Richard G Johnston


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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
The Social Learning Model : it takes time to figure out who you are (2020)

This dissertation asks: Is the Social Learning Model (SLM) valid? The SLM is the now canonical explanation for the development of partisanship, or more specifically, party identification (PID). It also provides an explanation for the increased democratic stability of democracies as they get older. For 50 years, academic studies have largely assumed that the original validation of the model was adequate, a problem exacerbated by available data. I begin by re-examining the evidence on which the SLM was originally developed, the “Civic Culture survey”. I find that this data proves inadequate to validate the basic components of this model. Decades of future studies have largely accepted the original findings; the few that question it fail to adequately account for observational equivalence. I develop three tests to validate the SLM, using data from the Comparative Survey of Electoral Systems. First, I test the underlying strengthening process of the SLM. I show that people are increasing their probability of being a partisan rather than strengthening existing partisanship. I then test the possibility that people are developing partisanship with age instead of the years that they support a party. I find that controlling for age, people significantly increase their probability of being a partisan over the years that they support a party. Finally, I test the possibility that the correlation between years of potential support and probability of being a partisan is the result of response error in surveys. There is a stronger correlation in measures of PID that most accurately capture it then those that elicit short-term support. The primary implication of these three findings is that years of potential support cause an increase in partisanship, but not through the SLM’s process of political socialization (strengthening). The SLM as a mechanism of democratic consolidation is in doubt. Finally, the results here also speak to two competing theories. They cast doubt on the mechanism underlying generational dealignment, the cognitive mobilization thesis. On the other hand, the case for a life stage explanation, the “cognitive resources” explanation, is supported. These results justify future research into these theories and political socialization in general.

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Trust in civil wars : the implications of conflict character and threat on political and social trust (2018)

My research investigates the repercussions of protracted civil wars on bystanders’ political and social trust. The literature is fraught with inconsistent findings on how violence impacts trust. I argue that civil wars have distinct effects on trust primarily because wartime trust formations vary by the character of the conflict (ethnic vs. ideological) and the macro historical dynamics of the country, which together shape collective threat framing. Ethnic wars should induce a higher political trust for politically represented ethnic group via the state discourse’s emphasis on collective threat, even in the presence of personal threat. In ideological wars, a similar discourse on collective threat forwarded by the state is less likely, and in the absence of a higher national threat framing, personal insecurities extending from the war should diminish people’s trust in governing political institutions. Regarding social trust, ethnic violence renders in- and out-group distinctions visible and decreases out-group trust. Alternatively, ideological violence diminishes general trust (trust in unknown others). I deploy mixed-methods, combining case studies and cross-national quantitative data analysis. The two cases are the territorial Kurdish insurgency in Turkey (1984-) and the Maoist insurgency in Peru (1980-1992). I spent six months in each country and conducted archival work, comparative historical analysis, and numerous interviews and focus groups in 2013–2014. To see whether the theoretical predictions and empirical findings from Turkey and Peru can travel beyond their boundaries, I analyzed a pooled time-series cross sectional dataset (1981-2015), using multi-level models. As well as being one of the first qualitative studies of trust in conflict settings, my work is also original in distinguishing between the effects of different types of civil wars on trust, disentangling the impact of collective and personal threat, and showing that the effects vary in the society along ethnic and political lines. My empirical findings also shed light on the generation of collective threat framing using a macro historical lens, and suggest that state-building conditions both the nature of the insurgency, national and ethnic identities, and how the conflict will be framed by the state via the official discourse.

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Building Multiculturalism: The Contribution of the Ukranian- Canadian Community to a Re-thinking of Canadian Identity (2017)

No abstract available.

Who leads? Who follows? Political representation and opinion formation (2017)

To understand political representation and opinion formation, we need to comprehend the dynamics between political parties and voters: Who leads? Who follows? The comparative representation literature assumes that voters lead and parties follow. Representation is understood as a principal-agent relationship in which citizens elect parties to act on their behalf. Most studies assume that voters have fixed issue opinions and regularly engage in policy voting. Conversely, the increasingly dominant view within the American public opinion literature is that parties lead and voters follow. Focussing on cognitive processes, these works suggest that the correspondence between policy preferences and party choice is not the product of policy-oriented evaluation, but of other psychological forces—mainly persuasion and projection—and conditional on partisanship. As almost all the evidence comes from the US, we know little about the impact of parties in multiparty systems, where voters are naturally pressed to think of governing coalitions. In the US, both processes have become more prevalent during the current era of polarization. To the extent that polarization animates the last twenty years of American scholarship, what is the story in Europe? A handful of single-country studies claim the opposite trend: depolarization. What is missing is systematic evidence from multiple countries and longer periods. This dissertation bridges the gap between European and American scholarship and makes important contributions to the literature. First, it fills a Europe-wide gap on polarization and depolarization, suggesting that both movements occur and that both are functionally linked. While depolarization is the dominant trend on the general Left-Right dimension, polarization best describes party movement on European unification and multiculturalism. Second, the dissertation demonstrates that an increase in sophistication is required to deal with aggregate notions of leading and following. It shows that depolarization is an under-theorized concept that should not be mistaken for simply the opposite of polarization. Third, using advanced estimation techniques, this thesis provides realistic assessments of leading and following. The results suggest that leading is much less prevalent in Europe than commonly assumed. Instead, there is solid evidence that European voters follow, conditional on partisanship.

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Women’s descriptive and substantive political representation : the role of political institutions. (2016)

This dissertation explores how political institutions shape the behaviour of women in politics. It asks whether the relationship between the gender of representatives (descriptive representation) and the representation of women’s interests (substantive representation) depends on the institutional context. Using prominent institutional perspectives a theory is offered for how the division or fusion of powers and electoral systems affect substantive representation in both individual behaviour and policy outcomes. When party ties are weakened and internal party competition increased, women do more to substantively represent women, while men focus on other unincorporated interests. Institutions affect policy outcomes, not only by affecting individual behaviour but also by determining how those actions are aggregated. The theory is tested using a mixed methodological approach. Two datasets capture individual behaviour - an international survey of representatives and an original dataset examining representative’s tweets. The results demonstrate that the gap between substantive representation by women and that by men is larger under the conditions of a division of powers and when electoral systems incentives the representation of unincorporated interests. Interviews and surveys with more than 90 legislators from 7 countries provide evidence of the causal mechanisms. The aggregate effect of the number of women on gendered policy outcomes is tested using data combined from a range of sources. The findings results are equivocal: institutions that facilitate individual action can also make policy change more difficult. In short, institutions moderate the relationship between descriptive and substantive representation at the individual level and, to a lesser extent, at the aggregate level. This ‘institutionalist turn’ improves understanding of how, when, and why women act to represent women. The ‘gender turn’ in the study of institutions demonstrates the flexibility of the theories and the broad and consequential impact of institutions. There are implications that extend beyond gender to include other issues and identities not incorporated into the party system, such as ethnicity.

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Incorporation policies, identity, and relationships between host societies and immigrants (2015)

Immigration and the diversity it creates are at the heart of numerous debates in most Western liberal democracies. In order to manage this influx of newcomers, countries have chosen different strategies with different consequences. This dissertation considers the role of these strategies, specifically incorporation policies---policies whose goal is to incorporate immigrants in their new society---in the development of intergroup attitudes. It differs from past research by looking at the relationships between these policies on both hosts' and immigrants' attitudes. In doing so, it also argues for the inclusion of context when studying immigration attitudes and their causes.The central question addressed here is whether some institutional arrangements are more likely to foster relationships between host societies and immigrants where both groups do not feel threatened by the other. This question is answered in three distinct studies each addressing different aspects of it, thus providing a more integrated view of these relationships. The first paper compares immigrant's identification and acculturation orientations among ten immigration countries while the second considers the relationship between incorporation policies and cultural threat among host societies in 17 countries. The third paper focuses on a particular case, Canada, and tests whether diversity and ways of managing it can serve as building blocks for a transformed national identity. Using observational and experimental data from three different datasets, the following studies establish a series of important findings including : (1) there is no difference across policy regimes in ethnic identification, immigrants in every policy regimes tend to identify more with their ethnic group than with the majority; (2) only countries with open incorporation policies are able to foster integrationist attitudes among ethnic identifiers; (3) among host societies, open citizenship policies are associated with less cultural threat but multiculturalism policies are not; (4) citizenship policies also mitigate the effect of threat on anti-immigration attitudes, while more comprehensive multiculturalism policies have the opposite effect; (5) contrary to past research on priming of national identity, raising the salience of Canadian identity does not make Canadian respondents more opposed to immigration, in some instance it even makes them more acceptant of it.

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Platform or personality? : understanding the role of leaders in election outcomes (2009)

Campaign organizers and the media appear to agree that voters’ perceptions of partyleaders have an important impact on the vote: substantial effort is made to ensure thatleaders look good, that they speak well, and that they are up in the polls. Media reportsduring election campaigns focus on the horserace and how leaders are perceived in thepublic eye. In contrast, the academic literature is much more divided. Some suggest thatleaders play an important role in the vote calculus, while others argue that in comparison toother factors (such as partisanship and the economy) perceptions of leaders have only aminimal impact.Problematically, the literature on party leaders is diverse and non-cumulative.Existing studies have been based primarily upon the analysis of only a single election andscholars have relied upon different survey questions in varying formats to inform theirconclusions. These differences have resulted in the inconclusiveness of the literature. Aneffective evaluation of the role of party leaders requires a larger study, comparative acrossboth time and space.This study incorporates data from 35 separate election studies across a number ofcountries with varying institutional environments. It takes both a broad and in-depth look atevaluations of party leaders. I make five main conclusions. First, voters evaluate leaders’traits in relation to two dimensions: character and competence. Second, partisanship and ideologyhave a substantial influence on voters’ perceptions of party leaders, whereas issue attitudesand socio-demographics play a more minimal role. Third, voters perceive leaders through thelens of a partisan stereotype, in which Conservative leaders are seen to be more competent,and leaders of Left parties are perceived to have more character. Fourth, politicalsophistication has a substantial effect on the way that voters perceive party leaders, as well asaffecting the impact of those perceptions on vote choice. Fifth and finally, leaders matter—they have an influential effect on the individual vote calculus, as well as having a discernibleimpact on electoral outcomes.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Are Canadians more cosmopolitan than Americans? Evidence from study abroad programs (2017)

This thesis examines how cross-boarder contact affects Americans and Canadians. It argues that the specific national identity one has influences how she is affected by interactions with other cultures. It argues that key differences in the American and Canadian identities might influence how individuals from those two countries respond to cross-cultural interactions. Specifically, it argues that the different outlooks Canadians and Americans have towards multiculturalism and the different views they have about their county’s place in the world will influence how individuals from both countries respond to cross-board contact. Canadians, with their support for multiculturalism and the expectation that they should be “good global citizens,” will be more likely to see commonalities between their country and others. They feel more warmly towards, and more trusting of, individuals from other countries. At the same time, they will be less likely to see their country as superior to others. Americans, with their emphasis on assimilation and exceptionalism, will experience the opposite. To test these hypotheses, this thesis employs a natural experiment that measures how Canadian and American students were affected by studying abroad. It looks at how studying abroad changes students’ attitudes towards other countries, as well as their own, and whether these changes are different for Canadians and Americans. Ultimately, it finds little differences in the affects of studying abroad for Canadians and Americans. Studying abroad seems to cause both American and Canadian students to see greater differences between their country and others, and to feel more attached to their country.

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The salience of nationalism and economic polarization : long term trends and electoral dynamics (2016)

This research explores the relationship between ethnic cleavages and the class cleavage with data from the Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP) on liberal democracies from 1945 to 2015. According to the “freezing” thesis of Lipset & Rokkan (1967: 12), multinational countries have developed a weaker class cleavage because of anterior territorial-cultural cleavages. In the first part of the data analysis, multinational countries are compared against others on the two variables used to measure these cleavages: the salience of nationalism and economic polarization. Multinational countries show a higher salience of nationalism, as expected, and lower economic polarization. The second part of the data analysis addresses the relationship between the salience of nationalism and economic polarization in multinational countries. The regression analysis offers a dynamic account of the relationship between these variables across elections. The contextual model, also called “within-between random effects model” (REWB), explicitly models cross-country heterogeneity by separating them from within-country variance, which allows the disentanglement of long-term effects at the country level from short-term effects at the election level. The hypothesized negative relationship between the salience of nationalism and economic polarization holds at both hierarchical levels until the new democracies of the 90s are controlled for, which are confounding the effect of the country-level nationalism variable. However, the negative effect of nationalism on economic polarization remains stable at the election level. This thesis contributes to the scholarship stemming from Lipset & Rokkan’s (1967) by accounting for the short-term effect of the salience of ethnic cleavages on economic polarization at the election level.

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