Bowler, Shaun, Gail McElroy, and Stefan Müller. 2018. “Voter Preferences and Party Loyalty under Cumulative Voting: Political Behaviour after Electoral Reform in Bremen and Hamburg.” Electoral Studies 51: 93–102.

Many electoral systems constrain voters to one or two votes at election time. Reformers often see this as a failing because voters’ preferences are both broader and more varied than the number of choices allowed. New electoral systems therefore often permit more preferences to be expressed. In this paper we examine what happens when cumulative voting is introduced in two German states. Even when we allow for tactical considerations, we find that the principle of unconstrained choice is not widely embraced by voters, although in practice, too, many seem to have preferences for more than just one party. This finding has implications for arguments relating to electoral reform as well as how to conceive of party affiliations in multi-party systems.

Current Research

Party Pledges and Campaign Strategies

“Prospective and Retrospective Rhetoric: A New Dimension of Party Competition and Campaign Strategies” (Winner of the 2018 Manifesto Corpus Conference Best Paper Award).

Under what circumstances do political parties focus on intended future actions in campaign messages, and when do parties praise or criticise the past and the current situation? To measure the extent of ‘retrospective’ and ‘prospective’ campaign rhetoric, a comprehensively validated probabilistic classifier codes the temporal dimension of over 360,000 sentences from 507 manifestos in eight democracies. With a range between 19 and 92 per cent, on average around half of the sentences in party platforms contain a reference to the future. Ideologically extreme parties tend to put more emphasis on describing the past and present, and less on future actions. Opposition parties frame the past and present much more negatively. However, almost all parties describe the future in a positive way. The similarities in prospective sections and differences in retrospective manifesto parts between incumbents and challenger parties have important implications for theories of promissory representation, credit claiming and responsibility attribution.

“Improving the Reliability and Efficiency of Extracting Election Pledges from Political Text: A Combination of Crowdcoding and Automated Sentence Classification”.

Previous studies show that parties implement a majority of their campaign pledges. Yet, most citizens do not believe that parties fulfil their promises. Based on recent advancements in crowd-sourced text analysis, I introduce a transparent and reproducible method for extracting and scaling pledges from party manifestos. Aggregated crowd codings approximate the coding by a group of pledge scholars, but o er estimates of uncertainty. The findings indicate that measuring pledges is an error prone task, and that multiple codings per sentence are required in order to treat pledges as data with error. The broader understanding of election promises by non-expert coders might explain the di erence between and scholarly optimism and public scepticism regarding the fulfilment of campaign promises.

“Which Election Promises Attract Attention? A Comparative Analysis of Newspaper Coverage in Six Countries”.

Cross-national surveys reaffirm that only a minority of voters believes that politicians try to keep their election promises. Previous research, however, shows that governments tend to fulfil a majority of their election pledges. Is the difference between public scepticism and scholarly findings driven by media coverage of election promises? Newspapers can influence the public perception of the parties’ ability and willingness to act according to their promises. I analyse whether media outlets focus on a subset of pledges from few policy areas, and whether newspapers tend to report about broken, rather than fulfilled promises. Applying a probabilistic classifier trained through crowd-sourced text annotation, I extract sentences about election promises from newspaper articles mentioning election pledges across six countries between 1977 and 2017. I classify the policy area of each sentence with topic models, and determine whether a sentence focuses on a new promise or deals with the fulfilment/breaking of a previously made pledge. Finally, I predict the circumstances under which news outlets are more likely to report on broken promises. The findings will add an important perspective to the ongoing debate about fulfilment and breaking of election promises.

Elections and Public Opinion

“The Electoral Cycle Effect in Parliamentary Democracies” (with Tom Louwerse) [under review].

Does government party support decline in a monotonic fashion throughout the legislative cycle or do we observe a u-shaped ‘electoral cycle effect’? Moving beyond the study of midterm election results, this is the first study to assess the cyclical pulse of government party support in parliamentary democracies based on voting intention polls from 171 cycles in 22 countries. On average, government parties lose support during the first half of the electoral cycle, but at most partially recover from their initial losses. Under single-party government and when prime ministers control cabinet dissolution, support tends to follow the previously assumed u-shaped pattern more strongly. Finally, we find that government parties hardly recover from early losses since the 2000s.

“Do Voters Really Prefer More Choice? Determinants of Support for Personalised Electoral Systems” (with Michael Jankowski) [under review].

Which voters prefer having more choice between parties and candidates in an election? To provide an answer to this question, we analyse the case of a radical change from a closed-list PR system to a highly complex open-list PR system with cumulative voting in the German states of Bremen and Hamburg. We argue that the approval of a personalised electoral system is structured in similar ways as support for direct democracy. Using representative surveys conducted prior to all four state elections under cumulative voting in 2011 and 2015, we analyse which individual factors determine the approval, disapproval or indifference towards the new electoral law. The results indicate that younger voters as well as supporters of left parties are much more likely to support a participatory electoral system. In contrast to previous studies, political interest only has an impact on the indifference towards the electoral system. More generally, our results show that a large proportion of voters does not appreciate personalised preferential electoral systems which seems to be a result of the complexity and magnitude of choice between parties and candidates.

“Expectations of Coalition Formation in Multi-Party Settings: When Do Voters Get It Right?” (with Shaun Bowler and Gail McElroy).

A growing body of work studies the strategic calculations of voters in coalition settings. Typically, these studies rely on national level settings. But national level settings do have some limitations in terms of the broader inferences we wish to draw. First, these are likely to be information rich environments which are, in turn, conducive to making strategic decisions. That is, they provide good conditions for voters to form accurate expectations about electoral success and coalition bargaining. Second, there is limited variance in coalitional possibilities in national settings because there are relatively few examples of national elections. But it is reasonable to suppose that coalitional context will also shape voters’ ability to form accurate expectations. For example, pre-election coalition agreements exist may well make voter expectations both more stable and more accurate while the entrance of new parties may de-stabilize expectations. Aside from variation across voters, then, there will be variation across settings. We use surveys from 20 German state elections between 2010 and 2017 to examine both the accuracy of coalition expectations among voters and the conditions under which such coalitions become more or less accurate. Importantly, these elections provide variation in bargaining context and information environment. Moreover, the very similar institutional structure of the Lander makes for greater comparability of setting than may hold for cross-national comparisons.

“Challenger Quality as a Moderator of the Incumbency Advantage in Personalised PR Systems: Applying the Regression Discontinuity Design to Irish Local Elections” (with Michael Jankowski).

How does the quality of list competitors affects the personal incumbency advantage in PR systems. For this purpose we adopt the Regression Discontinuity Design for the case of Irish Local Elections between 1942 and 2014 in which the Single-Transferable-Vote (STV) electoral system is used. We exploit the special characteristic of local elections in Ireland until 1999 in which members of the national parliament were allowed to hold dual mandates, i.e. they could to be represented in local and national parliaments simultaneously. Since national parliamentarians are well-known we can expect that these candidates are well recognized by voters and thus lower the incumbency advantage of marginally elected local legislators. In general, our findings demonstrate evidence of a clear incumbency advantage for local candidates. This effect is moderated, however, by the decision of national parliamentarians to compete in a local election. In these cases, we find no evidence of a local incumbency advantage. This finding is robust to various different modeling strategies and further corroborated by the fact that the local incumbency advantage became strong after the elections of 1999 in which the dual mandate was abolished.

Legislative Studies

“The Role of Campaigns in Selecting Good Representatives” (with Shaun Bowler and Gail McElroy) [under review].

Candidates spend a great deal of time and effort campaigning in the run up to election day. The question remains, however, whether hard working candidates are also hard working legislators, once elected. The answer to this question speaks to the usefulness of campaigning as a mechanism for helping voters choose their representatives. A body of work suggests that campaign effort is a good signal for voters to use when seeking to select high quality representatives. This paper provides the first systematic test of the link between campaign effort and legislative effort, using data from five cycles in three legislatures. We find no relationship between campaign effort and legislative effort across all legislative settings and a range of different specifications. Our results strongly suggest that what voters may readily observe at election time are poor indicators of the properties that they, and we, wish to see in a representative.

If you would like to get access to the latest version of a paper, feel free to send me an e-mail.


Teaching Assistant at Trinity College Dublin

Undergraduate Level

Postgraduate Level

Course Instructor

  • 2018: Introduction to Quantitative Text Analysis using Quanteda, WZB Berlin Social Science Center (with Kohei Watanabe): workshop website

  • 2017: Data Wrangling and Visualisation Using R, Trinity Research in Social Science (TRiSS): slides and code

Awards and Qualifications

Text Analysis


I am a core contributor to quanteda, an R package for managing and analysing text, and co-author of the package quanteda.dictionaries which consists of dictionaries for text analysis.

Tutorials and Vignettes

Below are tutorials, cheatsheets, and vignettes I have written with other members of the Quanteda Initiative to make quantitative text analysis in R more accessible to users.

Introduction to Text Analysis

  • Quanteda tutorials: a website with a step-by-step introduction to quantitative text analysis using quanteda designed for workshops on text analysis

Cheat Sheet and Vignettes


TADA - The Text as Data App

With Michael Jankowski I am a developing TADA - The Text as Data App, a graphical user interface (GUI) for quantitative text analysis. TADA can be accessed online or by running the GUI in R. Feedback is very welcome as the project is work in progress.

Curriculum Vitae

Extensive CV (PDF)


2015– PhD Candidate
Trinity College Dublin, Department of Political Science
2017–2018 Postgraduate Diploma in Statistics
Trinity College Dublin, School of Computer Science and Statistics
2014–2015 M.Sc. in Politics and Public Policy (First class honors)
Trinity College Dublin, Department of Political Science
2011–2014 B.A. in Politics and Sociology (Summa cum laude)
University of Bonn, Department of Political Science and Sociology

Work Experience

2015–Current Research Assistant and Teaching Assistant
Trinity College Dublin, Department of Political Science
2014 Intern in Research Division “EU External Relations”
German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP)
2013–2014 Student assistant
Bonn Academy for Research and Teaching of Applied Politics
2012–2014 Student assistant
University of Bonn, Institute of Political Science and Sociology

Fellowships and Grants

2017–2018 TRiSS Postgraduate Research Fellowship,
Trinity Research in Social Science (TRiSS)
2016–2019 Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship,
Irish Research Council
2015–2016 Postgraduate Ussher Fellowship,
Trinity College Dublin
2011–2015 Undergraduate and Graduate Fellowship,
German Academic Scholarship Foundation
(Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes)

Professional Memberships


R Packages

  • quanteda: Quantitative analysis of textual data (core contributor)
  • quanteda.dictionaries: Dictionaries for text analysis and associated functions (co-author)
  • readtext: Import and plain and formatted text files (contributor)


  • Trinity Research in Social Science, Room 6001, Arts Building, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland