The unifying theme in my research is an interest in how context and dispositions (especially political values and identities) interact in shaping political attitudes and behavior. I have pursued this interest in the following fields.
Public opinion and international relations
Most of my work in this field is about the effect of general postures on attitudes toward specific foreign policies. My book on this topic, Öffentliche Meinung zu Auslandseinsätzen der Bundeswehr [German Public Opinion on Bundeswehr Deployments Abroad], was published in 2017 by Springer VS. It shows how information context and general postures toward war and transatlantic cooperation interact in shaping German public attitudes toward specific military missions. I am also a co-author of the book Old Friends in Troubled Water, published by Nomos in 2016. The book analyzes American and German citizens’ responses to changes in the international system in the post-Cold War era and reveals transatlantic disagreement over core foreign policy postures, particularly the use of military force. Whether such cultural differences seriously strains the transatlantic relations, however, is conditional on elite behavior.
My research on foreign policy attitudes has also appeared in leading journals, including the European Journal of Political Research (here), the International Journal of Public Opinion Research (here), Journal of Conflict Resolution (here), Review of International Political Economy (here), and public opinion Quarterly (here).
The SecEUrity Project
In collaboration with a large group of European scholars I currently conduct a research project titled “Fighting together, moving apart? European common defense and shared security in an age of Brexit and Trump.” The project studies the dynamic relationship between elites and masses in policy-making about common defense in the multi-level European system and is generously funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung. Against the backdrop of the COVID-19, a specific focus will also lie on the implications of the pandemic for this policy area. To this end, qualitative (elite interviews) and quantitative (population surveys with embedded experiments) data are being collected and analysed. Multi-wave panel surveys in Germany, France and the UK will allow a detailed analysis of the dynamics of attitudes at the population level. A pan-European survey has been conducted to capture commonalities and differences in attitudes on this topic across Europe. The corresponding attitudes of European elites (and their perceptions of public opinion) will be captured with semi-structured interviews.You can visit the project’s website (secEUrity.eu) for more information.
Popular conceptions of national identity: Content, variation, and political implications
In an era of international economic exchange and mass migration, national boundaries become both permeable and contested. Processes of international cooperation and migration cross and highlight national borders and have the potential to invoke national identities as a force that drives citizens’ opinion formation toward a wide range of issues. These identities come in different forms—there is variation between individuals and across time and space—and have distinct effects on political attitudes and behavior. At the same time, they depend on individual characteristics and contextual features, such as the national discourses about national identity. I have pulished several papers on these issues. They analyze, e.g., stability and change of different forms of German national identity (here), their effects on foreign policy attitudes (here), how they are related to general ideological and partisan preferences (here), and whether mixed conceptions of national identity can trigger ambivalence toward immigration (here). Current joint work with Maria Pesthy and Harald Schoen is concerned with the implications of national identity conceptions on voting behaviour in Germany (here and here). We study the differential effects of ethnocultural and civic dimensions of national identity on turnout and party preferences in Germany both before and after the peak of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015.
To explore these issues in a comparative perspective, I collaborate with Harald Schoen in a research project that received funding from the Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung (MZES). You can find more information about the project and preliminary work at our MZES project website.
Turnout and electoral choice
Electoral behvior is the result of a complex interplay of party politics, political discourse about them, and voters’ predispositions. My work in this field has considered the relevance of a range of such predispositions for political participation in different contexts, including the relevance of political values and postures (here and here), ideological attachments (here), and national identities (see above). In a recent article on the effects of immigration attitudes on vote choice (here), Harald Schoen and I show how German citizens responded to party behaviour by changing partisan preferences on the basis of prior immigration attitudes in the context of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015. This event may thus have been a critical juncture transforming party competition in Germany. As such, the crisis represents a striking example of how events may focus attention on a new policy dimension and catalyse the evolution of new cleavages.
I am interested in how political communication influences citizen attitudes and behavior. In particular, my research focuses on the degree to which different elite actors can shift opinion in different sections of the general population. What are messages that ‘work’, in the sense of moving policy attitudes of targer audiences, and to what degree do such effects vary as a function of individual differences? And can anyone shape public opinion, or are there differences in who citizens are willing to listen to? My research addresses these questions from various angles. Prior publications have focused on differential framing effects on attitudes toward military action (here), on the capacity of interest group communication to change public opinion on issues ranging from free trade to sustainable energy transition (here), and on the vulnerability of different segments of democratic societies for believing foreign hybrid propaganda (here).
Cross-cultural comparability of survey measures
Social scientists are increasingly concerned whether the measures of their concepts are cross-culturally equivalent, i.e. whether they measure the same phenomena in the same way in different cultural settings. A straightforward comparison of the phenomena of interest—and their causes and consequences—is only possible if such equivalent measures exist. In the case of survey research, respondents may react differently to a given stimulus because they have different cultural backgrounds and therefore interpret the stimulus differently. My interest focuses on statistical approaches to assess whether cross-cultural equivalence is given in the case of measurement instruments that are intended to measure core concepts that I frequently work with (for an application in the realm of national identity see here). Can the responses to items intended to measure political values and identities be modelled in a cross-culturally equivalent way? This is a difficult and largely unanswered question.
Quantitative research on party politics often assumes that parties are unitary actors. While it may be unproblematic to use this assumption in some circumstances, it limits our understanding in others. It implies, for example, that parties occupy precisely defined positions in the policy space, when in reality they are unlikely to be completely united in their preferences. If we conceptualize parties as organizations that consist of multiple actors, we can think of policy “positions” as distributions that might vary between parties, within parties between issues, and across time. The extent of this intra-party preference heterogeneity is an important variable to understand phenomena such as party strategy and competition, coalition building, and voting behavior. Nils D. Steiner and I study this heterogeneity using survey data from polls of party elites. Two papers have been published in this project, presenting the general approach and effects of preference heterogeneity on issue salience (here) and analyzing the degree to which preference homogeneity increases with the level of party institutionalization (here).