Research


Articles

[1] Pereira, Miguel M. “How do Public Officials Learn About Policy? A Field Experiment on Policy Diffusion.
Forthcoming. British Journal of Political Science.

Abstract

Prior research suggests that partisanship can influence how legislators learn from each other. However, same-party governments are also more likely to share similar issues, ideological preferences, or constituency demands. Establishing a causal link between partisanship and policy learning is difficult. In collaboration with a non-profit organization, this study isolates the role of partisanship in a real policy learning context. As part of an email campaign promoting a new policy among local representatives, I randomized whether the program was endorsed by co-partisans, out-partisans, or both parties. The results show that representatives are systematically more interested in the same policy when endorsed by co-partisans. Bipartisan initiatives also attract less interest than co-partisan policies, and no more interest than out-partisan policies, even in more competitive districts. Together, the results suggest that ideological considerations cannot fully explain partisan-based learning. Implications for the study of policy diffusion, legislative signaling, and interest group access are discussed.

[2] Pereira, Miguel M. 2020. “Responsive Campaigning: Evidence from European Parties.
The Journal of Politics 82(4): 1183-1195. [Replication files; Supplementary Information]

Abstract

How do parties respond to public opinion shifts on the campaign trail? While a vast literature looks at ideological updating across elections, the dynamics of short-term responsiveness remain largely a black box. I argue that campaign rhetoric reflects parties’ need to balance office and policy goals. Shifts in voter preferences alter the salience of these goals, leading parties to adjust their strategies. A novel dataset combining opinion polls with campaign statements by 68 European parties provides support for this argument. Parties performing well in the campaign pursue their dominant aims. However, when voters shift away from a party, leaders are impelled to accommodate their secondary goals: mainstream parties polarize to secure the support of core voters, while niche parties moderate their rhetoric to guarantee survival in parliament. The fluidity of party positioning uncovered here helps enlightening multiple questions left open by previous studies of policy responsiveness.

[3] Homola, Jonathan, Miguel M. Pereira, and Margit Tavits. 2020. “Legacies of the Third Reich: Concentration Camps and Outgroup Tolerance.
American Political Science Review 114(2): 573-590. [Replication files; Supplementary information]
SAGE Best Paper Award, APSA 2018.

Abstract

We explore the long-term political consequences of the Third Reich and show that current political intolerance, xenophobia, and voting for radical right-wing parties are associated with proximity to former Nazi concentration camps in Germany. This relationship is not explained by contemporary attitudes, the location of the camps, geographic sorting, the economic impact of the camps, or their current use. We argue that cognitive dissonance led those more directly exposed to Nazi institutions to conform with the belief system of the regime. These attitudes were then transmitted across generations. The evidence provided here contributes both to our understanding of the legacies of historical institutions, and the sources of political intolerance.

[4] Pereira, Miguel . 2019. “Do Parties Respond Strategically to Opinion Polls? Evidence from Campaign Statements.
Electoral Studies 59: 78-86. [Supplementary Information]

Abstract

This article investigates how parties respond to polling results on the campaign trail. I argue that parties use pre-election polls as mobilization and fine-tuning devices. Opinion surveys that exceed expectations can be exploited to mobilize the party base. Disappointing polls, in turn, are publicly downplayed and criticized. However, this information can be used to refine campaign strategies. Parties underperforming in the polls have incentives to emphasize their own policy positions and to attack other parties. These arguments are supported by evidence from 2,140 campaign statements by Portuguese party leaders over two elections, combined with polling results. The findings suggest that parties carefully adjust their campaign rhetoric in response to public opinion signals. The study contributes to research on elite behavior and political representation. Moreover, it shows how research on campaign effects can benefit from a closer attention to the supply-side of campaigns.

[5] Butler, Daniel, and Miguel M. Pereira. 2018. “How does Partisanship Influence Policy Diffusion?
Political Research Quarterly 71(4): 801-812. [Replication filesSupplementary Information]

Abstract

We explore the role of partisanship in policy diffusion. Previous studies suggest that partisanship may influence the willingness of public officials to learn from the experience of their peers. Officials’ willingness to consider policies endorsed by copartisans can arise either because party labels are used as informational cues, or simply due to copartisan imitation. In the latter case, knowing more about the policy tradeoffs should have no effects on politicians’ preferences. Based on two experiments with local public officials where both the party endorsing a policy and the type of information provided were manipulated, we find consistent partisan bias. When a policy is endorsed by copartisans, public officials are more likely to consider pursuing it, and additional information does not mitigate this bias. Exploratory analyses of the information-seeking behavior of officials suggest that the partisan bias is not due to differential exposure or attention to policy tradeoffs.

[6] Pereira, Miguel M., and Nick Waterbury. 2018. “Do Voters Discount Political Scandals Over Time?
Political Research Quarterly 72(3): 584-595. [Replication filesSupplementary Information]

Abstract

This paper explores how political scandals are discounted over time. Previous research has shown that voters respond disproportionately to recent economic conditions when evaluating incumbents. We argue that voters discount not only the performance of incumbents in office, but also information about their personal character, largely due to accessibility biases. Building on a comprehensive database of congressional scandals covering the last four decades, we show that the electoral consequences of political scandals fade fairly quickly. Only cases emerging in the election-year systematically affect the vote share of incumbents. Moral scandals are the exception, with negative effects persisting over the entire term. In line with the mechanism proposed, additional analyses suggest this pattern results from disproportional levels of media attention, making moral scandals more easily retrieved from memory. The results broaden our understanding of the nature of myopic voting, and provide an explanation for the increasing reliance on negative campaigning.

[7] Butler, Daniel, and Miguel M. Pereira. 2018. “Are Donations to Charity an Effective Incentive for Public Officials?
Journal of Experimental Political Science 5(1): 68-70. [Replication filesSupplementary Information]

Abstract

Incentivized experiments allow researchers to better understand individuals’ behavior. Researchers typically use direct payments to participants as the incentive in these experiments. In some cases, however, direct payments cannot be used. Politicians, for example, are often not allowed to receive monetary inducements for participation. In two studies with state and city officials we test whether donations to charity are an effective alternative to direct payments. The experiments show that incentives do increase cognitive effort. When answering factual questions, politicians perform better when incentivized with either direct payments or donations to charity. Most importantly, both incentives improve performance. We also test whether these incentives affect officials’ level of risk aversion and find that the incentives have no effect. Our results suggest that donations to charity can be an effective alternative to direct payments in experiments with political elites.

[8] Gibson, James L., Miguel M. Pereira, and Jeffrey Ziegler. 2017. “Updating Supreme Court Legitimacy: Testing the ‘Rule, Learn, Update’ Model of Political Communication.American Politics Research 45(6): 980-1002. [Replication files; Supplementary Information]

Abstract

One of the more important innovations in the study of how citizens assess the U.S. Supreme Court is the ideological updating model, which assumes that citizens grant legitimacy to the institution according to the perceived distance between themselves and the Court on a unidimensional ideological (liberal-conservative) continuum. Under this model, citizens are also said to update this calculation with every new salient Supreme Court decision. The model’s requirements, however, do not seem to square with the long-established view that Americans are largely innocent of ideology. Here, we conduct an audit of the model’s mechanisms using a series of empirical tests applied to a nationally representative sample. Our general conclusion is that the ideological updating model, especially when supplemented with the requirement that citizens must become aware of Court decisions, simply does not square with the realities of American politics. Students of Supreme Court legitimacy may therefore want to search for other theories of legitimacy updating.

[9] Fernandes, Jorge, Miguel M. Pereira, and Carolina Plescia. 2016, “Strategic voting in local elections: evidence from Portugal (1979–2013).
Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 26(3): 312-335.

Abstract

Do voters behave strategically in local elections? Have voters become more strategic with democratic experience? Is there a relation between education and voters’ capacity to anticipate the mechanical effects of electoral statutes and adapt their behavior accordingly? Using an original dataset covering the complete democratic period, this paper studies split-ticket voting at the local level in Portugal. Using an ecological inference approach, we contribute to a vast body of literature on strategic voting by testing whether theories developed for national contexts travel to local contexts. Our findings suggest that (1) voters defect non-viable lists to support viable lists; (2) democratic experience helped voters to learn how to maximize their utility; and (3) that education is important for voters’ ability to identify a strategic setting.

[10] Magalhães, Pedro, Luís Aguiar-Conraria, and Miguel M. Pereira. 2011. “As sondagens e os resultados eleitorais em Portugal.” [Pre-election Polls and Electoral Results in Portugal] Boletim da Sociedade Portuguesa de Estatística, Spring: 37-52.


Under Review

[1] Pereira, Miguel M. “Understanding and Reducing Biases in Elite Beliefs About the Electorate.Invited to Revise & Resubmit.
Richard E. Matland Award for Best Paper by an Emerging Scholar in Representation, Elections, or Voting, MPSA 2019.

Abstract

To be responsive, politicians have to rely on beliefs about public will. Previous research suggests that perceptions of public opinion are often distorted. However, it remains unclear (1) why reelection-seeking officials misperceive constituent preferences, and (2) how to mitigate these distorted beliefs. I argue that misperceptions result in part from unequal exposure to different subconstituencies, and a tendency of legislators to project their own preferences on voters. A six-wave panel of Swedish MPs combined with mass surveys provides support for these arguments. Elite beliefs disproportionately reflect the preferences of more privileged subconstituencies and the personal positions of legislators. Additionally, an experiment with Swiss representatives leveraging real political events reveals how misperceptions can be reduced by encouraging a more balanced exposure to voters. The study concludes that economic and political inequalities are rooted in elite beliefs about public preferences and reveals ways to bolster the links between voters and their representatives.

[2] Pereira, Miguel M., and Pablo Fernandez-Vazquez. “Does Electing Women Reduce Corruption? A Regression Discontinuity Approach.
Marian Irish Award for Best Paper on Women and Politics, SPSA 2017.

Abstract

Previous studies uncovered a negative correlation between the proportion of women in public office and corruption, inspiring anti-corruption programs across the world. It remains unclear, however, whether there is a causal link between the share of women in office and malfeasance. Leveraging the gradual implementation of gender quotas in Spain, we isolate the effects of female descriptive representation on public misconduct and adjudicate between alternative explanations. The analyses reveal that an exogenous increase in the share of women elected led to a decrease in corruption that is sustained in time. This result contradicts the claim that gender quotas reduce corruption only because new office-holders are inexperienced. Instead, it supports the view that there is a causal link between gender and malfeasance in office. This study contributes to our understanding of the effect of public officials’ characteristics on policy outcomes, and to the role of parity laws in promoting political change.

[3] Pereira, Miguel M., and Patrik Öhberg. “The Expertise Curse: How Policy Expertise Can Hinder Responsiveness.

Abstract

We argue that policy expertise may constrain the ability of politicians to be responsive. Legislators with more knowledge and experience in a given policy area have more confidence in their own issue-specific positions. Enhanced confidence, in turn, may lead legislators to discount opinions they disagree with. Two experiments with Swedish politicians support our argument. First, we find that officials with more expertise in a given domain are more likely to dismiss appeals from voters who hold contrasting opinions, regardless of their specific position on the policy, and less likely to accept that opposing views may represent the majority opinion. Consistent with the proposed mechanism, in a second experiment we show that inducing perceptions of expertise increases self-confidence. The results suggest that representatives with more expertise in a given area are paradoxically less capable of voicing public preferences in that domain. The study provides a novel explanation for distortions in policy responsiveness.

Working Papers

[1] Brierley, Sarah, and Miguel M. Pereira. “Female Bureaucrats and Petty Corruption.

[2] Pereira, Miguel M., and Kaya Axelsson. “What Drives Politicians to Act on Climate? Evidence from a Collaborative Field Experiment.

[3] Homola, Jonathan, Miguel M. Pereira, and Margit Tavits. “Fixed Effects and Post-Treatment Bias in Legacy Studies.

Abstract

A growing literature examines how historical institutions influence contemporary political attitudes and behavior. Recent work has argued that these studies need to properly account for spatial heterogeneity by incorporating regional fixed effects. Here, we discuss the theoretical and empirical obstacles that have to be addressed to properly incorporate fixed effects in legacy studies. We illustrate our arguments using Pepinsky et al.’s (2020) reassessment of a recent study on the long-term effects of concentration camps in Germany (Homola et al. 2020). We show that Pepinsky et al. incorporate fixed effects incorrectly and, as a result, their analysis suffers from post-treatment bias. We further demonstrate that results from the original article remain substantively the same when we incorporate regional fixed effects correctly. Finally, simulations reveal that camp proximity consistently outperforms spatially correlated noise in this specific study.