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 most recent book, Framing Risky Choices is co-authored with Richard Nadeau (UdeM) and Éric Bélanger (McGill). The majority of policymakers, academics, and members of the general public expected British citizens to vote to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum. This perception was based on the well-established idea that voters don’t like uncertainty. So why did the British public vote to take such a major economic risk? This book addresses this question comparatively, by placing the Brexit vote in the bigger picture of EU and Scottish independence referendums. Drawing from extensive interviews and survey data, it asserts that the framing effect – mobilising voters by encouraging them to think along particular lines – matters, but not every argument is equally effective. Simple, evocative, and emotionally compelling frames that offer negativity are especially effective in changing people’s minds. Uncovering the core mechanism behind post-truth politics, it shows that the strength of an argument is not its empirical validity but its public appeal.
My earlier book with CUP, Framing the European Union, demonstrates how political language affects public opinion toward European integration. It examines six EU referendum votes: Spain, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg on the European Constitution (2005); and Ireland on the Lisbon Treaty (2008-2009). 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 some cases. Why did this occur in some referendum votes but not in others? This book reveals that the key to the puzzle lies in political campaigns.
My EJPR article 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 studies whether the anti-EU treaty campaigns have more advantage than the pro-EU treaty campaigns. 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), Crina Viju (Carleton), and Adam Chalmers (KCL).
How do interest groups choose to lobby different sides of an issue? In our recent article in JPP, Adam Chalmers (KCL) 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.