Here you will find information about my working papers. All working papers ready for circulation are provided in PDF format and may be read and printed using the Adobe Acrobat Reader. Make sure that you change the PDF files to an appropriate format if you want to print out one of the papers. I appreciate any comment, criticism or questions. Please click here to send me an email.
When Do Voters Know Their Candidates?
A Data-Driven Approach to the German Federal Election
Oliver Rittmann (corresponding author), Marie-Lou Sohnius, Thomas Gschwend (PDF version of 01/
Voters’ knowledge about their candidates plays a central role in theories of representation and accountability. Many electoral system incentives also work through some nominal component when translating votes into seats. We know that candidate knowledge is not only conceptually crucial for voters to have but also brings about electoral support. Surprisingly, we do not know much about the determinants under which citizens know their candidates. In lieu of existing causal explanations, we compile data on many factors related to candidate knowledge and use machine learning to study which factors best predict candidate knowledge out-of-sample across multiple German Federal elections. We find factors that describe candidate-, voter-, and district characteristics politically to be important predictors in contrast to factors that describe them socio-demographically. These findings can be a starting point for developing causal theories and have implications for the electoral reform debate in Germany.
Benjamin G. Engst, Thomas Gschwend (PDF version of 12/
Why do we need databases in research on comparative judicial behavior? In this chapter we argue that comprehensive assessments of common models on judicial behavior require data on decisions, judges and environmental characteristics. An expert survey shows that data on these characteristics were often published in rectangular datasets focusing on courts in the United States or specific International Courts mostly allowing assessments of the attitudinal model of judicial behavior. Complex databases on courts in other regions that allow to assessing judicial behavior are published more recently. Databases allow for the modelling of different entities – such as information on decisions and information on judges – and establishing the relationships between them; e.g. linking specific judges to specific decision outcomes. The advantage of designing databases is to summarize clearly specified concepts in parsimonious and flexible ways without producing redundancies when collecting data. Comparative judicial databases including information on the action of multiple courts are scarce. However, scholars of judicial politics can learn from existing comparative projects such as the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) to design a Comparative Study of Judicial Behavior (CSJB).
Political Ambition and Opposition Legislative Review: Bill Scrutiny as an Intra-Party Signaling Device
Lion Behrens, Dominic Nyhuis, Thomas Gschwend (PDF Version of 11/
Recent research on executive-legislative relations in parliamentary democracies has shown that members of majority parties submit amendments to government bills to police the coalition compromise and to distinguish themselves from their coalition partners. It is poorly understood, however, what motivates members of the opposition to engage in the resource-intensive work of proposing changes to government bills. Not only are amendment proposals by the opposition often unsuccessful (lack of policy motivation), they are largely invisible to the electorate (lack of vote motivation). We argue that amendments by the opposition are best understood as reflecting office motivations of legislators. Ambitious legislators draft amendments to signal skill and expertise to their party peers, which is rewarded with promotions to higher office. We confirm our argument with original data from a large German state parliament. The findings further our understanding of legislative review, individual legislative efforts and career trajectories.
How to Improve the Substantive Interpretation of Regression Results when the Dependent Variable is logged
Oliver Rittmann, Marcel Neunhoeffer and Thomas Gschwend (PDF Version of 06/
Regression models with log-transformed dependent variables are widely used by social scientists to investigate nonlinear relationships between variables. Unfortunately, this transformation complicates the substantive interpretation of estimation results and often leads to incomplete and sometimes even misleading interpretations. We focus on one valuable but underused method, the presentation of quantities of interest such as expected values or first differences on the original scale of the dependent variable. The procedure to derive these quantities differs in seemingly minor but critical aspects from the well-known procedure based on standard linear models. To improve empirical practice, we explain the underlying problem and develop guidelines that help researchers to derive meaningful interpretations from regression results of models with log-transformed dependent variables.
Who should be selected to the highest courts?
Evidence from Survey Experiments in France, Germany and the United States*
Engst, Benjamin, Gschwend, Thomas, Hönnige, Christoph, Brouard, Sylvain (PDF version of 06/
What are the characteristics that the public is looking for in judicial nominees to highest courts? To answer this question we employ choice–based conjoint survey experiments. Respondents are ask to choose from among hypothetical judicial nominees to the French Conseil Constitutionnel, the German Bundesverfassungsgericht, and the United States Supreme Court. Our findings show that the different political environments seem not to matter when respondents make choices. Instead, we find common patterns of which attributes the public is looking for in judicial nominees across the three countries. Respondents prefer legal experts over former politicians. Justices should not lean towards a party let alone an extreme party. Respondents rather choose a highly qualified justice than a justice in line with their political leaning. There seems to exist a normative image of an ”ideal” justices which is stable across the three democracies.
A Common Policy Space – Estimating positions of highest courts and political actors using amici briefs
Engst, Benjamin G., Grundmanns, David M., Gschwend, Thomas (pdf, version of 12/
What are the positions of highest courts towards political reform? Answering this question requires to place courts in a common space with political actors. Americanists rely on individual votes to estimate justices’ positions. Comparativists face challenges: First, votes are not published everywhere. Second, positions from judicial votes map into a legal but not a policy space. Addressing both challenges we show how to estimate positions of highest courts using features of decisions available across countries. Our strategy is to leverage the position political actors take when submitting amici briefs to judicial decisions. We apply our strategy to briefs and decisions published by the German Federal Constitutional Court between 1991 to 2009. Estimated ideal points suggest that justices are not mere agents of their partisan nominators. We further show how the distance between a government and the court explains why courts hold hearings, extending established scholarship where alternative approaches fail.
Crisis Leadership Approval: The Opposing Effects of Perceived Threat and Anxiety
Bahnsen, Oke, Juhl, Sebastian, Lehrer, Roni, Müller, Klara, Neunhöffer, Marcel and Gschwend, Thomas (pdf, version of 11/
In times of crisis, citizens tend to increase their approval of the government and its leader which might shift the balance of power. This 'rally effect' seems to be a persistent empirical regularity although the literature does not identify the underlying causal mechanisms driving this effect. We argue that such crises induce threat and anxiety, and theorize that perceived threat increases approval of the incumbent leader, whereas anxiety decreases it. By analyzing German panel data from the early COVID-19 pandemic, we first causally identify both mechanisms and provide systematic evidence supporting this theory. Moreover, using these panel data we are able to increase the scope of our theory and show that both mechanisms are also at work when citizens approve cabinet members who manage key crisis portfolios. Second, we also leverage a comparative survey design across eleven countries to show that our panel data evidence generalizes beyond a single case. Our findings have highly important implications for our understanding of the rally effect as well as crises politics in democracies.
Coalition-directed Voting as a Lottery
Bahnsen, Oke, Stoetzer, Lukas F. and Gschwend, Thomas (pdf, version of 11/
When voters support parties in multi-party democracies it is often uncertain what coalition government the party is likely to join. Are voters adversely affected by this type of uncertainty? In this paper, we present observational and experimental results that support the idea that voters are risk averse when considering coalition government options. The perception of uncertain coalition outlooks of a party negatively affects the propensity to vote for parties in survey data, even when holding the expected coalition government payoffs constant. In a survey vignette experiment during the German federal election 2021, we replicate this pattern for the CDU/
Citizens' Commitment to Judicial Independence – A Discrete Choice Experiment in Nine European Countries
Engst, Benjamin and Thomas Gschwend (pdf, version of 10/
In contrast to the more common focus on judicial independence in relation to government institutions, we study under what conditions citizens are willing to trade democratic principles in favor of expected partisan gains? To disentangle this trade-off, we administered discrete choice experiments in surveys across nine European countries to elicit citizens’ reactions to nondemocratic reform proposals of the judiciary. The findings suggest that respondents in all countries show some credible commitment to judicial independence. They support this democratic principle first and are partisans only second. The crossnational comparison widens the scope beyond the typically studied US Supreme Court and shows that in polarized societies – which more often suffer from democratic backsliding – reforms to limit judicial independence are less sharply rejected. This has major implications not only for the literature on comparative judicial politics and democratic stability but also for our understanding of citizens’ reactions to democratic backsliding.
Give them the word, they sharpen the sword – How high courts use language to exert political and societal power
Engst Benjamin G., David M. Grundmann, Thomas Gschwend (pdf, Version 08/
How do courts manage the transparency surrounding decisions through crafting opinions and press releases? To achieve political compliance with decisions justices need to activate public support. In order to do so, the transparency surrounding decisions is decisive. The more transparent the environment, the more likely the public becomes aware of judicial decisions and potential political threats towards the decisions. While most research regards transparency as a factor either present or absent, we argue that justices can manage the transparency surrounding their decisions through the way they write opinions and press-releases.
To assess the argument we analyze the readability of Senate decisions and press releases published by the German Federal Constitutional Court. The findings suggests that the less readable a judicial opinion, the more likely it is supplemented by a press release. However, contrary to our expectations, less readable press releases attract more newspaper coverage than easy to read press releases. The findings have major implications for our understanding of transparency surrounding judicial decision-making. Further research is well advised to account for linguistic features when assessing the capabilities of justices to mobilize the public through creating transparency.
Scaling Court Decisions with Citation Networks
Arnold, Christian, Benjamin Engst, and Thomas Gschwend (pdf, version 04/
To compare legal decisions, they need to be located in their joint case-space. So far, this required legal methods and a close reading of each decision. Only in rare circumstance—if the judges' individual voting records are available—can we estimate such locations quantitatively. This paper introduces a more general measurement approach that relies upon citation networks instead. Modeling the frequency of citations, we estimate the latent positions of both, decisions and legal sources in a joint case-space. While potentially widely applicable, we showcase our model in the context of forum-shopping and forum-selling of Germany's lower courts.
Who reaches the Bench? Evaluation of Judicial Nominees for Constitutional Courts
Engst, Benjamin G., Thomas Gschwend, and Sebastian Sternberg (PDF, version 11/
How do citizens evaluate judicial nominees for highest courts? Previous research solely based on the US Supreme Court points at two dimensions: judiciousness and the nominee's political leaning. While these dimensions arenot likely to be independent from one another the identification strategies previously applied are not suitable to untangle the independent effect of each dimension. We employ a discrete-choice experiment using panel data from a random sample of German citizens to estimate the weights the public places on ech dimension. We finde that the public has a strong preference for political independent nominees. Moreover, our results clarify the conditions under which a judicial nominee's perceived lack of political independence can be compensated by a higher degree of judiciousness. Finally, we put our findings about the public's perception of judicial nominees in a comparative perspective.
Why don't you talk about policy? Valence campaigning in the 2008 US Congressional elections
Gschwend, Thomas, Lukas Stötzer, and Steffen Zittlau (PDF, version 06/
Liberal democratic theory conceptualizes elections as competitions over policy, in which candidates promote clearly formulated policy platforms. Yet many campaigns in modern democracies lack a strong policy focus. Instead, some candidates spent notable time and effort to advertise valence issues, such as their personal characteristics and abilities. So far, we have no good explanation why some politicians do it and others don’t. This paper presents a formal model of when we should expect candidates to run a valence campaign and when not. Based on Riker’s idea of herethetics, our model produces predictions in line with the dominance principle: Candidates who have a valence advantage should run a campaign that focuses on valence, rather than on policy. The model’s predictions are tested in the 2008 US Congressional Elections. Valence advantage is empirically quantified from a voter model that is based on survey data. We find that candidates tend to broadcast fewer policy-related TV ads if they have a valence advantage over their opponent.
Courts as Veto Players – A Game-Theoretic Model
Engst, Benjamin G., Caroline E. Wittig, Christoph Hönnige, and Thomas Gschwend (PDF, version 03/
Moving research on judicial politics beyond mere case studies stemming from the US judicial system, we develop a judicial policy game to make transparent the policy influence of the Kelsenian court, the predominant court type in Europe, within
the constitutional policy-making process. This court type focuses exclusively on the constitutionality of a law and has particular features at its disposal (admissibility, justi fication, directives) that can be employed strategically. It is therefore
a strong assumption to model constitutional courts as probabilistic black-boxes (Vanberg 1998). Instead, one contribution of our judicial policy game is to relax this rather restrictive assumption and to model constitutional courts within the
judicial policy game as strategic utility-maximizer. Based on our model we derive predictions that stay in stark contrast to the current literature. One implication of our model is, contrary to Stone Sweet's (1998), that the parliamentary opposition
should not always refer legislation to the court. Another implication of our model is, contrary to Tsebelis's (2002, Chapter 10), that constitutional courts are not absorbed but rather become a veto player if activated by a plaintiff referring legislation to the court. While in most spatial settings the plaintiff is disadvantaged compared to the government's and the constitutional court's influence on policy, the influence of the court on policy is larger than previously thought. As long as
there is an active plaintiff – and empirically constitutional courts are overwhelmed by constitutional complaints – the court is influential by moving policy closer to its ideal point.
Coalition Preferences in Multiparty Systems
Meffert, Michael F., and Thomas Gschwend. (PDF, version 06/
Coalition preferences in multiparty systems have received increasing attention in recent years, both as an additional political preference that can explain vote decisions above and beyond party preferences, and even as a superordinate political identity. In this paper, we use survey data from the 2006 Austrian and the 2009 German election campaigns to investigate the structure and accessibility of party and coalition preferences as well as the extent to which coalition preferences can be explained by party preferences and other affective and cognitive factors such as candidates, ideology, and issue positions. The evidence suggests that coalitions are indeed more than simple averages of the member parties, but that questions about most coalitions are associated with longer response times than similar questions about parties and candidates. Coalition preferences are only partially predicted by party preferences and other political preferences, with considerable variation between existing and real coalitions on the one hand and hypothetical and abstract coalitions on the other hand. The former are retrieved faster and can be explained better with existing political preferences, something that largely fails for the latter preferences. Overall, coalition preferences emerge as a fairly independent factor in multiparty systems.
Strategic Voting in Proportional Systems: The Case of Finland
Gschwend, Thomas, and Michael Stoiber. (PDF, version 05/
In this paper we make a case that strategic voting can be observed and predicted even in PR systems. Contrary to the literature we do not see weak institutional incentive structures as indicative of a hopeless endeavor for studying strategic voting. The crucial question for strategic voting is how institutional incentives constrain an individual's decision-making process. Based on expected utility maximization we put forward a micro-logic of an individual's expectation formation process as a function of situational and dispositional factors. All well-known situational incentives to vote strategically that get channeled through the district magnitude are moderated by dispositional factors in order to become relevant for voting decisions. Employing district-level data from Finland because of its electoral system a particularly hard testing ground – we find considerable evidence for predictive implications of our theory.
When Party and Issue Preferences Clash: Selective Exposure and Attitudinal Depolarization
Meffert, Michael F., and Thomas Gschwend. (PDF, version 11/
Abstract: Preference-driven selective exposure does not always have to reinforce existing party and issue preferences and lead to attitudinal polarization. Because voters and parties are unlikely to agree on all issue preferences, selective exposure at the information selection stage can expose voters to counterattitudinal information. When party and issue preferences clash, voters are forced to reconcile this mismatch. Instead of polarization, existing preferences can be weakened. We test these assumptions with data from an information board experiment conducted during two real election campaigns in Germany. Participants encountered information about 5 parties and 13 issues in the form of short headlines that could be selected for further reading. The results suggest that (1) prevalent selective exposure for preferred parties and issues exists, exposing voters to a mix of consonant and dissonant information, that (2) the processing of dissonant, counterattitudinal information requires additional cognitive resources, and that (3) issue position congruency of participants and parties affects the extremity of party evaluations and the confidence in vote decisions. In short, selective exposure does not always lead to attitudinal reinforcement and polarization.
Coalition Signals as Cues for Party and Coalition Preferences
Meffert, Michael F., and Thomas Gschwend. (PDF, version 08/
Abstract: Coalition signals can offer crucial information to voters during political campaigns. In multiparty systems, they reduce the number of theoretically possible coalitions to a much smaller set of plausible and likely coalitions. Strategic voters who care more about the formation of the next coalition government than supporting the preferred party might, for example, defect from the preferred party in favor of another party that might produce a more desirable coalition government. For other voters, coalition signals might merely elicit affective responses which can shift the vote. In this study, we investigate whether and how different coalition signals affect vote intentions and activate different party and coalition preferences. We report the results of a nationally representative survey experiment conducted before the 2006 Austrian General Election. Respondents encountered four vignettes with hypothetical coalitions, each followed by the standard vote intention question. The results indicate that voters are responsive to coalition signals, and especially voters with two preferred parties tend to change their vote intentions. Finally, a more detailed look at Green Party voters suggests that individual party and coalition preferences help to explain the direction of these changes.
Improving the Measurement of Policy Preferences in Surveys: Bringing the Status-Quo back in
Gschwend, Thomas, and Sven-Oliver Proksch. (PDF, version 05/
One of the fundamental uses of surveys is the measurement of policy preferences. We can ask voters how they locate themselves on policy dimensions of substantive interests, and we can ask them how they perceive the positions of political parties. Likewise, we can use surveys to get political elite to reveal their policy positions or experts to judge the positions of parties on a set of salient policy dimensions. Increasingly, such surveys present respondents with issue scales de fined as trade-o s between di erent policy goals. Surprisingly, scholars have not paid much attention to the fact that such scales are directional and include an implicit reference point: the status quo. We examine the e ffects of indicating an explicit status quo midpoint in trade-o issue questions using an experimental setup in an online survey that was part of the German National Election Study in 2009. We show that status quo labeling has three major e ffects. First, the indication of the status quo significantly reduces item non-response. Second, issue scales with status quo indication change respondents'self-placement and the perception of political parties due to the provision of an explicit reference point. Third, individually perceived ideological distances between a voter and her preferred party are smaller when a status quo is indicated. This leads to a slightly stronger predictor of ideological distance in a conditional logit model of vote choice. The findings have implications for designers and users of voter and expert surveys.
Strategic Voting under Proportional Representation and Coalition Governments: A Laboratory Experiment
Meffert, Michael, and Thomas Gschwend. (PDF, version 05/
We investigate whether the theory of strategic voting can explain voting behavior in a fairly common type of political system, multi-party systems with proportional representation, minimum vote thresholds, and coalition governments. In this paper, we develop a formal (computational) strategic voting game and show in a simulation that the model produces election scenarios and outcomes with desirable characteristics as well as different opportunities for strategic voting. We then test the decision-theoretic model in a laboratory experiment, taking into account both sophisticated and heuristic decision strategies. Participants with a purely instrumental (financial) motivation voted in a series of 25 independent elections. The availability of polls and coalition signals by parties was manipulated. The results show that voters are frequently able to make optimal or strategic vote decisions, but that voters also rely on simple decision heuristics and are highly susceptible to coalition signals by parties.
Comparative Politics of Strategic Voting: A Hierarchy of Electoral Systems
Gschwend, Thomas. (PDF, version 04/
What is the impact of electoral rules on the way people make decisions in the voting booth? Institutional incentives moderate a voter’s expectation formation process and, therefore, make the frequency of strategic voters predictable across a wide range of electoral systems. I provide evidence that there is a latent dimension of propensity to cast a strategic vote following the wasted-vote logic on which various seat-allocation systems can be placed even controlling for district magnitude. Thus the variance of vote-to-seat conversion mechanisms is far more important in determining the level of strategic voting across electoral systems than previously thought.
Forecasting the Outcome of a National Election: The Influence of Expertise, Information, and Political Preferences
Andersson, Patric, Thomas Gschwend, Michael F. Meffert, and Carsten Schmidt. (PDF, version 04/
Five days in advance of the 2005 German national election, political experts, voters, and novices were asked to predict the outcome of the election. In an experimental manipulation, half of the non-expert sample was provided with additional poll information in the form of a figure with trend lines. The results show that (1) experts were marginally more accurate than non-experts but highly overconfident in their predictions, that (2) access to pre-election poll information improved the forecasting ability of novices, and that (3) partisan preferences biased the forecasts of voters to a small degree (projection effect).
Augäpfel, Murmeltiere und Bayes: Zur Auswertung stochastischer Daten aus Vollerhebungen
Broscheid, Andreas, and Thomas Gschwend. (PDF, version 07/
In diesem Papier diskutieren wir theoretisch-methodologische Grundlagen zur Analyse so genannter Vollerhebungen, also Datensätze, die Beobachtungen aller Elemente einer Population enthalten. Solche Datensätze spielen vor allem in quantitativen Makro-Analysen politischer und sozialer Systeme eine Rolle, und ihre inhärenten Probleme führen oft zu methodischer Verwirrung, die wir mit dem vorliegenden Essay verringern wollen. Da Vollerhebungen nicht das Resultat einer Zufallsstichprobe sind, ist die Anwendung frequentistischer Wahrscheinlichkeitskonzeptionen zur Begründung inferentieller statistischer Methoden nicht gegeben; außerdem kann die statistische Unabhängigkeit der Beobachtungen voneinander nicht ohne weiteres angenommen werden. Dennoch werden Vollerhebungsdaten durch stochastische Komponenten oder „Fehler“ beeinflusst. Wir argumentieren, dass die Stochastizität der Daten in die Analyse einbezogen werden muss, etwa in Form von Parameter-Varianzen, Signifikanztests, oder Konfidenzintervallen. Wir diskutieren verschiedene theoretische Strategien, mit denen Analysen der Stochastizität begründet werden können, wobei wir vor allem für die Annahme von Superpopulationen oder die Anwendung bayesianischer Ansätze plädieren.
The Politics of Opinion Assignment: A Conditional Logit Model with varying Choice Set
Gschwend, Thomas, and Chad M. King. (PDF, version 10/
This note replicates and extends Chapter 2 of Forrest Maltzman, James F. Spriggs and Paul J. Wahlbeck's (henceforth: MSW) “Crafting Law on the Supreme Court” (2000). Using a conditional logit model, the authors test the effects of both choice-specific and chooser-specific variables on majority opinion assignment on the United States Supreme Court during Chief Justice Burger's tenure. The authors find that the effect of ideology, as well as other variables, is conditioned on both case facts as well as justices' attributes. In this note, we take issue with the authors' specification of the model, specifically their failure to include choice-specific, i.e. the justices, constants. Below we argue for the statistical necessity of the inclusion of these controls and reassess the original theoretical model with the appropriate statistical specification. We first show that the failure to include these constants will yield biased estimates. We then test if the authors' substantive findings are robust to the correct specification of their original model. While we successfully replicate the original model (yielding biased estimates), we generally find that MSW's core findings, although confirmed, are diminished when correctly estimated.
Is Ticket splitting Strategic? Evidence from the 1998 Election in Germany
Gschwend, Thomas. (PDF, version 04/
The paper is an example of how much more can be learned if we reconsider and refine our theories. I provide a first step towards a theory of strategic voting and add it to the typical ticket splitting discussion. In order to test more refined hypotheses about ticket splitting and strategic voting I use cross-sectional data from the German National Post Election Study of 1998. Empirically, the results indicate that strategic voters are different from ordinary ticket splitters. Evidence from separate MNP estimation for East and West Germany shows that identifier of the FDP or the Greens are more likely strategic voters as opposed to non-strategic ticket splitters. Non-strategic ticket splitters in East Germany do not feel close to any political party. In West Germany non-strategic ticket splitters have conflicting party preferences. Thus, it proves useful to separate out strategic voters from ordinary ticket splitters in future work.