New book: Reporting Public Opinion

I am happy to announce the publication of a new book, ‘Reporting Public Opinion: How the Media Turns Boring Polls into Biased News‘, co-authored with Zoltán Fazekas. The book is about how and why opinion polls are more likely to be about change in the news reporting. Specifically, journalists are more likely to pick opinion polls that show changes, even when such changes are within the margin of error, highlight such changes in the reporting – and the public, pundits and politicians are more likely to respond to and share such polls.

Here is the puzzle we address throughout the various chapters: how can most opinion polls show a lot of stability over short periods of time whereas the reporting of opinion polls are dominated by change?

Even for the most hardcore followers of politics, opinion polls are quite boring in and by themselves. In most cases they show nothing new. When we take the margin of error into account, a new opinion poll will most likely show that there is no statistically significant shift in the polls for any of the political parties of interest. And when there is a large change, it is most likely a statistical fluke we should be cautious about. I have over the years written countless posts about such opinion polls being covered in the Danish media.

The book is our attempt to provide a unified framework to better understand these dynamics in a systematic manner. In the first chapter of the book, we introduce the theoretical puzzle and outline the main limitation of existing studies on the topic, namely that studies on opinion polls tend to focus on one specific stage in the coverage, such as whether methodological details are present in the coverage or not. To fully understand how opinion polls are covered and consumed in contemporary democracies, we argue that we need to combine different literatures on opinion polls and examine how a strong preference for change can explain biases in how opinion polls travel through several stages from their initial collection to how they reach the public.

In the second chapter, we further develop a framework that focuses on the temporal dimension of how opinion polls are brought to the public via the media. This chapter serves as an introduction to the four stages that opinion polls have to go through in our framework. Specifically, we show how each stage – or activity – will lead to polls showing greater changes getting more attention. This is illustrated below:

Next, throughout Chapters 3, 4, and 5, we cover the stages of opinion polls in greater detail and show collectively how opinion polls are being turned into specific news stories. In Chapter 3, we focus on the selection of opinion polls. That is, we investigate what can explain whether journalists decide to cover an opinion poll or not. In Chapter 4, we target the content of the reporting of opinion polls, which covers the news articles dedicated to the opinion polls that journalists have decided to report on. In doing this, we show how the selection and reporting of opinion polls are shaped by a similar preference for change. Noteworthy, when introducing the idea of change, we dedicate extensive considerations to how we can best measure change and what the availability of these change measures means for the selection and reporting.

In Chapter 5, we analyse the next natural stage in the life of opinion polls: how do politicians, experts and the public respond to them and to the stories written about them. Essentially, we delve into the implications of how these opinion polls are selected and covered. Here, we show that both elites and the broader public have a strong preference to engage with (respond to or share) opinion polls that show greater changes or support a well-defined change narrative. Interestingly, we find that opinion polls showing greater changes are much more likely to go viral on Twitter.

In Chapter 6, we turn our attention to the alternatives of the reporting of opinion polls. Here, we discuss how no opinion polls at all, poll aggregators, social media, and vox pops can be seen as alternatives to opinion polls, and in particular what are their strengths and limitations. The ambition here is not to force the reader to decide whether opinion polls are good or bad, but rather to understand how alternatives to opinion polls can mitigate or amplify the biases introduced in the previous chapter.

Last, in Chapter 7, we conclude how the media might report on opinion polls by considering the trade-offs between what the polls often show and what journalists wish they showed. Specifically, we first set out to discuss the implications of the findings for how we understand the political coverage of opinion polls today and then discuss the most important questions to be answered in future work.

The book is the product of years of work on the topic of how opinion polls are reported in the media. However, while the topic should be of interest to most people with an interest in politics and opinion polls, this is an academic book and I should emphasise that it might be a tough read for a non-academic audience.

You can buy the book at Waterstones, Bookshop, Springer, Blackwell’s and Palgrave.

New article in Journal of European Social Policy: Personal politics

I have a new paper titled ‘Personal politics? Health care policies, personal experiences and government attitudes’ in the new issue of Journal of European Social Policy. Here is the abstract:

Do personal experiences matter for public attitudes towards the role of the government? In the domain of healthcare, I argue that policies change the salience of personal experiences for government attitudes. Specifically, I expect that personal experiences matter less for government attitudes when healthcare is publicly financed, that is, when there is less emphasis on financing healthcare via market-based choices. Empirically, I link subjective and objective personal experiences from the International Social Survey Programme to macro-level policy indicators. The analysis provides strong support for the expectation and contributes to a growing body of literature interested in the underpinnings of government attitudes in a comparative perspective.

The manuscript aims to explore why there is substantial variation in the relationship between people’s personal experiences and their government attitudes, as illustrated below.

The key finding is that when healthcare is publicly financed, people will rely less on their own personal experiences. You can find the article here. As always, you can find the replication material at the Harvard Dataverse and GitHub.

This is the fourth published article from my PhD. I also believe it is going to be the last.

New article in European Journal of Personality: The Generalizability of Personality Effects in Politics

I have an article in the new issue of European Journal of Personality (together with Joseph A. Vitriol and Steven G. Ludeke). The article is called The Generalizability of Personality Effects in Politics.

The abstract is here:

A burgeoning line of research examining the relation between personality traits and political variables relies extensively on convenience samples. However, our understanding of the extent to which using convenience samples challenges the generalizability of these findings to target populations remains limited. We address this question by testing whether associations between personality and political characteristics observed in representative samples diverged from those observed in the sub-populations most commonly studied in convenience samples, namely students and internet users. We leverage ten high-quality representative datasets to compare the representative samples with the two sub-samples. We did not find any systematic differences in the relationship between personality traits and a broad range of political variables. Instead, results from the sub-samples generalized well to those observed in the broader and more diverse representative sample.

In the article, we rely on a series of representative datasets to assess whether Big Five personality traits have similar effects on political outcomes for different sub-populations. In brief, we find no empirical support that any of the subsamples we examine differ from the population at large. Here is a figure from the article where we show the findings when looking at students as the sub-sample:

You can find the article here. The replication material is avaiable at the Open Science Framework and GitHub.

New article in European Political Science Review: Bailout or bust?

Robert Klemmensen, Michael Baggesen Klitgaard and I have a new article in the May issue of the European Political Science Review. The article is titled ‘Bailout or bust? Government evaluations in the wake of a bailout‘. Here is the abstract:

Governments are often punished for negative events such as economic downturns and financial shocks. However, governments can address such shocks with salient policy responses that might mitigate public punishment. We use three high-quality nationally representative surveys collected around a key event in the history of the Dutch economy, namely the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008, to examine how voters responded to a salient government bailout. The results illustrate that governments can get substantial credit for pursuing a bailout in the midst of a financial crisis. Future research should take salient policy responses into account to fully understand the public response to the outbreak of financial and economic crises.

You can find the article here. Replication material is available at GitHub and the Harvard Dataverse.

New article in Policy Studies Journal: Policy Feedback Effects on Mass Publics

I have a new article in the May issue of the Policy Studies Journal. The article is titled ‘Policy Feedback Effects on Mass Publics: A Quantitative Review‘. Here is the abstract:

There has been an impressive stride in the research on policy feedback effects on mass publics over recent years. However, we lack systematic evidence on how large such policy feedback effects are in the literature. This article provides a review of 65 published studies and quantifies the findings and key themes in the policy feedback literature. The results show a great degree of heterogeneity in the domains and outcomes being studied and in the effects of policies on the public. In line with the findings from narrative reviews, feedback effects are greater for outcomes related to political participation and engagement. Last, the review sheds light on important theoretical and methodological limitations to be addressed in future research.

The article is a substantially revised version of my review chapter in my PhD thesis on how public policies matter for public opinion. You can find the article here. Replication material is available at GitHub and the Harvard Dataverse.

New article in European Sociological Review: Welfare Retrenchments and Government Support

My article, ‘Welfare Retrenchments and Government Support: Evidence from a Natural Experiment’, is now published in the European Sociological Review (vol. 34, no. 1). The abstract sums up the content of the article:

A large body of literature has provided mixed results on the impact of welfare retrenchments on government support. This article examines whether the impact of welfare retrenchments can be explained by proximity, i.e. whether or not the retrenched policy is related to people’s everyday lives. To overcome limitations in previous studies, the empirical approach utilizes a natural experiment with data from the European Social Survey collected concurrently with a salient retrenchment reform of the education grant system in Denmark. The results confirm that people proximate to a welfare policy react substantially stronger to retrenchment reforms than the general public. Robustness and placebo tests further show that the results are not caused by non-personal proximities or satisfaction levels not related to the reform and the government. In sum, the findings speak to a growing body of literature interested in the impact of government policies on mass public.

The article is available as open access here. The replication material can be found at the Harvard Dataverse and at GitHub.