermath of several important disasters. The article then presents a survey experiment of over 3,600 Americans recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk. Uncertainty framing did not affect respondents’ self-reported anxiety and willingness to engage in political activism. However, such framing dampened the willingness to protest among more ideologically conservative respondents, while liberals were comparatively resistant. These results help explain why some protest coalitions may have more breadth than others after environmental disasters.