Research project grants

Climate Risk, Land Loss, and Migration: Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment in Bangladesh (Swiss National Science Foundation, 01.09.2019 – 31.08.2024, 442’284 CHF) (Co-led with V. Koubi) Abstract

Global climate change is one of the most important and severe challenges the international community has ever faced. Existing evidence shows that it will have far-reaching repercussions for ecosystems and humans alike. Moreover, climate change is expected to induce mass-population dislocations, i.e., migration, due to droughts, sea level rise, or extreme weather events, such as stronger and more frequent storms or floods, particularly in developing countries with low capacity to protect themselves and adapt to climate change. However, recent studies on climate change induced human displacement do not account for the possibility that people might adapt to changing climatic conditions. This is particularly relevant to slow-onset environmental changes, such as sea-level rise, where individuals and societies can anticipate such changes and take precautionary measures. With this project, we aim at contributing to a better understanding of whether, when, and how environmental changes lead to human migration. First, we will offer a theoretical micro-foundation for the environment-migration nexus that highlights the different (i.e., behavioral, structural, and environmental) factors that induce people to migrate or stay. In particular, our framework proposes that there are multiple drivers behind decisions to migrate and that environmental changes are just one of them, which can have both direct effects on migration as well as indirect ones through impacts on other factors, such as individual/household economic well-being. Consequently, our framework seeks to bring analytical rigor to a field that has been dominated by unsubstantiated and casual empiricism. Second, we seek to provide credible empirical inferences concerning rates of migration due to livelihood losses caused by environmental changes. Since human exposure to environmental stress, whether induced by climatic changes or other factors, is non-randomly assigned, using observational data to empirically examine environmental migration is challenging. To cope with this challenge, we will focus on a particular case and develop risk maps for riverbank erosion along the Jamuna River in Bangladesh, and we will collect micro-level data to compare affected and unaffected populations at a similar baseline risk, as well as migrants and non-migrants from the very same area. The aim is to isolate the causal effect of deteriorating environmental livelihoods on migration.The project will not only identify the effect of environmental stress on migration behavior of individuals and communities in a particular case. It will also provide valuable insights of broader relevance into whether and how societies react, or could react, to slow-onset climatic changes such as se-level rise, drought, and soil/water salinity. Moreover, the methodology developed in the project can be applied in other cases and can inform prediction models of future climate-induced migration rates. The findings can be utilized by institutional actors at both local and international levels when seeking to identify policy options to increase the adaptive capacity of populations vulnerable to climatic changes.

The Comparative Legitimacy of Arms Exports in Top-Exporting EU and NATO Countries (German Foundation for Peace Research, 01.12.2022 – 31.05.2024, 150’000 € (Co-PI, with P. ThurnerAbstract

The Russian army’s invasion of Ukraine sheds light on the central question of our research project: Should weapons be supplied to other countries? Under what conditions? What do the citizens of the main exporting states in the EU and NATO think about this? The example of Ukraine shows: Arms transfers can shape the political discussion in democratic states. Given the volatility of opinion polls, citizens‘ attitudes on this issue appear to be changeable, and the levels of support vary between countries. Surprisingly, however, there is little general research on public attitudes to arms transfers. Beyond the current and acute case of Ukraine, arms exports are repeatedly contested to varying degrees among political parties and in the public spheres in different nation-states. One of the main arguments put forward by civil society groups and, in particular, by parties of the political left is the possible impact of such transfers: the initiation, intensification or prolongation of armed conflicts, the violation of human rights or the stabilization of non-democratic regimes. Counterarguments point to economic and security interests of the sending state, or the support for legitimate defense interests of the receiving state. It is completely open whether the political discussion of such arguments is also reflected in citizens‘ attitudes toward arms exports. It is also unclear whether trade-offs between the various aspects actually differ in different countries. It is often argued that, compared to the German population, the populations of other Western democracies with a central role in the international arms transfer system (the United States, France, Italy, the United Kingdom) have much lower concerns about such exports. Thus, a cross-national comparison of voter reactions to arms exports is particularly important to test the assumption of German specificity.

Based on an innovative methodological approach, our project attempts to provide important answers to these essential questions. Using so-called conjoint designs, we implement an experimental format within population-representative surveys. Respondents are repeatedly confronted with multidimensional hypothetical choices between scenarios that differ in decision criteria (attributes). The decision tasks are designed to mimic specific policy options. Respondents are then asked to rank the scenarios and select their preferred option. In this way, we can determine the causal effect of the manipulated dimensions of these scenarios. The project will focus on the comparative relevance of morally legal, economic and security aspects in assessing the legitimacy of arms exports. It will identify value trade-offs between perceived impacts on economic welfare (jobs, innovation, etc.) and normative considerations (risk or presence of conflict, human rights violations, regime characteristics of the importer).

Einstellungen zu Waffenhandel in Deutschland und Frankreich – A Conjoint Experiment on the Comparative Legitimacy of Arms Exports in Germany and France (German Foundation for Peace Research, 01.06.2020 – 31.05.2021, 24’000 € (Co-PI, with P. Thurner) Abstract

The export of arms is severely contested between the German political parties and in the German public. A major argument by opposing civil society groups and mainly leftist parties is the reference to the supposed implications of such transfers: the triggering of civil and international conflict, the prolongation of such conflicts and their aggravation in terms of human losses, the violations of human rights, and the stabilization of non-democratic regimes. It is open, however, whether the political discussion of such arguments is also reflected in citizens’ attitudes towards arms exports. There is also no research on the question whether such attitudes differ systematically across countries. E.g., it seems that other Western democracies with a dominant role in the international arms transfer system like the US, the UK and France are less strongly opposing such exports. We want to provide a thorough empirical foundation for these anecdotal claims which is currently lacking in both scientific and public debate. Thus, a cross-country comparison of voter reactions towards arms exports is especially important for testing the assumption of the presence of a German specificity, but also for the internal reliability of alliances like NATO, or of a recently proposed European Defense Policy including the respective research and development initiatives like the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). If decisions to transfers arms to countries like Saudi-Arabia, to the Kurds etc. cannot be supported by the German government due specific attitudes in its civil society, this will have consequences for the design of future cooperative defense and security regimes. In the case of France and Germany, open disputes over principles of the exports of jointly developed weapons have even led both countries to settle their conflict in the their Aachen Treaty in 2019, and in more detail in a Franco-German agreement on export controls in October 2019 (see Décret n° 2019-1168 du 13 novembre 2019). This pilot project seeks to provide answers to these essential questions building on an innovative methodical approach. It will use conjoint experiments to be implemented in two selected countries – Germany and France. According to SIPRIs 2019 Weapons transfer statistics, these two countries belong to the top 5 group of exporters of major weapons. In France, these exports are rather seldom a topic of political debates, in Germany that’s repeatedly the contrary.
Conjoint experiments allow to implement an experimental setting within a survey format. Respondents are several times confronted with multidimensional hypothetical decisions between choice sets which differ according to several dimensions (choice attributes). These decision tasks are designed in a way that they mimick concrete policy design options. Respondents are then asked to rate the individual choices and they select their preferred option. Attribute levels, i.e. the concrete description of the situation, are randomly assigned within choice sets. This enables the researcher to identify how choice characteristics causally affect both the rating and choice probability of a policy package in a within subject and between subject-design. We can thereby determine the causal effect of the manipulated dimensions of these scenarios. The project will for the first time focus on the comparative relevance of moral, economic and security aspects on the assessment of the legitimacy of weapons exports in Germany and France. It will derive value trade-offs between the perceived economic welfare impact (jobs, innovation etc.) and normative considerations (risk or presence of conflicts, human rights violations, regime characteristics of the importer). We expect these latter aspects to decrease the acceptance of arms exports in general. However, we anticipate these effects to be smaller or inexistent (ceteris paribus) in the case of France due to a different political history and culture. If this expectation is refuted, than it is rather institutional background conditions like the electoral system and the consequence of a low politicization in such settings of party competition. The pilot character of this study would may invite us to extend this design to more countries (especially to France and to the US) in later periods, and to elaborate in a more detailed way on the time- and context dependent interplay between economic and normative considerations in weapons exports.

Working papers (submitted/conference drafts)

Operationalisation Matters: Weather Extremes as Noisy Natural Experiment Show No Influence on Political Attitudes (with F. Quoß) (R&R)
[Link to Manuscript] Abstract

Accelerating climate change increases the importance of mass public support for mitigation policies. While the personal experience of weather extremes could theoretically affect citizens’ attitudes and preferences, prior empirical evidence is inconclusive. We propose that this is the case for three reasons: firstly, the causal link between the direct personal experience of extreme weather and changes in attitudes is structured along a chain of four intermediate steps which are not always clearly separated or tested. Secondly, researchers need to measure „weather“ to study its consequences, but there is an extensive variety of potential measures available. This leads to vast researcher degrees of freedom. Thirdly, there is a large variety in research designs applied. Testing 34 different weather operationalisations in a specification curve analysis with Swiss geo-coded panel data, we find that singular specifications could support arbitrary conclusions in any direction, while the whole set indicates robust null effects.

Environmental Change and Migration Aspirations: Evidence from Bangladesh (with V. Koubi and J. Freihardt) (R&R)
[Link to Manuscript] Abstract

The argument that environmental change is an important driving force of migration has experienced a strong revival in the climate change context. We examine whether and how different environmental stressors aspire people to move. The analysis relies on newly collected, cross-sectional survey data of 1594 households residing in 36 villages along the 250 kilometers of the Jamuna River in Bangladesh – an area affected primarily by floods and riverbank erosion. The results show that long-term environmental events, i.e., riverbank erosion, increase aspirations for internal, permanent migration, while short-term environmental events, i.e., floods, do not affect migration aspirations. These results suggest that depending on the type of environmental change, people might prefer migrating rather than staying put and thus, they entail important policy implications regarding the effects of climate change on future internal migration flows. 

Do Distributional Consequences Affect Public Goods Provision? Insights from 5G Antenna Placement in Switzerland (with F. Quoß and T. Bernauer) (R&R)
[Link to Manuscript] [Pre-Registration] Abstract

Distributional implications of public goods provision may affect the ability of societies to provide these. Particularly, localized provision costs may result in opposition in the vicinity of provision sites, reducing provision levels and/or efficiency (“not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) challenge). We examine mass public support on policy provision in this regard, focusing on 5G, the latest technology standard for mobile data transmission, and the placement of 5G antennas in particular. Based on survey experiments with a geo-coded representative sample of over 5’000 residents of Switzerland, revealing real-world antenna locations to respondents, we find that NIMBYism plays a role for individual attitudes/policy preference formation towards 5G expansion. NIMBYism also affects the (stated) propensity to engage in political action against 5G antennas, irrespective of monetary costs. Finally, NIMBYism can be mitigated when citizens decide under a veil of ignorance on a feasible distribution of siting locations, leaving actual site choice to be a technical process.

Are Ideological and Partisan Affinities Correlated with Voters‘ Differentiated Support of Arms Deliveries? Insights from a Large-scale Survey Experiment in France and Germany (R&R) (with P. Thurner)
[Link to Manuscript]
[Pre-Registration] Abstract

The war in Ukraine raised for many parties the question how to position themselves in view of urgently requested arms deliveries. Since 2023, the topic of arms trade, which has hitherto rarely been addressed, became a heavily politicized and divisive issue, partly even polarized public opinion. A major prerequisite for parties’ position-taking is to anticipate how voters react to such arms transfers, and more specifically whether their respective attitudes are structured along the predominant left-right axis. Based on a large-scale survey experiment with French and German voters (N=6,600) in the year before the Russian invasion we are able to focus on the relationship between ideological predispositions, vote intentions and issue attitudes in a non-politicized period. Using both vignette and conjoint experiments, we demonstrate that voters’ attitudes on military transfers can be subsumed remarkably well under the left-right scale. Differentiating the impact of normative and economic considerations, the former is stronger among the left, while the latter also affects attitudes of rightist citizens. However, normative considerations are the most important concern along the whole political spectrum. The current turn of the German Green party to assist countries that are aggressively attacked due to the responsibility to protect did not reflect in our pre-2023-data.

Covid Vaccination Take-up in Remote Communities – Evidence from Bangladesh (with V. Koubi and J. Freihardt) (under review)

Inequality and Immigration Do Not Necessarily Increase Welfare Chauvinism – A Replication of Two Influential Studies (research-led teaching project, LMU Munich) (under review) (with J.Geith, A.Passer-Jähnel, and S.Rueß)
[Link to Manuscript] [Pre-Registration] Abstract

How do inequality and immigration affect support for redistribution? We study this question in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has elevated the salience of redistributive policies and decreased the salience of immigration. We build upon studies of Magni (2021) and Alesina, Miano and Stantcheva (2023) that showed that priming respondents on inequality or immigration can link to preferences for redistribution (the former positively, the latter negatively) and increase welfare chauvinism. We revisit these claims drawing on survey-experimental primes in a quota-representative sample of around (N=1.587) German citizens. Our findings are partly contrary to prior evidence, underlining that previous studies may be context-dependent on times of exceptionally high immigration salience.

How Does Information Affect Vote Choice in Open-List PR Systems? Evidence from a Survey Experiment Mimicking Real-World Elections in Switzerland (under review) (with F. Quoß, and T. Däubler)
[Link to Manuscript] Abstract

List proportional representation with candidate voting can facilitate policy representation in multiple dimensions, but candidates with deviating positions may actually not benefit if cues such as shared socio-demographics drive candidate choice instead. Does this use of cues reflect a lack of policy-related information or a preference for descriptive representation? We study this question in a real-world context, using a survey-embedded experiment that emulates actual vote choice, shortly after the 2019 Swiss elections. We vary the level of information on candidates‘ policy positions in zero, one or two dimensions (left-right, environmental protection). As expected, we find that spatial proximity voting increases with better information on the secondary dimension (but not on the first one). Same-gender and same-age voting slightly decrease when more information is available. The preference for local candidates remains strong. Our results inform debates regarding citizens‘ preferences for different types of representation and how electoral systems moderate their expression.

Selecting Good Types or Holding Incumbents Accountable? Evidence from Reoccurring Floods

A growing literature draws on natural disasters to assess how voters hold governments accountable and finds that good management benefits incumbents. This suggests that voters see disaster management as a test case that acts as an information shock, revealing unobserved incumbent quality. Theoretically, this depends on the perception and attribution of incumbent responsibility. Additionally, past experience with exposure should moderate voters’ appraisal, as should the current level of esteem the incumbent holds. I provide evidence that the electoral response to disaster management is heterogeneous along these dimensions. Drawing on the exceptional case of four centennial floods in Germany, occurring within a decade and right before elections, I show that exposure leads to vote gains for federal and state incumbents. The response of indirectly affected voters indicates strong ‘demonstration effects’. I then discuss evidence that explains heterogeneity across the floods. Overall, the case allows to infer whether voters select prospectively or retrospectively.

Climate Change Policy Preferences and Foreign State Behavior – Survey Experimental Evidence on Reciprocal Defection from Switzerland (under review)
[Link to Manuscript] Abstract

For a long time, scholars and public debate alike identified the structure of the climate crisis as a collective action problem as the predominant challenge to effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Recent scholarly work, however, proposes that existing evidence is not consistent with collective action being the binding constraint (Akling and Mildenberger 2020) – a claim that Kennard and Schnakenberg (2023) revisit and challenge. We bring new evidence to this question, drawing on data from a high-quality population representative survey experiment with the Swiss citizenry (N=3502), focusing on whether and to what extent citizens react to signals of large foreign countries defecting from climate policy as agreed under the Paris agenda. Our survey-experimental approach allows us to work with counterfactual scenarios to identify this effect. We show that foreign state behavior matters for preferred domestic climate policy ambition levels; in particular, defection is reciprocated strongly, even among subgroups likely to show a potential counterbalancing logic. Importantly, ego- or sociotropic concerns for economic losses with the green transformation strongly increase this taste for reciprocal defection. Altogether, this indicates that the perspective of collective action theory should not be discarded as a relevant constraint for effective climate policy.

Work in progress (original survey data collection completed)

How the West Thinks about the War in Ukraine: A Survey Experiment in the US, France, Germany, Italy and the UK (with F. Haggerty and P. Thurner)

Mass Public Preferences Regarding Arms Exports Among Top-5 Democratic Exporters (with F. Haggerty and P. Thurner)

Floods and Democratic Accountability – Evidence from Bangladesh

Validating Vignette Experiments – Survey and Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh

The Uncertain Consequences of Saving the Climate: Ego- and Sociotropic Preferences for Green Taxes (with L. Seelkopf)

Assessing the Suitability of Online Access Panels for Survey Experimental Research – Is there a Price-Quality Trade-off? (with L. Seelkopf)


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