Paul Quirk


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

The atomic public: nuclear weapons and U.S. citizen deliberation, 1985-2020 (2021)

What is the nature of citizen, policymaker, and scientific expert deliberation on U.S. nuclear weapons policies? Are citizens and policymakers appealing to the best available information in nuclear weapons policy debates? Are citizens prone to emotion-driven responses that impede effective deliberation? This dissertation is motivated by a normative concern for broader public participation in national security policy, and it evaluates some of the claims made by rational public optimists in a hard case for citizen competence. It undertakes original research on three case studies related to U.S. nuclear weapons policies from 1985 to 2020: nuclear arms reduction treaties with Russia, ballistic missile defense of the U.S. homeland, and nuclear crisis management in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. The dissertation examines over 232 public opinion poll items and performs content analysis on an original dataset of 1,000 letters to the editor published in 42 U.S. newspapers to assess the content of public opinion and citizen deliberation on these three nuclear weapons policy issues. The letters dataset provides evidence of reasoning and argumentation on nuclear weapons policy issues, and these expressions of opinion are indicative of what citizens might say in other deliberative forums, such as emails to elected officials, social media posts, and at town hall meetings. Overall, this dissertation finds only partial validation for a competent atomic public. It finds that public opinion on nuclear weapons policy issues is stable and more consistent with the policymaker debates than the conventional wisdom would suggest, though it lags behind the technical-scientific debates. The content analysis finds little evidence of emotion-driven responses that impede effective deliberation. At the same time, the research also finds that citizen and policymaker learning is constrained by a failure to consistently absorb, accept, and appeal to the best available information provided by technical experts on nuclear weapons policy issues.

View record

When experts talk, does anyone listen? essays on the limits of expert influence on public opinion (2019)

There are large gaps in opinion between policy experts and the public on a wide variety of issues. Scholarly explanations for these observations largely focus on the tendency of citizens to selectively process information from experts in line with their ideology and values. These accounts are likely incomplete. This dissertation is comprised of three papers that examine other important limitations of expert influence on public opinion on topics featuring widespread expert agreement. The first paper looks at the degree to which information on expert agreement is available in the information environment of the average citizen – the news media – and whether or not such information is clouded by media bias towards balance and conflict. An automated and manual content analysis was conducted on over 280,000 news stories on 10 issues featuring widespread expert agreement. The results show that discussion of expert agreement is extremely rare in news content. On occasions when such discussion is featured, it is typically found in the midst of claims and counter claims by polarizing political actors. The second paper seeks to explain rising climate skepticism in the American public and related polarization of Democratic and Republican Party supporters on climate science. An automated content analysis was conducted on over 26,000 news stories to measure over time dynamics in polarizing information, such as party elite and ideological identity cues, messages from organized climate skeptics, and economic cost frames. Results show that the prevalence of party elite cues is strongly associated with aggregate levels of climate skepticism and polarization even after controlling for other possible factors. The third paper explores the role of anti-intellectualism as a predisposition that governs persuasion by expert agreement and the possibility that anti-elite rhetoric may prime this predisposition in information processing. Findings from the General Social Survey and an original survey of over 3,600 American citizens show that anti-intellectualism is strongly associated with opposition to a variety of positions of expert agreement. Results of an embedded survey experiment demonstrate that anti-intellectuals are less persuaded by messages of expert agreement and that this is particularly true when primed with anti-elite rhetoric.

View record

Mass media and political polarization in the United States (2018)

This dissertation is composed of three papers broadly examining the relationship between the mass media and political polarization in the United States. The first paper examines whether the media might have played a role in the polarization of the American public. Using an automated content analysis of almost 600,000 news articles and transcripts from a variety of prominent news media sources over the past four decades, the paper analyzes whether coverage of ten issues has changed over time along several dimensions of tone (affect, incivility, conflict) and source cues (in particular, whether the media cover increasingly more extreme politicians). The results indicate that the media likely contributed to the process of partisan sorting by increasingly providing the public with partisan signals in the news coverage. There is also some evidence that the media contributed to the affective polarization of the public. The second paper focuses on the nature of media coverage of climate change and its effect on public opinion polarization of climate change attitudes, finding that despite the common perception, the media, including conservative media, did not overwhelmingly promote climate change skeptics, industry groups, or denialist organizations. Instead, the coverage featured an increasing number of partisan cues as the issue rose in salience, which polarized the public. In the third paper, I examine the relationship between climate change attitudes and news media diets. Previous work has focused extensively on Fox News and posits that Fox has been a dominant player in turning the Americans, and especially Republicans, into climate skeptics. Utilizing a large national survey, I find that the relationship is more nuanced than previously argued. Fox News does seem to have a negative effect on supporting governmental action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, though that effect is limited to a small group of purists stuck in the conservative echo chamber. Most people, and importantly, most Republicans, are not very likely to be members of that group.

View record

Representation and lawmaking in the United States Congress and the Canadian House of Commons (2016)

This dissertation considers two aspects of legislative representation: (1) how citizens use information about legislative activities and outcomes to assess the performance of the US president and the congressional majority party, and (2) why Canadian MPs debate government bills—even when the government controls the outcome. An investigation of these questions is divided into three principal chapters. First, I examine the effects of legislative outcomes on citizens’ assessment of the president and the majority party in Congress. Prominent theories of legislative behavior argue—and media pundits often assert—that Americans reward these actors if they succeed in passing their bills. But what if the bill is divisive, as is likely the case with well-publicized legislation? Using survey experiments, I show that, on average, citizens still express greater approval for the president and the majority party if Congress passes their ideologically contentious bills—compared with if Congress does not pass them. However, I also find that this reward is typically concentrated among those who already favor the underlying policy change; among policy opponents, the effect is often statistically indistinguishable from zero. Second, I investigate the sophistication of citizens’ judgments of legislative performance. Specifically, do inferential biases—common in other domains—interfere with how citizens evaluate the president and the congressional majority party in light of bill failure? Again using survey experiments, I find that citizens avoid the serious inferential mistake of treating these actors as if they had performed poorly. Instead, I show that their assessments—even in the absence of diagnostic information about those involved—are broadly consistent with realistic beliefs about legislative performance and the obstacles to success in Congress. Third, I explore why Canadian MPs debate government bills. Whereas recent research tends to emphasize legislative speech as a means of communicating with the electorate, the particular rules of government bill debate—coupled with the relatively low visibility of such deliberations—suggest alternative motivations. Using an original dataset of 53 debates, I find no evidence of personal vote seeking; instead, I find patterns of debate participation consistent with attempted obstruction by bill opponents and attempted persuasion by bill proponents.

View record

One-Party Deliberations in the U.S. House of Representatives (2012)

Over the last two decades, the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives has increasingly bypassed committee deliberations and restricted floor debate to prevent the minority party from shaping provisions in bills. In response to this rising partisanship, scholars have attempted to measure the direct influence that parties have on legislative outcomes, often by examining roll-call votes. However, they have done relatively little work on the decline of the committee system and the increasing control that majority-party leaders exert on legislative deliberations. In this project, I examine the way in which increasingly cohesive parties draft bills at the prefloor and floor stages of the legislative process. I ask two questions. First, when does the House majority party seize full control of bill development and exclude the minority party from decision-making? Second, what are the policy consequences of the House majority party barring the minority party from formal legislative deliberations? To answer the first question, I construct multiple measures of legislative actions and procedures for major bills developed between 1983 and 2008 in the House. I find that the majority party controls deliberations when its majority status is threatened or its policy goals face strong opposition. I also find that the majority limits discussion on bills designed to promote its electoral brand. These party-brand bills involve tax and welfare policies as well as moral issues. To answer the second question, I create new measures of bill defects and bill extremity to assess how legislative processes affect bill quality. I determine that truncated deliberation tends to produce substantively problematic legislation. Thus, the findings in this project reinforce concerns over and provide evidence of the negative effects of one-party lawmaking.

View record

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Ambivalence and complexity in cultural conflict: parents' views on sexual orientation and gender identity education in British Columbia (2024)

The full abstract for this thesis is available in the body of the thesis, and will be available when the embargo expires.

View record

Politics, law, and the challenge of social media misinformation: canadian policy in comparative context (2024)

The spread of misinformation on social media presents a serious threat to the security of democracies around the world. Social media offers a particularly fertile ground for the spread of false information because machine learning algorithms are programmed to increase user engagement by recommending material that is sensational and polarizing—which misinformation often is. Previous research has proposed voluntary actions that social media companies could take to reduce the spread of harmful misinformation on their platforms. However, platforms have been reluctant to adopt new measures that might consequently reduce user engagement and, as a result, profitability. The lack of self-regulation has caused policymakers to intervene with new legislation aimed at controlling the spread of misinformation. At the same time, such efforts are constrained by protections for free speech and the political opposition, both of which shape how responses to the problem of social media misinformation are developed. This thesis examines legal constraints, political challenges, and legislative responses that have emerged in Germany, France, the U.K., the U.S., and Australia. This author finds that in countries like Germany and France, where freedom of expression is already restricted to protect democratic norms, governments pass legislation requiring the removal of illegal false information from social media platforms. By contrast, in countries like the U.K., the U.S., and Australia, where false claims remain a legally protected form of speech in the offline world, responses are focused more on behavioural regulation, whereby governments force platforms to address their products’ potential to cause harm, rather than directly policing user-generated speech. The legal structures in Canada are most reflective of the U.K., the U.S., and Australia. Drawing on the legislative experiences of similar countries, the final section includes recommendations for Canadian policymakers as they join the fight against the spread of misinformation.

View record

The national agenda and four negotiations: does the US president promote bipartisan policymaking? (2020)

Within the field of presidential studies, there has been a lack of comprehensive empirical study on the degree to which the US president promotes bipartisan legislation. More specifically, this thesis considers two research questions. One, does the president promote bipartisan legislation (with significant frequency)? And two, does the president promote bipartisan legislation more or less than Congress itself? We address this gap in the literature with a two-part analysis. Part One examines presidential agenda setting over the last seven administrations (1977-2018) and compares the types of bills promoted by Congress and the President. Part Two, meanwhile, looks at the bill development process for four specific bills – the ratification of NAFTA, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, No Child Left Behind, and the Medicare Modernization Act – and evaluates whether the president promoted bipartisan or partisan strategies during key occasions. Our findings are that the president generally promotes bipartisanship in both policy initiation and bill development. Bipartisan initiations represent more than 50% of presidential agenda setting and presidents consistently promote bipartisan strategies when developing bipartisan bills. Furthermore, while presidents promote bipartisanship less than Congress in setting the agenda, during bill development they promote bipartisan outcomes more than Congress. Finally, while overall bipartisanship is declining, the president’s share in bipartisan outcomes – the proportion of bipartisan bills that are initiated by the White House – is increasing.

View record

The role of political skepticism, reactance, and partisan bias in shaping attitudes on climate change in the United States (2020)

This thesis considers the relationship between three psychological traits – political skepticism, reactance, and partisan bias – and public opinion about climate change in the United States. Drawing on the results of a large national survey of American adults, I find that political skepticism (defined as “distrust of the claims made in policy debates and distrust of the evidence cited by participants in policy debates, regardless of the identity of the participants”) is the most important of the three psychological measures in shaping attitudes on climate change as well as Americans’ news consumption habits. Regression analysis was used to identify political and demographic correlates of political skepticism, reactance, and partisan bias, as well as correlations between each trait and respondents’ news consumption habits and their attitudes on four questions related to climate change. Politically-skeptical respondents are significantly less likely to think that global warming is happening, that such warming is caused by human activity, that it represents a serious problem, or that a carbon tax should be introduced to address the issue. In addition, more politically-skeptical respondents also tend to be older and more likely to identify as Republicans and conservatives, as well as less likely to report getting news from each of a wide range of news sources included in the survey. I conclude by highlighting the importance of political skepticism and offering suggestions for future research into the role that such skepticism may play in American politics more generally.

View record

Should female candidates run "as women?" effects of gendered appeals in the US Senate election (2019)

This thesis looks at strategic campaign strategies for female-candidates running for elective office. It evaluates and investigates to see if female-candidates can gain an electoral advantage when they run their campaign “as women” and include a higher percentage of female-specific rhetoric. The first section of this thesis explores existing knowledge to gain a baseline understanding on the current findings regarding effective campaign strategy and voter’s perceptions of female-candidates. The thesis argues that while the current literature has made some influential findings on what issues are the most successful to mention during campaigns, they fail to explore how a candidate’s gender might play a role. In this thesis I evaluated the potential effect of female-specific campaign strategies by examining, in detail, the campaign messaging from the 22 female-candidates that ran for the Senate in the 2018 midterm elections. I categorized three types of campaign statements, Female-Interest, Female-Advantage, and Non-Gendered Key-Issue statements. The study then ran six different linear regression models to see the effect of female-specific statements on a female-candidate’s percent of the two-party vote. In the end, there is some evidence for advantages of campaigning on female-specific issues and running “as a woman,” however, it is mixed and fairly weak. While this study finds that female-specific campaigning can, in some cases, significantly increase a female candidate’s percent of the two-party vote, for some female candidates they may do better to adopt a nongender-specific approach.

View record

The nuclear terrorism disconnect : electoral incentives and U.S. policy responses (2013)

This thesis investigates the range of U.S. threat assessments of—and policy responses to—nuclear terrorism in the United States. It finds that a series of disconnects characterizes political elites’ and the American public’s views and relationships to the politics of nuclear terror. The salience of issues related to nuclear terrorism is not closely linked to the severity of the threat. In turn, the perceived severity of the threat is not strongly correlated with the counter nuclear terror policy response. This thesis assesses the degree of citizen competence in nuclear politics and the degree of elite responsiveness to mass opinion. It also evaluates the full range of elite threat assessments and identifies a number of contemporary trends in public opinion on nuclear terrorism. The thesis advances both domestic and international case studies of American policy responses to the threat of nuclear terrorism.

View record

News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations


If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Sign up for an information session to connect with students, advisors and faculty from across UBC and gain application advice and insight.