I am a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Trinity College Dublin and hold a Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship from the Irish Research Council. In my PhD thesis, I analyse the circumstances under which political parties and candidates decide to make promises, claim credit, or attribute blame. Combining crowd-sourced coding and quantitative text analysis, I focus on communication in party manifestos, newspapers, and televised leaders’ debates.
In collaborative projects I work on government support throughout the legislative cycle; the relationship between campaign effort and legislative activity; preference distribution under cumulative voting; citizens’ (dis)approval of personalised electoral systems; challenger quality as a moderator of the incumbency advantage; and voters’ expectations of coalition formation.
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.
“Prospective and Retrospective Rhetoric: A New Dimension of Party Competition and Campaign Strategies” [under review]. (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 criticize 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 390,000 sentences from 576 manifestos in nine 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 less emphasis on describing future actions than mainstream parties. Opposition parties, irrespective of ideology, 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 government and opposition parties have important implications for theories of promissory representation, credit claiming, and responsibility attribution.
Candidates spend a great deal of time and effort campaigning in the run up to election day and a body of work suggests that campaign effort is a good signal for voters to use when seeking to select high quality representatives who are interested in more than just office-seeking. But just how good of a guide is campaign effort when it comes to helping predict legislative behaviour? 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 are consistent with office-seeking behaviour by candidates and suggest that what voters may readily observe at election time are poor indicators of the properties that they, and we, may wish to see in a representative.
“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 over 25,000 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 personalised 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.
“Reassessing and Improving an Established Concept Through Crowd-Sourced Text Coding: The Case of Election Pledges”.
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, and offer 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. Overall, pledge scholars seem to have a narrower definition of election promises than instructed non-expert coders. The broader understanding of election pledges by the crowd-coders could explain the contradiction between 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. Using topic models, I classify the policy area of each sentence, and also 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 add an important perspective to the ongoing debate about fulfilment and breaking of election promises.
In coalition settings, when voters cast a ballot do they have a sense of who will form the government? The answer to this question is of relevance to questions of accountability; voters may well vote against a particular incumbent government but presumably would like some sense of what alternative will replace it. The answer is also relevant to the literature on strategic voting in coalition systems. Typically, studies of these topics rely on national level elections. But national level settings are themselves somewhat atypical electoral settings. First, these are likely to be information rich environments and provide unusually good conditions for voters to form expectations about the range of possible outcomes. In addition, studies which compare across national contexts often contain a great deal of institutional and cultural variation which muddy the focus on expectations. For these reasons, we use pre- election surveys from 19 German state elections between 2009 and 2017, in addition to three federal elections, to explore how voters form expectations in multi-party settings. We observe large variation in the ability of voters to predict actual government formation, ranging from 10 to 75 per cent. Both on the national and the subnational level we find robust evidence for ‘wishful thinking’. We also find that public opinion polls heavily influence voter expectations about government formation. Our results have implications for the role of strategic voting in multiparty settings and, also, for an understanding of the ‘simple act of voting’ in complex settings.
“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.
“quanteda: An R Package for the Quantitative Analysis of Textual Data.” (with Kenneth Benoit, Kohei Watanabe, Haiyan Wang, Paul Nulty, Adam Obeng, and Akitaka Matsuo) [under review at the Journal of Open Source Software].
quanteda is an R package providing a comprehensive workflow and toolkit for natural language processing tasks such as corpus management, tokenization, analysis, and visualization. It has extensive functions for applying dictionary analysis, exploring texts using keywords-in-context, computing document and feature similarities, and discovering multi-word expressions through collocation scoring. Based on entirely sparse operations, it provides highly effcient methods for compiling document-feature matrices and for manipulating these or using them in further quantitative analysis. Using C++ and multi-threading extensively, quanteda is also considerably faster and more effcient than other R and Python packages in processing large textual data.
If you would like to get access to the latest version of a paper, feel free to send me an e-mail.
2018: Introduction to Quantitative Text Analysis using Quanteda, WZB Berlin Social Science Center (with Kohei Watanabe)
2017: Data Wrangling and Visualisation Using R, Trinity Research in Social Science (TRiSS).
2018: Winner of the Dermot McAleese Award for Teaching Excellence, Trinity College Dublin.
2016: Certificate in Academic Teaching & Supporting Learning, Trinity College Dublin
I am a co-author of quanteda, an R package for managing and analysing text, and a member of the Quanteda Initiative, a non-profit organisation founded by Kenneth Benoit to provide ongoing support for the “quanteda ecosystem” of open-source text analysis software.
Below are tutorials, cheatsheets, and vignettes I have written with other members of the quanteda team to make quantitative text analysis in R more accessible to users.
Introduction to Text Analysis
Cheat Sheet and Vignettes
quanteda cheat sheet : a cheat sheet with the most important functions
Textual data visualization: plot word frequencies, wordclouds and results of text scaling models
Dictionary analysis in R: Dictionary-based sentiment analysis and UK-US spelling conversion with quanteda.dictionaries
readtext vignette: import a variety of text files into R
quanteda’s performance: comparing the performance of quanteda with other R packages
quanteda’s features: comparison of quanteda to alternative R and Python packages for quantitative text analysis
Trinity College Dublin, Department of Political Science
|2017–2018||Postgraduate Certificate in Statistics
Trinity College Dublin, School of Computer Science and Statistics
|2014–2015||M.Sc. in Politics and Public Policy
Trinity College Dublin, Department of Political Science
|2011–2014||B.A. in Politics and Sociology
University of Bonn, Department of Political Science and Sociology
|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)
Bonn Academy for Research and Teaching of Applied Politics
University of Bonn, Institute of Political Science and Sociology
|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)