My research combines a theoretical focus on political campaigns, issue framing, lobbying, transnational social movements, and diffusion with a regional focus on the European Union. Methodologically, I use in-depth interview data, media content analyses, and public opinion data.
Referendums and public opinion
My book with CUP, Framing the European Union, demonstrates how political language affects public opinion towards European integration. It examines six EU referendum votes: Spain, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg on the European Constitutional Treaty (TCE) in 2005; and Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty (a modified version of the TCE) in 2008 and 2009. While the referendums in Spain and Luxembourg approved the European Constitution, the ones in France and the Netherlands rejected it. Most intriguingly, the Irish public first rejected but then approved the Lisbon Treaty. In all six instances, polls show that the voting publics favoured the referendum proposals before the referendum campaigns began. However, this initially positive public opinion melted away in three of the six cases. Why did this occur in some referendum votes but not in others? This book demonstrates that the key to the puzzle lies in political campaigns: Political actors’ campaign argumentation strategies can, at least temporarily, reverse public opinion enough to affect referendum outcomes. The analysis is based on over 140 in-depth interviews with campaigners and senior EU officials, on media content analyses, and on public opinion data from all five countries. Interviewees, who included European ministers, members of parliament, party strategists, civil society activists, and EU officials and Members of European Parliament, all spoke openly and on the record.
My recent article in EJPR investigates the asymmetrical political advantage in EU referendum campaigns. The broader literature on referendums and public opinion suggest that in a referendum, the ‘No’ side typically has the advantage since it can boost the public’s fears by linking the proposal to unpopular issues. This article investigates whether the anti-EU treaty campaign have more advantage than the pro-EU treaty campaign in these referendums. Additionally, my article that appeared in JCMS focuses on campaign strategies in ‘double referendums’, where voters are asked to vote twice on the same issue in a single year, and they initially reject the proposal but then vote to approve it the second time. I am also fascinated by diffusion processes across EU referendums. My article in JEI focuses on the problem of cross-case influences and applies diffusion theories to the study of referendum campaigns.
Politicisation of international trade
Not every trade agreement becomes equally contentious. Why do some international trade agreements generate large-scale public controversy, while others escape public scrutiny? This policy-centred project examines the factors that politicise trade agreements and the measures taken by decision makers to mitigate politicisation. In this project, which is funded by an SSHRC-ESRC Knowledge Synthesis Grant, I collaborate with Achim Hurrelmann (Carleton University), Crina Viju (Carleton University), and Adam Chalmers (King’s College London).
How do interest groups choose to lobby different sides of an issue? In our recent article in JPP, Adam Chalmers (King’s College London) and I argue that how groups choose sides is a function of firm-level economic activity. By studying a highly salient regulatory issue, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and using a novel data set of lobbying activities, we reveal that a group’s main economic sector matters most.