Ongoing Research

Does Talking to the Other Side Reduce Inter-Party Hostility?

**Revise and resubmit at Political Communication**

(with Eran Amsalem and Peter Loewen)

A growing body of evidence indicates that affective polarization, defined as a growing sense of dislike and distrust toward members of opposing political parties, is on the rise in various Western democracies. While past research demonstrates that political communication processes play a critical role in determining levels of inter-party hostility, the literature has so far focused almost exclusively on mass-mediated forms of communication. We argue here that affective polarization might also be determined by the composition of one’s political discussion network. Specifically, we hypothesize that “heterogeneous” discussions—those transcending partisan and ideological boundaries—are associated with decreased hostility toward the other side. We test this hypothesis with both cross-sectional (N = 3,596) and panel (N = 3,408) surveys conducted during and after the 2019 Canadian election, and find that heterogeneous discussion indeed is associated with reduced polarization. This result holds across three indicators of affect, obtains for both face-to-face and online discussions, and is consistent across data sets. Our findings inform scholarly debates about the antecedents of affective polarization and are consistent with the claim that cross-cutting political discussion carries important benefits for democracy.

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

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.