Research Projects

Political elites and inequality: Information, heuristics and policy

Christian Breunig (Political Science), Friedrich Breyer (Economics), Guido Schwerdt (Economics) and Wolfgang Gaissmaier (Psychology)

Some societies are willing to tolerate certain forms of inequality in
markets and society more than others. How much and in what form
inequality is accepted is a collective choice. Political elites, in this
project elected representatives, are able to make authoritative
decisions affecting inequality. How political elites learn and process
information about inequality is therefore a crucial component for
understanding if and how policy-makers react to rising levels in
Political elites learn and reason about various forms of inequality and
about possible political interventions, which could affect the extent of
inequality. To determine how political elites make policy decisions,
especially across different political systems, is a fundamental
challenge for researchers in the social sciences. This project will take
on this challenge by employing survey and experimental research designs
in order to study how political elites acquire and process information
about inequality when making decisions on (re-)distributional issues. We
focus on three decision-making features. First, we probe into the role
of policy-relevant information and its ability to change preferences.
Second, we assess the role that the demands of the electorate play in
the decision-making of elites regarding these matters. Third, we
evaluate what kind of decision-making models politicians employ when
choosing among policy alternatives. In particular, we explore how
heuristics, moral attitudes and social sampling structure beliefs and
choice. Our core research design utilizes experiments embedded within
elite surveys.

Conditional Responsiveness in France and Germany

Christian Breunig and Emiliano Grossmann

The basic premise of democratic governance is that government represents citizen wishes. In its simplest form, governments assess citizen wishes based on electoral outcomes and publicly expressed problems and respond to these demands by enacting laws. Citizens inturn readjust their priorities as policies change. This project examines if and when governments respond to citizen demands. Our main contention is that government responsiveness is not constant and not a given; instead it is conditioned on the electoral pressure placed on government. We conceptualize electoral pressure in two ways: proximity to the election and government approval ratings. Governments are most responsive shortly before elections and when their electoral fortunes are threatened. We focus on polls on government popularity as an indicator of government approval between elections; electoral polls are used as an indicator of closeness. The proposal acknowledges previous work that explores how the linkage between citizens and government is modified by political institutions, such as electoral system, the type of government, and federalism. In addition to offering a more nuanced understanding of political responsiveness, the project delivers an innovative research design. Our investigation leverages empirical insights from two sources. First, we conduct a quantitative analysis of political activities using comparative policy agendas data. Second, we test the micro-level mechanisms at the government and citizen level using a survey. In short, this project delivers an important contribution to the understanding of when governments listen to public demands and provides evidence for the conditionality of responsiveness in Western democracies.

Punctuated Equilibrium and Budgeting in the American States

Christian Breunig und Chris Koski (Reed College)

Public budgets are characterized by periods of incrementalism interspersed with massive change. Both phases are conceptualized as parts of a punctuated equilibrium. The project aims at assessing how much agenda-setting and veto powers of governors contribute to the punctuations in budgets. We examine this question using budgetary from the American states since the 1980s.

German Policy Agendas Project

Christian Breunig

The German agenda-setting project is developing several data sets on issue attention and policy-making in Germany. The following data are coded (1978-2008): Most important problem surveys, media, lobby groups, parliamentary questions, executive speeches, bill proposals and adopted laws. All data are classified by policy topic according to the Comparative Policy Agendas system and will become available at German Policy Agendas.

Political Information & Migration

Sandra Morgenstern

With the recent increase in irregular migration from Africa towards Europe, European national governments, as well as the European Union, see themselves confronted with an increase in priority of the topic and pressing expectations by the national societies to act. One trending strategy is remote migration control in the form of information campaigns. Within this concept campaigns are implemented in places with high rates of irregular emigration but no geographic dependent legal claim for asylum and inform about the topic of irregular migration. Whether governments can ‘manage’ or, put more moderately, influence potential migration behaviour through this policy tool is highly controversial. In my dissertation project, I address this debate by introducing a theoretical framework which explains how the transmission of information about migration influences actual migration decision making. I test this relation empirically in a series of randomized field experiments. The aim of this project is not just to investigate whether this way of information provision has an effect, but to learn how the provided information influences migration attitudes, intentions and migration behaviour of the target group. More specifically, I explore which conditions foster the persuasive effect of Information.

Legislatures and Policy-Making: When do parliaments matter?

Benjamin Guinaudeau

The recent government shutdown in the USA as well as the failure of the British executive to get parliamentary approval on Brexit reminds us of the importance and powers of parliaments. These conflicts stem from a fundamental attribute of democracies: the separation of powers. A well-functioning democracy requires the three branches of government to be independent from each other and to balance each other. In parliamentary democracies, the conventional wisdom of political scientists is actually that parliament is dominated by the executive branch. My dissertation investigates this struggle for power in order to not only assert whether but also to what extent and under which condition, parliaments are dominated by governments. Using data from the German, British, French and Danish parliaments, I employ text-as-data methods and attempt to bring new insights to this ancient debate.

The first two projects of my dissertation investigate the specific impact of legislative review on policies. Policies are usually drafted and implemented by governments. Between the introduction and implementation, they can be amended by parliament. Using the text modifications undergone by bills between their introduction and adoption, I intend to measure the extent to which legislative review affects policies.  In a second project, I ascertain, the institutional and political factors determining the extent to which parliaments shape policies using my measure.  The third project complements the analysis of texts and focuses on parliamentary debates. More specifically, it exploits the reforms of parliamentary standing orders to causally identify whether the amount and the quality of parliamentary debates affect parliament’s capacity to decide policies.