Research Project Grants

Climate Risk, Land Loss, and Migration: Evidence from a Quasi-Experiment in Bangladesh (Swiss National Science Foundation, 01.09.2019 – 31.08.2023, 442’284 CHF) (Co-PI, 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.

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)

Concurrent elections lead to coattails and electoral spill-overs: Quasi-experimental evidence from German municipalities (with Arndt Leininger) (R and R) [Link to manuscript] [Abstract]

Does a large influx of asylum seekers in the local community lead to an attitudinal backlash? We assess the medium-term effects of asylum seeker presence using original survey data from Austria combined with macro-level municipality data, exploiting quasi-random placement of asylum seekers in municipalities. Drawing
on entropy balancing for causal identification, we find clear evidence of increased hostility towards asylum seekers in areas that housed them. This may be because respondents only report superficial contact with asylum seekers. Moreover, general attitudes towards Muslims and immigrants became less favorable in contexts with local asylum seeker presence, while vote intention for the main anti-immigration party increased. These findings go beyond existing work by focusing on citizen attitudes and voting behaviour and by examining contact directly as a mechanism. Our results show the need for designing policy interventions to minimise citizen backlash against rapid migration inflows.

Europe’s Refugee Crisis: Local Contact and Out-Group Hostility (with Markus Wagner) (R and R) [Link to manuscript] [Abstract]

Do large influxes of asylum seekers, such as during the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, lead to an attitudinal backlash against refugees and migrants? In recent work, the findings are mixed, with contact leading in some contexts to increases and in some to decreases in anti-migration attitudes. These recent papers generally draw on exogenous factors determining the geographical dispersion of asylum seekers to test for a macro-level effect of refugee inflow. We use original survey data from Austria to assess whether the increased presence of refugees has attitudinal consequences. Combining municipality-level refugee inflow data and survey evidence on self-reported individual contact, perceived threat, and attitudes towards immigration and asylum, we test whether and under which conditions the contact hypothesis finds support on the individual level. We thereby contribute to understanding conflicting macro-level results and more generally provide an indication whether and when refugee flows lead to attitudinal backlash.

International norms and public demand for home-country regulation of multinational firms abroad (with T. Bernauer, and D. Kolcava) (under review) [Link to manuscript] [Abstract]

Vastly increased transnational business activity in recent decades has been accompanied by controversy over how to cope with its social and environmental impacts, particularly in the context of firms from high-income countries operating in less developed nations. The most prominent policy response thus far consists of new international soft law, e.g.\ the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It remains open, however, whether and how such soft law could bring about more responsible corporate behavior abroad. We submit that the most effective mechanism to this end may operate through stricter home-country regulation of corporate behavior abroad. Exploiting a unique national initiative on this subject in Switzerland, we use a choice experiment with a large representative sample of voters (N=3010) to study public demand for such regulation. Contrary to conventional wisdom emphasizing fear of sovereignty loss and/or economic disadvantages from unilateral regulation of transnational activity, our results show that citizens prefer very strict and unilateral rules, while correctly assessing their consequences. Mechanism tests with survey-experimental vignettes reveal that citizens are aware that such rules are economically costly, entailing competitive disadvantages, but would be more effective in tackling the problem, normatively appropriate and reputation enhancing for the home country. Moreover, exposure to information highlighting international norm-setting in this area leads to even stronger demand for stricter rules. These findings indicate surprisingly strong public support for making international soft law effective via enforceable domestic regulation, even if direct regulatory benefits accrue abroad while regulatory costs materialize at home. They also suggest that effective communication of international norms is one pathway through which international soft law can effectively change business behavior.

How Open Lists Undermine the Electoral Support of Cohesive Parties (with T. Bräuninger, T. Däubler, R. Huber) (under review) [Link to manuscript] [Abstract]

How does ballot structure affect party choice? We argue that open lists undermine the electoral support of cohesive parties, to the benefit of internally divided parties. This effect is mainly due to indifferent voters close to the midpoint of the two parties‘ positions on a contested policy issue.
We conduct a survey-embedded experiment in the aftermath of the European migrant crisis, presenting German voters real parties with fictitious politicians. A crossover design varies ballot type and exposure to candidate positions on immigration. We find that the internally divided CDU/CSU gains votes at the expense of the cohesive AfD when open lists are used and candidate positions are known. This effect is much stronger among participants indifferent between the AfD and any competitor. Overall, our analysis establishes conditions under which ballot structure can affect electoral performance of parties in general, and that of the populist right in particular.

Environmental concern leads to trade scepticism for the political left and right (with T. Bernauer, F. Quoss, and R. Buchs) (under review) [Link to manuscript] [Abstract]

Evermore apparent environmental impacts of vastly increased international trade have been met both by public backlash against further trade liberalization and by efforts at greening international trade. Because public support is essential to environmental and trade policy-making alike, we examine the trade-environment nexus from a public opinion perspective. Our focus lies on whether negative attitudes towards trade are fueled by concern over its environmental consequences. We argue that environmental concern affects how citizens evaluate the costs and benefits of international trade, and that such evaluation is moderated by political ideology. The empirical analysis relies on a population-based survey experiment and a large representative survey in a small open economy, Switzerland. The results show that environmental concern (serenity) leads to decreasing (increasing) appreciation of and support for international trade. Political beliefs (ideology) moderate these effects, resulting in different manifestations of trade skepticism on the political right and left. Another interesting finding given the increasingly salient debate over environmental footprints of consumption and pollution havens is that we do not find evidence for the presumption that citizens care more about environmental damage at home than abroad when forming trade policy preferences. The main policy implication of our findings is that policy-makers should assign high priority to green global supply chains if they wish to sustain public support for liberal international trade policy.

What mode of regulation do post-industrial societies prefer why? (with D. Kolcava, and T. Bernauer) [Link to study pre-registration] [Link to manuscript] [Abstract]

Environmental policy is touching on ever more aspects of corporate and individual behavior, and there is much debate over what combinations of top-down (government-imposed) and bottom-up (voluntary private sector) measures to use. In post-industrial, democratic societies, citizens’ preferences over such combinations are crucial, because they shape the political feasibility space in which policymakers can act. We argue that policy-designs relying on voluntary measures receive more public support if they are based on inclusive decision-making, use strong transparency and monitoring mechanisms, and include a trigger for government intervention in case of ineffectiveness. Survey experiments focusing on two green economy issues in Switzerland (N=1941) provide strong support for these arguments. The findings are surprisingly consistent across the two contexts. This suggests that our study design offers a useful template for research that explores politically feasible green economy policy designs for other issues and in other countries.

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

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.

Work in progress (original survey data collection completed)

Information and Environmental Issue Voting in Open Lists – Survey Experimental Evidence from Switzerland (with F. Quoss, and T. Däubler)

Do Extreme Weather Events affect Climate Change Policy Attitudes and Preferences? Dual Evidence from a Natural Experiment and a Survey Experiment in Switzerland (with F. Quoss)

How does the ambition gap affect climate policy preferences? (with T. Bernauer, F. Quoss)

What drives people from cars and flights? A mode choice experiment. (with T. Bernauer, F. Quoss)

Environmental regulation in the food sector: The role of corporate behavior and citizen preferences (with T. Bernauer, L. Fesenfeld)

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