Who is afraid of a change? Ideological differences in support for the status quo in direct democracy

Published in Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 2019

Research has documented that individuals display a bias for preserving the status quo across numerous domains of decision-making, including elections for candidates and referendums. Yet, it is not clear whether thinking about a political reform as a change to the status quo actually makes voters less likely to support it. We investigate this possibility in a referendum campaign, in which we prime a representative sample of voters with a “change cue” evoking the modification of the status quo related to a proposed reform. Our findings show that support for a referendum proposal decreases when voters consider that it will change the status quo, but only among right-wing voters. The effect is stronger among less knowledgeable voters on the right (but not on the left) of the political spectrum. Furthermore, we find that the priming manipulation has no effect in the presence of campaign arguments, thus suggesting that voters might discard peripheral cues when substantial policy information is available. These findings have relevant implications for the goal of achieving political change in democratic politics, and highlight the key role of ideology in moderating the status-quo bias in political decision-making.

Recommended citation: Morisi, D., Colombo, C. and De Angelis, A. (2019). Who is afraid of a change? Ideological differences in support for the status quo in direct democracy. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties.

How Voters Distort their Perceptions and Why this Matters

Published in Oxford Handbook of Electoral Persuasion, 2019

Voters’ ability to perceive political parties’ positions on policy scales is a precondition for a functioning and responsive electoral democracy. Appropriate measures of policy distance are thus key to addressing the link between political parties and the citizens. This chapter reviews the scholarship on ideal point estimation, identifying the main methodological and substantial implications for empirical studies involving issue scales. Next, the chapter applies two-stage Bayesian Aldrich-McKelvey scaling to European Election Studies data to find evidence of systematic perceptual distortions: right-wing voters perceive political parties as more progressive than they actually are, while knowledgeable voters perceive greater differences between parties. Perceptual bias is also shown to correlate with standard polarization measures based on perceived party positions.

Recommended citation: De Angelis, Andrea (2019). How Voters Distort their Perceptions and Why this Matters. In: Suhay, E., Grofman, B., and Trechsel, A., The Oxford Handbook of Electoral Persuasion.

Taking Cues from the Government: Heuristic versus Systematic Processing in a Constitutional Referendum

Published in West European Politics, 2019

One of the main criticisms of direct democracy is that it places excessive demands on voters. Are citizens competent enough to vote directly on policy issues? When stakes are high, do citizens mainly follow elites’ signals or do they decide in line with their issue preferences? This article addresses these questions in a multi-method setting by combining observational and experimental data from an original three-wave panel survey conducted during the 2016 Italian constitutional referendum. In particular, Finite Mixture Models are employed to model voters’ heterogeneous strategies of information processing. Findings show that heuristic voting based on government evaluation prevails over policy-related voting. More specifically, less politically sophisticated and partisan voters relied on government assessment as a heuristic, while sophisticated and independent voters based their decisions mostly on their assessment of the reform. Implications for the question of citizens’ competence in direct democracy are discussed.

Recommended citation: De Angelis, Andrea, Colombo, Celine, and Morisi, Davide (2019). Taking cues from the government: heuristic versus systematic processing in a constitutional referendum. West European Politics, Vol. 143(4): 845 - 868.

From party to leader mobilization? The personalization of voter turnout

Published in Party Politics, 2019

Partisan dealignment has been frequently advanced as a pivotal driver of the personalization of voting behavior. As voters’ long-term attachments with parties eroded, it is argued that partisanship has lost importance to short-term factors, like voters’ evaluations of party leaders. Such theoretical reasoning has been applied recurrently in research dedicated to explaining vote choice. However, we hypothesize that dealignment can downplay partisanship’s impact vis-à-vis leaders in the same way regarding turnout decisions. This article aims at demonstrating the importance of voters’ evaluations of party leaders in their probability to turn out in parliamentary elections through a novel data set pooling 52 national election surveys from 13 Western European parliamentary democracies between 1974 and 2016. The results confirm the increasing relevance of leaders in explaining turnout decisions and a decline of partisanship’s mobilizing ability. These trends are further accentuated among individuals with a television-dominated media diet, demonstrating the role of media change in driving this process.

Recommended citation: Ferreira da Silva, F., Garzia, D., and A. De Angelis (2019). From party to leader mobilization? The personalization of voter turnout. Forthcoming in Party Politics.

Issue Yield and Party Strategy in Multiparty Competition

Published in Comparative Political Studies, 2017

The issue yield model introduced a theory of the herestethic use of policy issues as strategic resources in multidimensional party competition. We extend the model by systematically addressing the specificities of issue yield dynamics in multiparty systems, with special regard to parties’ issue yield rankings (relative position) and issue yield heterogeneity (differentiation) on each issue. Second, we introduce a novel research design for original data collection that allows for a more systematic testing of the model, by featuring (a) a large number of policy issues, (b) the use of Twitter content for coding parties’ issue emphasis, and (c) an appropriate time sequence for measuring issue yield configurations and issue emphasis. We finally present findings from a pilot implementation of such design, performed on the occasion of the 2014 European Parliament election in Italy. Findings confirm the soundness of the design and provide support for the newly introduced hypotheses about multiparty competition.

Recommended citation: De Sio, L., De Angelis, A., and V. Emanuele (2017). Issue Yield and Party Strategy in Multiparty Competition. Comparative Political Studies. First Published September 10, 2017.

Voting Advice Applications and Electoral Participation: A Multi-Method Study

Published in Political Communication, 2017

Voting Advice Applications (VAAs) help users casting a vote by offering an explicit ranking of viable options. The wide amount of readily available information provided by VAAs to users has been shown to contribute to reducing the transactional costs involved in gathering relevant political information. Available evidence also supports the idea that VAA users are more likely to cast a ballot in elections as a result. The extent to which electoral participation is caused by using a VAA, however, remains unclear. Against this background, we reassess the mobilizing effect of VAAs by means of a multi-method approach. Our cross-sectional analysis of 12 national election study data sets provides further support to the idea that VAA usage increases users’ chances of casting a ballot in elections as compared to non-users. This conclusion is strengthened by the results of a randomized field experiment conducted in the context of the 2013 Italian parliamentary election.

Recommended citation: Garzia, D., Trechsel, A. H., and De Angelis, A. (2017). Voting Advice Applications and Electoral Participation: A Multi-Method Study. Political Communication. Vol. 34(3): 424-443.

Partisanship, leader evaluations and the vote: disentangling the new iron triangle in electoral research

Published in Comparative European Politics, 2016

This article provides an empirical assessment of the causal structure underlying the core dependent variable of electoral research (the vote) and two of its most notable predictors (partisanship and leader evaluations). A critical review of traditional models of voting highlights the need to account for the reciprocal relationship between the main predictors as well as for the potential feedback stemming from the dependent variable. In the light of these considerations, a new ‘iron triangle’ of electoral research would seem to take shape, with partisanship, leader evaluations and the vote tight to each other by a strong link of reciprocal causation. Making use of pre-/post-election surveys from Britain and Italy, the empirical analysis provides evidence for a strong effect of past behavior on political attitudes. However, past behavior seems to exert its effect mainly on partisan attitudes, whereas party leader evaluations appear only slightly affected. The results point to the considerably weakened role of partisanship as attitudinal anchor of vote choice. Leader evaluations, on the contrary, emerge as a crucial component in the voting decision.

Recommended citation: Garzia, D. and De Angelis, A. 2016. Partisanship, leader evaluations and the vote: Disentangling the new iron triangle in electoral research. Comparative European Politics. Vol. 14 (5): 604-625.

euandi: Project Description and Datasets Documentation

Published in Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper Series, 2015

In occasion of the European Parliament elections of 2014, EUDO launched euandi (reads: EU and I). The academic relevance of the euandi endeavour lies primarily in its choice to stick to the party positioning methodology already employed by the EU Profiler in 2009 as well as in the choice to keep as many policy items as possible in the 2014 questionnaire in order to allow cross-national, longitudinal research on party competition and voting behaviour in the EU across a five-year period. In this paper, we present the euandi project in a nutshell, the making of the questionnaire and the way in which political parties have been coded. Then, we illustrate the functioning of the application and the specifics of the resulting user dataset, comprising the opinions of 400.000 unique users that completed the euandi questionnaire during the six weeks preceding the EP elections of 2014.

Recommended citation: Garzia, Diego and Trechsel, Alexander H. and De Sio, Lorenzo and De Angelis, Andrea, euandi: Project Description and Datasets Documentation (January 2015). Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies Research Paper No. RSCAS 2015/01. Available at SSRN: or

The impact of Voting Advice Applications on electoral participation

Published in ECPR Press, 2014

With the growing number of voters resorting to VAAs at election time, interest has arisen concerning the potential effect of these tools on the political behaviour of the users. We focus on one of the crucial questions in this strand of literature, namely: What is the effect of VAA-usage on users’ patterns of electoral participation? We analyse survey data from Finland, Germany, Netherlands, and Switzerland, with treatment effect model to tackle the issue of self-selection into VAA usage. Results point towards a significant impact of VAAs on electoral participation.

Recommended citation: Garzia, D. and De Angelis, A. and Pianzola Joelle (2015). The impact of Voting Advice Applications on electoral participation. In Garzia, D. and Marschall, S., Matching voters with parties and candidates: Voting Advice Applications in a comparative perspective”. ECPR press.

Individual level dynamics of PTV change across the electoral cycle

Published in Electoral Studies, 2013

Propensity-to-vote (PTV) scores are ever more commonly used in electoral research as a measure of electoral utilities. Yet a growing literature employs them as dependent variable in the voting equation in place of the lower information granted by vote recall questions. However, this choice can be seen as problematic because of the very structure of election survey research. To the extent that voters’ PTVs are measured in post-election surveys (as it is often the case) these are likely to result endogenously produced by actual voting behavior in the past election – thus partly undermining the validity of the PTV question which, ideally, should not be related to any specific election. In this paper, we try to disentangle the relationship between short-term political attitudes (leader evaluations, issue proximity, economic assessments) and voters’ changing patterns of propensities to vote in both an electoral and a non-electoral context. The latter scenario serves as a means to rule out the potentially contaminating effect of voting choices on voters’ PTVs. The data comes from two panel surveys of Italian voters conducted by ITANES in occasion of the 2006 general election, and in 2011 (that is, in a non-electoral year) respectively.

Recommended citation: De Angelis, A. and Garzia, D. 2013. Individual level dynamics of PTV change across the electoral cycle. Electoral Studies.

Government approval in Italy: Political cycle, economic expectations and TV coverage

Published in Electoral Studies, 2013

This paper analyses government approval in Italy – which has become a key aspect for electoral support in the new party system of the Second Republic – exploring the influence that TV coverage exerts on approval net of traditional accounts of government support. Relying on both aggregate time series and pooled individual-level surveys analyses, it is shown that communication has a sizeable impact on government approval. The popularity of Centre-Left and Centre-Right governments is affected evenly by the economy but differently by the news coverage of their activity. People with lower political interest are the most reactive to news coverage of government performance.

Recommended citation: Bellucci, P. and De Angelis, A. (2013). Government approval in Italy: Political cycle, economic expectations and TV coverage. Electoral Studies, Vol. 32(3): 452-459.