Peer-Reviewed Articles

Jacob R. Gunderson. 2024. "Brands that bind: How party brands constrain blurred electoral appeals" Electoral Studies.

Uncertainty is ubiquitous in elections, and candidates and parties often intentionally create uncertainty to benefit themselves. However, there is no consensus in existing research on how parties balance the trade-off between distinction and broad appeal without alienating their supporters. This paper proposes a novel theory that a party's brand structures when strategies that blur or obfuscate a party or candidate's position are effective. In particular, I argue voters respond negatively to appeals that signal brand deviation from co-partisans on issues that are central to their party's brand. Outside of the brand, the trade-offs between clarity and ambivalence will be weaker. I test these expectations in two survey experiments on a quota sample of the United States population. I find that the efficacy of blurred electoral varies by the brand centrality of an issue, the blurring strategy deployed, and the co- or out-partisan status of the receiver. These findings have implications for our understanding of how parties can navigate the costs and benefits of clear brands and blurred appeals in contemporary party competition.

Nicolás de la Cerda and Jacob R. Gunderson. 2023. "Are party families in Europe Ideologically coherent today?" European Journal of Political Research

Researchers classify political parties into families by their shared cleavage origin. However, as parties have drifted from the original ideological commitments, it is unclear to what extent party families can today function as effective heuristics for shared positions. We propose an alternative way of classifying parties based solely on their ideological positions as one solution to this challenge. We use Model-Based Clustering to recast common subjective decisions involved in the process of creating party groups as problems of model selection, thus, providing non-subjective criteria to define ideological clusters. By comparing canonical families to our ideological clusters, we show that while party families on the right are often too similar to justify categorizing them into different clusters, left-wing families are weakly internally cohesive. Moreover, we get two clusters predominantly composed of parties in Eastern Europe, questioning the degree to which categories originally designed to describe Western Europe can generalize to other regions.

Jacob R. Gunderson. 2023 "Determining Decidability: How Issue Salience Divergence Structures Party Systems and Affects Citizens" European Journal of Political Research 1-23. 

This paper argues that issue salience divergence—the extent to which parties in a party system diverge in their allocation of salience across issues—is a key characteristic of party system decidability. Elections do not only matter in that politicians and parties with different policy positions may come to power. They can also matter if competing elites emphasize different issues. Using data from the MARPOR Project and the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, I demonstrate that voters perceive greater differences between parties when parties propose agendas that diverge with respect to issue salience. Furthermore, I demonstrate that perceptions of differences between parties mediate the effect of issue salience divergence on respondents’ satisfaction with democracy and self-reported voter turnout. These findings indicate that salience-based differentiation influences the quality of party systems alongside the traditional party system characteristics with important implications for public opinion and political behavior.

Jacob R. Gunderson. 2023 "Mapping Issue Salience Divergence in Europe from 1945 to the Present" Party Politics 1-15.

Issue salience is a fundamental component of party competition, yet we know little about when, where, or why parties’ issue emphases converge or diverge. I propose an original operationalization of issue salience divergence, the extent to which parties’ issue emphases differ from each other in an election, that generates values at the party-election and country-election levels. I leverage data from party manifestos to calculate scores for 2,308 party-election combinations of 381 unique parties in 426 elections across thirty European countries, the most comprehensive dataset to date. I find that issue salience divergence is generally low and has starkly decreased over time, but countries and parties differ substantially. As an initial step in understanding these differences, I propose and test initial expectations of how party and democracy age, electoral systems, and party type alter the incentives for divergent issue salience.

Jacob R. Gunderson. 2021. "When Does Income Inequality Cause Polarization?" British Journal of Political Science 1-18.  doi:10.1017/S0007123421000053

Scholars have long been concerned with the implications of income inequality for democracy. Conventional wisdom suggests that high income inequality is associated with political parties taking polarized positions as the left advocates for increased redistribution while the right aims to entrench the position of economic elites. This article argues that the connection between party positions and income inequality depends on how party bases are sorted by income and the issue content of national elections. It uses data from European national elections from 1996 to 2016 to show that income inequality has a positive relationship with party polarization on economic issues when partisans are sorted with respect to income and when economic issues are relatively salient in elections. When these factors are weak, however, the author finds no relationship between income inequality and polarization. 

Winner of Prothro Best Paper Award from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Political Science Department, 2021

Freeze, Melanie, Mary Baumgartner, Peter Bruno, Jacob R. Gunderson, Joshua Olin, Justine Szafran, and Morgan Ross. 2020. "Fake Claims of Fake News: Political Misinformation, Warnings, and the Tainted Truth Effect." Political Behavior doi:10.1007/s11109-020-09597-3

Fact-checking and warnings of misinformation are increasingly salient and prevalent components of modern news media and political communications. While many warnings about political misinformation are valid and enable people to reject misleading information, the quality and validity of misinformation warnings can vary widely. Replicating and extending research from the fields of social cognition and forensic psychology, we find evidence that valid retrospective warnings of misleading news can help individuals discard erroneous information, although the corrections are weak. However, when informative news is wrongly labeled as inaccurate, these false warnings reduce the news’ credibility. Invalid misinformation warnings taint the truth, lead individuals to discard authentic information, and impede political memory. As only a few studies on the tainted truth effect exist, our research helps to illuminate the less explored dark side of misinformation warnings. Our findings suggest general warnings of misinformation should be avoided as indiscriminate use can reduce the credibility of valid news sources and lead individuals to discard useful information.

Huber, Evelyne, Jacob Gunderson, and John D. Stephens. 2020. "Private Education and Inequality in the Knowledge Economy." Policy and Society 39(2): 171-188. doi:10.1080/14494035.2019.1636603.

This article explores the consequences of public and private spending on education at all levels, looking at skills and income inequality. We use data for 22 affluent democracies from 1960 or 1995 (depending on data availability) to 2017. High levels of public education spending consistently lower income inequality, both measured as wage dispersion and as the education premium. In contrast, higher levels of private education spending are associated with both higher wage dispersion and a higher education premium.

We show that this effect works in part through differential skills acquisition. Public education spending raises the math scores of 15-years old students at the mean and at the 25th percentile, but private education spending has no effect on skills at these levels. We find the same pattern among skills of adults; public education spending raises skills at the 25th percentile and the mean; private spending has no effect. Finally, we also show that higher levels of adult skills indeed depress the education premium.

Under Review:

Nicolás de la Cerda and Jacob R. Gunderson. "To blur or not to blur: Disentangling populist ideology and electoral strategy in Europe and Latin America".

Studies of populism in Western Europe associate it with blurred or vague economic positions. But how integral is this strategy for populism outside West European democracies? This paper leverages a comparison between Latin America and Europe to argue that populists tailor their strategies to their competitive context, focusing on party system dimensionality and host ideologies as moderators. We validate new measures of positional blurring from the Chapel Hill Expert Survey to evaluate regional differences in positional blurring by populists and to directly test our moderators across these two regions. We find that populists blur their economic positions in multidimensional systems and when they adopt exclusionary thick ideologies, two characteristics of European populism. In Latin America, where politics is unidimensional and populism is generally inclusive, populists present clear, not blurred, positions. These findings have implications for the study of populism as a global phenomenon and parties’ adaptation to contextual factors.