Risk and Health Policy Preferences: Evidence from the UK COVID-19 Crisis Abstract Paper

with Raluca Pahontu and Timothy Hicks

Accepted, British Jounral of Political Science, 2022

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic constituted a large shock to the risk of acquiring a disease that represents a meaningful threat to health. We investigate whether individuals subject to larger increases in objective health risk – operationalised by occupation-based measures of proximity to other people – became more supportive of increased government healthcare spending during the crisis. Using panel data which tracks UK individuals before and after the outbreak of the pandemic, we implement a fixed-effect design which was pre-registered before the key treatment variable was available to us. While individuals in high-risk occupations were more worried about their personal risk of infection, and had higher COVID death rates, there is no evidence that increased health risks during COVID-19 shifted attitudes on government spending on healthcare, nor broader attitudes relating to redistribution. Our findings are consistent with recent research demonstrating the limited effects of the pandemic on political attitudes.

No Longer Conforming to Stereotypes? Gender, Political Style, and Parliamentary Debate in the UK Abstract Paper

with Lotte Hargrave

British Journal of Political Science, 2021

Research on political style suggests that where women make arguments that are more emotional, empathetic, and positive, men use language that is more analytical, aggressive, and complex. However, existing work does not consider how gendered patterns of style vary over time. Focusing on the UK, we argue that pressures for female politicians to conform to stereotypically ‘feminine’ styles have diminished in recent years. To test this argument, we describe novel quantitative text analysis approaches for measuring a diverse set of styles at scale in political speech data. Analysing UK parliamentary debates between 1997 and 2019, we show that female MPs’ debating styles have changed substantially over time, as women in parliament have increasingly adopted stylistic traits that are typically associated with ‘masculine’ stereotypes of communication. Our findings imply that prominent gender-based stereotypes of politicians’ behaviour are significantly worse descriptors of empirical reality now than they were in the past.

The Variable Persuasiveness of Political Rhetoric Abstract Paper

with Benjamin E Lauderdale

American Journal of Political Science, 2021

Which types of political rhetoric are most persuasive? Politicians make arguments that share common rhetorical elements, including metaphor, ad hominem attacks, appeals to expertise, moral appeals, and many others. However, political arguments are also highly multidimensional, making it difficult to assess the relative persuasive power of these elements. We report on a novel experimental design which assesses the relative per- suasiveness of a large number of arguments that deploy a set of rhetorical elements to argue for and against proposals across a range of UK political issues. We find modest dif- ferences in the average effectiveness of rhetorical elements shared by many arguments, but also large variation in the persuasiveness of arguments of the same rhetorical type across issues. In addition to revealing that some argument-types are more effective than others in shaping public opinion, these results have important implications for the interpretation of survey-experimental studies in the field of political communication.

Measuring Attitudes towards Public Spending using a Multivariate Tax Summary Experiment Abstract Paper

with Lucy Barnes and Benjamin E Lauderdale

American Journal of Political Science, 2021

It is difficult to measure public views on tradeoffs between spending priorities because public understanding of existing government spending is limited and the budgetary problem is complicated. We present a new measurement strategy using UK taxpayer summaries as the baseline for a continuous treatment, multivariate choice experiment. The experiment proposes deficit neutral bundles of changes in spending and taxation, allowing us to investigate attitudes towards modifications to the existing budget. We then use a structural choice model to estimate public preferences over 13 spending categories and the taxation level, on average and as a function of respondent attributes. We find that the UK public favours paying more in tax to finance large spending increases across major budget categories; that spending preferences are multidimensional; and that younger people prefer lower levels of taxation and spending than older people. Finally, we report a pre-registered out-of-sample validation of the estimates from the experiment.

Online Activism and Dyadic Representation: Evidence from the UK E-Petition System Abstract Paper

Legislative Studies Quarterly, 2020

By making it easier for citizens to communicate their preferences, online forms of political participation have the potential to strengthen the representational link between politicians and voters. However, we know little about the effects of online advocacy on politicians’ behaviour. Using new data from an e-petition system in the UK, I show that support for a petition amongst a Member of Parliament’s constituents substantially increases the probability that the MP advocates for the petition in parliamentary debate, even when compared to their behaviour in counterfactual non-petition debates which focus on the same policy issues. However, MP responsiveness is conditioned both by party discipline and electoral competition. These findings have important implications for our understanding of dyadic representation in parliamentary systems.

Parliamentary Debate in the UK House of Commons Abstract

with Roberta Damiani

Chapter in The Politics of Legislative Debate (eds. Hanna Bäck, Marc Debus, and Jorge M. Fernandes, Forthcoming, 2020)

We describe the institutional setting of parliamentary debate in the UK House of Commons and assess the determinants of participation in Commons’ debates using data on more than two million speeches from 1979 to 2019. We show that the main determinant of participation in parliamentary debate in the UK is whether an MP holds an institutionally powerful position in either the government or opposition parties. In addition, we describe two patterns in the evolution of debate behaviour in the Commons over time. First, although MPs in government and opposition leadership positions give more speeches than backbench MPs in all periods that we study, the speech-making “bonus” these actors enjoy has decreased over time. Second, MPs have increasingly employed constituency-oriented language in their parliamentary speeches over the past 40 years; a finding we link to theoretical accounts of legislative competition in personal-vote-seeking electoral systems.

Model-Based Pre-Election Polling for National and Sub-National Outcomes in the US and UK Abstract Paper

with Benjamin E Lauderdale, Delia Bailey and Douglas Rivers

International Forecasting Journal, 2020

We describe a strategy for applying multilevel regression and post-stratication (MRP) methods to pre-election polling. Using a combination of contemporaneous polling, census data, past election polling, past election results, as well as other sources of information, we are able to construct probabilistic, internally consistent estimates of national vote and the sub-national electoral districts that determine seats or electoral votes in many electoral systems. We report on the performance of three applications of the general framework conducted and publicly released in advance of the 2016 UK Referendum on EU Membership, the 2016 US Presidential Election, and the 2017 UK General Election.

The Effects of Female Leadership on Women’s Voice in Political Debate Abstract Paper

British Journal of Political Science, 2019

Do female leaders amplify the voices of other women in politics? I address this question by examining parliamentary debates in the UK House of Commons. In the context of a difference-in-differences design which makes use of over-time variation in the gender of cabinet ministers, I demonstrate that female ministers substantially increase the participation of other female MPs in relevant debates, compared to when the minister is male. Further, using a measure of debate influence based on the degree to which words used by one legislator are adopted by other members, I show that female ministers also increase the influence of female backbenchers. To explore the mechanisms behind these results, I introduce a new metric of ministerial responsiveness and show that female ministers are significantly more responsive to the speeches of female backbenchers than are male ministers.

Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste: Agenda Setting and Legislative Voting in Response to the EU Crisis Abstract Paper

with Benjamin E Lauderdale

Journal of Politics, 2017

When exogenous shocks make status quo policies less attractive, legislators become more tolerant to proposed alternatives that are further from their ideal in general political dimensions. This increases the discretion of legislative agenda-setters, and allows them to pass policy that would have been impossible in the absence of a crisis. We argue that this dynamic explains changes in voting patterns of the European Parliament during the period of the financial crisis, given control of the agenda-setting process by pro-integration actors. We observe voting coalitions increasingly dividing legislators along the pro-anti integration dimension of disagreement, but only in policy areas related to the crisis. In line with more qualitative assessments of the content of passed legislation, the implication is that pro-integration actors were able to shift policy further towards integration than they could have without the crisis.

Open/Closed List and Party Choice: Experimental Evidence from the UK Abstract Paper

with Andrew C. Eggers, Dominik Hangartner & Simon Hix

British Journal of Political Science, 2016

Which parties benefit from open-list (as opposed to closed-list) proportional representation elections? This article shows that a move from closed-list to open-list competition is likely to be more favorable to parties with more internal disagreement on salient issues; this is because voters who might have voted for a unified party under closed lists may be drawn to specific candidates within internally divided parties under open lists. The study provides experimental evidence of this phenomenon in a hypothetical European Parliament election in the UK, in which using an open-list ballot would shift support from UKIP (the Eurosceptic party) to Eurosceptic candidates of the Conservative Party. The findings suggest that open-list ballots could restrict support for parties that primarily mobilize on a single issue.

Under Review

Testing Negative: The Non-Consequences of COVID-19 on Mass Ideology Abstract Paper

with Timothy Hicks, Alan M. Jacobs, J. Scott Matthews, and Tom O’Grady


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic governments implemented large-scale economic and social policies that, outside of war time, are unprecedented in scale and scope. They highlighted the state’s capacity to guarantee economic and health security, and they reached beyond demographic groups that are more typically beneficiaries of state support. Because of this, we hypothesise that exposure to the pandemic and these policy responses caused ideological change, including attitudes to the role of government in the economy, redistribution, and the deservingness of beneficiaries of state support. We test this expectation using data from the long-running (2014–present) British Election Study Internet Panel, together with a unique panel survey fielded to existing BES respondents in April and September, 2020. Our panel makes it possible to track individuals on a rich set of variables both before and during the pandemic. We find virtually no evidence that the pandemic, or exposure to pandemic-induced shocks, affected ideological beliefs about the role of government, or economic and social policy attitudes. In a follow-up survey experiment on British respondents we test one possible reason for this lack of change –- a lack of elite cues -– but find that exposure to elite cues linking the pandemic to a greater government role in providing welfare, national insurance and public spending has no impact on ideological beliefs either. We conclude that the pandemic was not, and could not have been, a cause of mass ideological change.

Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Very Similar Sets of Foundations When Comparing Moral Violations Abstract Paper

with Benjamin E Lauderdale


Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) aims to explain the origins of and variation in human moral reasoning. Applications in political science have revealed differences in the degree to which liberals and conservatives explicitly endorse five core moral foundations of care, fairness, authority, loyalty and sanctity. However, differences in self-reported assessments of the moral relevance of each foundation do not imply that citizens with different political orientations respond to concrete scenarios based on different moral intuitions. We introduce a new approach for measuring the implicit importance of the 5 moral foundations by asking survey respondents from the UK and the US to compare pairs of vignettes which describe violations relevant to each foundation. We analyse responses to these comparisons using a hierarchical Bradley-Terry model which allows us to evaluate the relative importance of each foundation to individuals with different political perspectives. Our results suggest that, despite prominent claims to the contrary, voters on the left and the right of politics share broadly similar moral intuitions.