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The Rise of Negative Voting
Project funded by an Eccellenza Professorial Fellowship of the Swiss National Science Foundation (2020-2024)

Comparative analyses describe a long-term trend showing increasing distrust in political parties and party leaders across the Western world. This appears to be driven by the voters’ tendency to emotionally distance themselves from the party they support while increasingly disliking parties and candidates they do not support. Early literature repeatedly referred to negativity biases in voters’ choice—voters can cast a ballot “against” rather than “for” candidates. However, this claim has only very seldom been tested empirically outside the United States. This project’s major aim is to offer a comprehensive (comparative and longitudinal) assessment of the drivers of negative voting, its impact on individual-level patterns of electoral behavior, and consider about the possible implications for democratic politics.

The theoretical framework departs from the intuition that an increasingly confrontational style of campaigning and political communication—and the rise of negative identifications in a context of partisan dealignment and strong political personalization—could all be driving a distinctive form of negatively-driven voting behavior. Three broad research questions emerge in this context: What are the drivers of negativity in voters’ attitudes toward parties and party leaders? What are the effects of negativity on patterns of electoral participation and party choice? Has the impact of negativity on voting behavior increased across time?

This project offers several theoretical and methodological innovations. Theoretically, it contributes to the growing literature on negative partisanship by bridging it with the relatively underdeveloped topic of negative personalization. Furthermore, it links electoral studies with political communication research by exploring the connection between negative voting and patterns of exposure to political information in old and new media. The methodological framework combines existing national election study datasets from established parliamentary democracies for longitudinal comparisons, and a novel multi-country panel dataset to address issues of comparability and reverse causality. The latter will consist of four integrated pre- and post-election surveys to be administered to nationally representative samples of French, German, Italian and Swiss voters in forthcoming national elections (2021–2023). The study questionnaires will all feature standard items from traditional survey practice and will be complemented by three batteries previously unavailable in comparative datasets, tapping in turn: (i) negative attitudes toward parties and leaders; (ii) exposure to political information channels offline and online; (iii) exposure to political information and patterns of political activity on social media.

In times of growing electoral instability, it is crucial to scrutinize the determinants of change where it occurs: at the level of individual voters. A systematic analysis of the causes and the electoral dynamics of negative voting at the micro-level will provide insights into which segments of the electorate are more prone to base their vote choices on negative considerations. Such an analysis can be a key addition to our understanding of democratic elections in times characterized by partisan dealignment, high volatility and widespread rise of populist forces across the whole continent. Therefore, the proposed research project is not only timely, but will shed much-need light on the current, rapidly changing socio-political environment.

Personalisation of Politics between Television and the Internet
Project funded by an Ambizione Fellowship of the Swiss National Science Foundation (2017-2019)

Over the last decades, the “personalisation of politics” has turned into one of the defining elements of the democratic process. However, the common wisdom that sees popular political leaders as a fundamental electoral asset for their own parties finds only limited support in the scant voting literature. So far, comparative electoral research has proven reluctant in systematically addressing the impact of leaders on voting across time and space. Equally crucial aspects such as the role played by television exposure as a driver of personalisation in voting behaviour, and the relationship between the rise of Internet-based political communication and the personalisation trend have so far been under-researched.

The major aim of this project is to empirically assess the extent to which political leaders have come to affect voters’ choice, as well as the role played by the media in driving this development across time. This project substantially extends the existing state-of-the-art on personalisation of politics and electoral behaviour through its innovative methodological approach and its wider geographical/longitudinal scope. It involves the longitudinal harmonisation and analysis of over a hundred existing cross-sectional datasets from European countries (1960-2015). Analysis of available panel data will complement the findings of the longitudinal analysis by focusing more in depth on causal dynamics. With regard to the research environment in which to place the study, the current state of the literature suggests that European democracies represent the locus where more research is in need. European democracies highlight many of the crucial variations in the structure of democratic politics and thus provide the ideal framework for such a thoroughly comparative analysis. The European-wide dimension of the study will allow for an extensive testing of the institutional, contextual and technological factors mediating leader effects across time and space.