This page lists my peer-reviewed publications, working papers, and other writing on political behaviour, attitudes, and elections. My research primarily uses quantitative and experimental research methods.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
8. Is it worth door-knocking? Evidence from a UK-based GOTV field experiment on the effect of leaflets and canvass visits on voter turnout. Political Science Research and Methods (forthcoming).
Abstract: What impact do party leaflets and canvass visits have on voter turnout? Get Out The Vote (GOTV) experiments consistently find that campaigning needs to be personal in order to be effective. However, the imbalance between United States and European-based studies has led to recent calls for further European GOTV experiments. There are also comparatively few partisan experiments. I report the findings of a United Kingdom-based field experiment conducted with the Liberal Democrats in 2017. Results show that party leaflets boost turnout by 4.3 percentage points, while canvassing has a small additional effect (0.6 percentage points). The study also represents the first individual level experiment to compare GOTV effects between postal voters and in-person voters outside the United States.
7. Political engagement and turnout among same-sex couples in Western Europe. Research & Politics (2020), 7(4). With Stuart Turnbull-Dugarte.
Abstract: This paper presents and addresses a simple, yet overlooked, research question: is there a sexuality gap in political engagement and participation between sexual minority individuals and the heterosexual majority in Western Europe? To answer this question, we employ a recently applied method of identifying lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals using data on the gender composition of cohabiting partner households from the European Social Survey. Relying on a total sample of more than 110,000 individuals across twelve different countries with an identified sample of 1,542 LGB individuals, we test the divergence in political interest and political participation, both electoral and non-electoral, between LGB and non-LGB individuals. The results of our empirical analyses conform with our expectations. Theorising that LGBs, as a marginalised social stratum, are incentivised to participate and “vote like their rights depended on it”, we find empirical evidence of a significant and positive “sexuality gap” in levels of political interest, turnout and other forms of political participation in Western Europe over and above what can be determined by socio-economic determinants of political participation.
6. Crowdsourcing campaigns: A new dataset for studying British parties’ electoral communications. Political Studies Review (forthcoming). With Caitlin Milazzo & Siim Trumm.
Abstract: Parties’ electoral communications play a central role in British campaigns. Yet, we know little about the nature of the material contained in these communications and how parties’ campaign messages differ across constituencies or elections. In this paper, we present a new dataset of 8,600 election leaflets from four recent general elections that relies on crowdsourced information. We illustrate the utility of the OpenElections dataset by comparing the use of negative campaign messaging across parties and over time.
5. The 2016 referendum: Explaining support for Brexit among would-be MPs. Political Studies (2020), 68(4): 819-836. With Siim Trumm & Caitlin Milazzo.
Abstract: The outcome of the 2016 referendum on European Union membership took many by surprise and has continued to define the political discourse in Britain. Despite there being a growing body of research focused on explaining how voters cast their ballot, we still know little about what motivated our politicians to do the same. In this article, we draw on individual-level survey data from the British Representation Study to explore support for Brexit among parliamentary candidates who stood at the 2017 general election. We find that candidates’ political views on immigration and democracy were key determinants of their decision to vote Leave. In addition, more optimistic views of how Brexit was expected to impact British economy and democracy are associated with greater likelihood of voting Leave. These findings highlight that, while politicians were less likely than voters to support Brexit overall, their motivations for doing so were quite similar. Interestingly, however, we also find that candidates contesting constituencies with higher Leave support were no more likely to vote for Brexit themselves. Taken together, these findings have important implications for elite representation of voters’ policy preferences on the issue of Brexit.
4. Can parties recruit postal voters? Experimental evidence from Britain. Electoral Studies (2020), 64(1). With Stuart Turnbull-Dugarte.
Abstract: While easily-accessible postal voting is on the rise in many countries, the implications for electoral campaigns are largely under-researched. Indeed, parties actively try to sign supporters up to postal votes to make it easier for them to turn out. But how effective are these efforts to recruit supporters on to postal votes? We present an original, pre-registered postal voter recruitment experiment – the first conducted outside the US – completed during the May 2018 UK elections. We test the effect of a common recruitment tactic – letters and application forms sent to supporters. Despite being widely used by parties, we find that these efforts are ineffective at both recruiting and mobilising supporters. While the rewards of successfully signing supporters up to postal voting are potentially substantial, our results suggest that parties should consider the most effective ways of doing so.
3. Drowned out by the noise? The downstream mobilisation effects of party campaigning between local and general elections. Journal of Experimental Political Science (2020), 7(3): 188-198.
Abstract: Campaign experiments often report positive effects on voter turnout. But do these effects endure at subsequent elections? Existing studies provide mixed evidence on downstream effects, and the rate at which initial mobilisation effects decay. This paper contributes to existing research by presenting a pre-registered analysis of downstream effects in a unique experimental setting. I test whether effects from a UK partisan experiment in a low turnout election in May 2017 persisted at the high turnout general election a month later. The findings show that in this short space of time, the original turnout effects virtually disappeared, suggesting that downstream effects resulting from campaign experiments can be quickly subsumed by the high saliency of subsequent elections.
2. Conceived in Harlesden: Candidate-centred campaigning in British general elections. Parliamentary Affairs (2020), 73(1): 127-146. With Caitlin Milazzo.
Abstract: Recent decades have seen an increasing trend towards the personalisation of election campaigns, even in systems where candidates have few structural incentives to emphasise their personal appeal. In this article, we build on a growing literature that points to the importance of candidate characteristics in determining electoral success. Using a dataset composed of more than 3700 leaflets distributed during the 2015 and 2017 general elections, we explore the conditions under which messages emphasising the personal characteristics of prospective parliamentary candidates appear in British general election campaign materials. Even when we account for party affiliation, we find that there are important contextual and individual-level factors that predict the use of candidate-centred messaging.
1. Information effect on voter turnout: How campaign spending mobilises voters. Acta Politica (2017), 52(4): 461–478. With Siim Trumm & Laura Sudulich.
Abstract: We explore the impact of campaign effort on constituency-level turnout variation in Britain, under the premise that higher levels of campaign visibility stimulate electoral participation. We focus on the relationship between the competitiveness of the race and campaign effort as a provider of electoral information on the one hand, and voter turnout on the other hand. In doing so, we address the role of campaign effort and competitiveness in shaping turnout both independently as well as jointly. Further to this, we seek to add nuance to our understanding of how electoral campaigns mobilise voters by evaluating the comparative ability of different parties – based on whether or not they are ‘viable’ contenders in a particular constituency – to stimulate turnout. We find evidence that campaign effort mobilises voters and has a significant positive effect on voter turnout; this effect is independent from, and unconditioned by, the competitiveness of the race. However, we do find that this effect is mostly driven by the campaign effort of the ‘viable’ contenders in the constituency.
Explaining the sexuality gap in attitudes & policy preferences: The case of health over wealth in response to the Covid-19 pandemic (with Stuart Turnbull-Dugarte and James Dennison) – under review.
Sexual minority citizens, on average, hold more liberal political attitudes than their heterosexual counterparts. However, the cause of this ‘sexuality gap’ remains contested. The broadly consensual nature of partisan responses to the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK provides a unique case study to effectively control for the potential role of partisan cues and so shed light on the mechanisms that determine the sexuality gap. In this regard, we make three contributions in this letter. Firstly, using survey data on citizens’ attitudes towards prioritising health over the economy, we find that sexual minority voters disproportionately place greater emphasis on the former. This gap remains regardless of socio-demographics and party choice, suggesting a socialisation effect of sexuality. We use mediation analysis to demonstrate the sexuality gap can be explained primarily via divergent political outlooks and only to a lesser extent via differing levels of personal empathy, as has previously been theorised.
How do voters want to be contacted and are parties listening? Evidence from the 2016 Welsh Assembly election (with David Cutts) – under R&R.
Abstract: With more votes up for grabs than ever before, individual profiling and micro-targeting is now commonplace during political campaigns. Content, messages, and the way voters are contacted are all increasingly tailored to suit the individual. But are voters contacted in the way they prefer? For the first time we address this gap in the literature. Our findings suggest that there is considerable heterogeneity in voters’ contact preferences. While some voters prefer not to be contacted, those who do tend to prefer traditional methods such as leaflets and, in some cases, more personalised modes. Preferences are primarily driven by previous exposure to the mode, political interest, having an extraverted personality and/or being open to new experiences, and age.
The “personal touch”: Campaign personalisation in Britain (with Siim Trumm and Caitlin Milazzo) – under R&R.
Abstract: Parliamentary candidates face choices about the extent to which they personalise their election campaigns. They must strike a balance between pushing their party’s message and promoting their own personal appeal, and decide how much effort to invest in developing personalised campaign activities. These decisions determine the nature of the campaigns that candidates run and therefore the kind of experience that voters have in the run up to polling day. In this article, we use individual-level survey data from the British Representation Study to explore the extent to which parliamentary candidates engage in personalised election campaigns in terms of messaging focus and activities. We find that a candidates’ political experience is key to determining their campaign choices. Incumbents and those who have held party office are particularly likely to run highly personalised campaigns. In addition, candidates who live in the area they seek to represent also run more personalised campaigns.
Mobilising supporters when the stakes are high: A large-scale experiment on mass email lobbying (with Stuart Turnbull-Dugarte, Florian Foos, and Denise Baron) – under review.
Abstract: Mass emails are frequently used by advocacy groups to mobilise supporters to lobby leg- islators. But how effective are they at inducing constituent-to-legislator lobbying when the stakes are high? We test the efficacy of a large-scale campaign conducted by the UK’s main anti-Brexit organisation. In 2019, the group prominently displayed a “Write to your MP” tool on their website, and assigned 119,362 supporters represented by MPs with incongruent views to a control condition (no email) or to one of four email messages encouraging them to write to their MP. Messages varied across two factors: whether the MP’s incongruent position was highlighted, and if urgency was emphasised. We find that 3.4% of treatment subjects contacted their representative, compared to 0.1% of those in the control, represent- ing an additional 3,344 emails sent to MPs. While, on average, position and urgency cues had no marginal effects above the standard email, the most engaged supporters were mo- bilised by being told that their MP held incongruent views. This study shows that advocacy groups can use low-cost communication techniques to effectively mobilise supporters to lobby representatives when the stakes are high.
Who votes by post? Understanding the practical and psychological drivers of early voting (with Stuart Turnbull-Dugarte, Siim Trumm, and Caitlin Milazzo) – under review.
Abstract: While most voters in democratic countries still cast their ballot on election day, the proportion who opt instead for a postal vote has increased – often dramatically – in recent decades. This ‘quiet revolution’ in electoral politics, however, is largely under-researched, particularly with regards to the motivations underlying the decision to vote by post. In this paper, we analyse the factors that drive an individual to vote by post rather than at the polling station. Using 2019 British Election Study data, we show that citizens for whom in-person voting would entail higher costs, such as the elderly and disabled, are more likely to opt for the more convenient postal vote. We also find partisans are less likely to use postal voting, suggesting that they derive greater expressive benefits from voting in a public setting. These findings indicate that the growing popularity of postal voting is driven by certain sections of the electorate.
Hidden connections: The gender gap in personalised campaigning (with Caitlin Milazzo).
Abstract: Across liberal democracies, women continue to be underrepresented in legislative bodies. While empirical evidence that voters discriminate against female candidates at the ballot box is mixed, there is a growing consensus that other important aspects of political campaigns are gendered. In this paper, we explore gender differences in the extent to which British prospective parliamentary candidates emphasise their ties to their local community. While research shows that having local connections is one of the most attractive traits a candidate can possess, using a dataset of more than 4,000 communications from three general elections, we find that female candidates are systematically less likely to discuss their connections. At the same time, we find no evidence to suggest that female candidates are less likely have these connections. Given the perceived importance of local connections, the unwillingness of female candidates to play to their strengths has interesting implications for electoral outcomes in British elections.
Reports and Blogs
Brexit flashback: The rise from electoral ranges to centre stage. (2020). UK in a Changing Europe (blog).
OpenElections: Introducing the largest collection of British election communications in existence (2020). LSE British Politics & Policy (blog).
Explaining support for Brexit among would-be MPs in the 2017 general election (2020). LSE British Politics & Policy (blog).
Why has the populist radical right outperformed the populist radical left in Europe? (2019). Open Democracy (blog).
European elections 2019: what will happen in the East Midlands? (2019). Democratic Audit UK (blog).
European elections 2019: what will happen in the West Midlands? (2019). Democratic Audit UK (blog).
European elections 2019: what will happen in the East of England region? (2019). Democratic Audit UK (blog).
Local elections 2019: the directly elected mayoral contests. (2019). Democratic Audit UK (blog).
The UK’s 2019 European Parliament elections are happening after all. Here’s how they will work. (2019). Democratic Audit UK (blog).
How not to recruit postal voters in the UK. (2019). LSE British Politics & Policy (blog).
‘Conceived in Harlesden’: When do candidates emphasise their local connections in UK general elections? (2019). Democratic Audit UK (blog).
Do party leaflets and canvass visits increase voter turnout? (2018). LSE British Politics & Policy (blog).
Campaign spending and voter turnout: does a candidate’s local prominence influence the effect of their spending? (2018). Democratic Audit UK (blog).
England’s local elections 2018: bridging the information gap with the Democratic Dashboard. (2018). Democratic Audit UK (blog).
General Election 2017: Voting Toolkit. (2017). Use Your Voice (public resource).
The Economic Benefits of Joining, Establishing, or Growing a Multi Academy Trust. (2017). Education Policy Institute (report).