Frederick Cutler

Associate Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

public opinion
Political Methodology
Canadian Politics
Electoral Systems
Academic Publishing Systems

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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.

A house but not a home: the determinants of secessionist party emergence and support in North America and Western Europe (2021)

While there exists a considerable amount of extant theoretical work that studies the phenomenon of substate nationalism and independence-seeking movements, empirical work on the topic remains relatively nascent. Moreover, we know little about what make secessionist parties successful and even less about what causes these parties to emerge.This dissertation focuses on both the emergence and success of secessionist movements in Western democracies. Concerning emergence, I deploy a unique application of time-to-event modelling in order to determine what increases the likelihood of a secessionist party emerging in both subnational and national elections. To model success, I rely on time-series cross-sectional regression analyses of secessionist party vote shares from 1945 to the present day.I argue that what influences both the emergence and subsequent support of secessionist parties differs based on the electoral arena in which the parties compete—that is, the effects of emergence/success vary based on the arena in which the party is entering/competing.I find that secessionist parties have become increasingly successful in the contemporary era, that these parties viably compete for—and form—government, and that their success means that these parties are no longer small, peripheral parties that can be ignored.I complement the quantitative analysis with a series of case studies that allows me to further explore how the identified mechanisms have influenced the emergence and success in Catalonia, Québec, and Scotland. In sum, the case studies show how and why secessionist parties are encouraged by the electoral system subnationally but not nationally, that the effects of immigration are idiosyncratic to the specific case, and that the central government’s response to subnational demands for autonomy greatly influence the emergence and success of secessionist parties.

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Candidates' Ethic Backgrounds and Voter Choice in Elections (2014)

Do candidates' ethnic backgrounds matter in elections? More precisely, do they change voters' perceptions about the candidates, and ultimately change their vote choice? If so, in what way and how much? And perhaps more importantly, why? This doctoral thesis attempts to answer these questions using experimental and observational election surveys in Japan and Canada. In the experiments, I aim to estimate causal effects of candidates' ethnic minority status on vote choice, test three relevant theories by examining three moderated effects, and propose two causal mechanisms. With a Canadian Federal election survey merged with candidate background data, I examine whether the findings in the experiments hold in real electoral contexts. This research points to three major findings. First, the estimated average causal effects of candidates' ethnic minority backgrounds were negative. The experiments suggest an approximately 6 percentage point drop when the ethnicity of the target candidate changes from majority to minority backgrounds. Second, two important voter heterogeneities for this effect are repeatedly found. As implied by the two relevant theories, voters who have negative affect and attitudes towards ethnic minorities, and those who oppose ethnically relevant policies that benefit ethnic minority groups, were much less likely to vote for an ethnic minority candidate. Third, in the experiments, some evidence for a trait or affect-driven mechanism was found, while more consistent support for a relevant policy preference cue mechanism was observed in both countries. The former mechanism highlights the importance of multiple candidate contests in the experiments, as voters improved their candidate impressions and affective reactions to the opponent(s) rather than devaluing the ethnic minority candidate. The latter mechanism identifies specifically what the candidates' ethnic minority status means to voters. It suggests that some voters do not vote for an ethnic minority candidate because they use ethnicity to estimate the policy preference of the candidate on the ethnically relevant policy dimension. Thus overall, candidates' ethnicity influences vote choice at a modest level, but its effect size varies across voters with different affective orientations and attitudes, and so the process is more complex than straightforward.

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The Attitudinal Mosaic: Forming Attitudes about Multiculturalism, Immigration, and Ethnic Diversity in Canada (2013)

Western liberal democracies are grappling with the issue of ethnic diversity. Canada, with its shifting immigration patterns from ‘traditional’ to ‘non-traditional’ sender countries, is no exception. Since 1971, Canada’s federal government has pursued a policy of multiculturalism in its approach to interethnic relations. The normative assumption behind the approach is that ethnic diversity is good and that affirming ethnic minority cultures is the best way to achieve a strong, cohesive society for all Canadians. This dissertation investigates the behavioural aspect of the multicultural assumption. That is, how do people actually behave in a multicultural society? What factors determine the shape of the attitudinal terrain? How do citizens really perceive their neighbors and what are the consequences? This dissertation is interested not just in what people say about ethnic diversity, but why people say it. In a series of four articles, it looks at a range of issues, including the attitudinal determinants of comfort with intergroup contact, the marginal effects of individual and contextual factors of attitudes toward immigrant integration for whites and non-whites, and the interaction between political values and personality in overcoming negative reactions to ethnic stereotypes. I draw on political science theories of behaviour, as well as social psychological and personality psychological theories of attitude and identity formation. I employ recent public opinion data from various sources to test hypotheses with descriptive statistics and regression analysis. Given the dissertation’s article structure, there are numerous conclusions to be drawn. For instance, I highlight the relative importance of prejudice, rooted in an individual’s social identity, in shaping attitudes about ethnic outgroups. I also show the analytic dangers of conflating value differences with physical differences when assessing the perceptions of minority groups. Along the same lines, I show the importance of investigating minority opinion separately from majority opinion: key attitudinal determinants impact these groups quite differently. I illustrate the power of political values in overriding potent negative stereotypes. Finally, I uncover evidence that supports the assumptions behind Canada’s multiculturalism policy, namely, that ethnic minorities confident in their own culture will be more willing to contribute to a strong Canadian society.

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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.

Extreme weather and climate salience : the effects of the 2021 western heat dome on the salience of climate change (2023)

The risk of extreme weather events is expected to increase as global surface temperature rises in part due to lack of government actions to slow climate change. Extreme weather events are expected to close the temporal distance between the public and climate change and act as a focusing event which increases the salience of climate change for citizens. However, the current empirical evidence on the effects of extreme weather events on the salience of climate change is inconclusive, and no such research exists within a Canadian context. Using an OLS regression model, this study adds to the pre-existing literature by studying the effects of personally experiencing the 2021 Western Heat Dome on the salience of climate change in the Canadian public. The 2021 Western Heat Dome was an extreme and deadly heat event which caused the death of 619 individuals between June 25 and July 1, 2021, in British Columbia. Individuals who experienced the 2021 Western Heat Dome are expected to have a higher increase in the salience of climate change compared to individuals who did not personally experience this event. However, this study finds no evidence that the 2021 Western Heat Dome had an impact on the salience of climate change for individuals, including within partisan subgroups. The role of news media as a mediating factor between extreme weather events and climate salience is also examined, however this study finds no evidence that the media played a role in increasing the salience of climate change by conveying messages about the 2021 Western Heat Dome.  

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Voting fast and voting slow: a dynamic dual processes account of voter decision-making (2017)

This thesis builds on previous work in dual process theory. Dual process theory argues that decisions are made based on two systems: one that is fast and one that is automatic. Based on evidence from psychological research, I argue that contextual cues such as the way voting is framed and the information available to voters should affect the way these two systems are used. When voters have more developed affective feelings or are manipulated to feel as if vote choice is an affective decision, they should be less likely to engage in cognitive reasoning.Using experimental and observational data from an experimental dataset, I demonstrate that the nature of online tallies (as proposed by Lodge, Stroh, and McGraw 1989) has a strong effect on how rational strategies are employed and that the framing of a decision as affective causes voters to make their vote choice more quickly.This work contributes two main pieces to the literature. First, using a novel design to demonstrate the two processes acting concurrently adds weight to the generalizability of dual process theory as previous research has been criticized for it’s lack of realism. Second, it demonstrates that the dual processes are dynamic and their role in vote choice depends on contextual clues.

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Responding to Ideological Change: Partisan Sorting in Contemporary Democracies, 1996-2015 (2016)

This paper examines whether shifts in a party’s ideological positioning affect their own partisans’ left-right self-placements. When faced with a change in their party’s position, partisans are likely to adapt to this change, either through switching partisanship to another party, or updating their own ideology to match that of the party. Together, this process of partisan sorting leads to greater ideological alignment between parties and partisans. This paper examines whether there is evidence of partisan sorting in 23 contemporary democracies from 1996 to 2015. Using the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems and Manifesto Project data, the analysis finds evidence that partisan sorting may be occurring, but only in polarized party systems.

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Three's a crowd in two-and-a-half party systems: How third parties have undermined their own policy objectives in five post-war democracies (2014)

This study examines the manners in which third parties’ electoral results and shifts in policy have affected major parties’ policy positioning. I respond to the work of Adams and Merrill (2006) and of Nagel and Wlezien (2010) by analyzing two-and-a-half-party systems that contain a centrist or a non-centrist third party. The cases include parties elected by a variety of voting systems and with various political traditions. Ultimately, I find that, over the past half-century, third parties in Austria, Canada, Germany, Ireland, and Luxembourg have regularly undermined the policy objectives most commonly associated with the these parties.A modified version of Nagel and Wlezien’s occupied-centre effect, which I call the occupied-position effect, has been present in the five examined national party systems. This finding, however, is only applicable with respect to shifts in policies that have principally been associated with third parties, what I call “key policies”, as opposed shifts in general left-right positions. The evidence presented in this study shows that the major parties in two-and-a-half-party systems have consistently responded to third-party electoral gains by becoming less supportive of third parties’ key policies. Three such policy areas are examined: welfare spending, market liberalization, and ethnonationalism.I also show that there are effects from third parties changing their own policy positions, independent of how well they do at the polls. Exacerbating the dilemma that the analyzed third parties have faced, a key-policy version of Adams and Merrill’s reverse-shift effect appears to have been present in the examined party systems. This means that the major parties have followed shifts in third parties’ policy positions by shifting their positions in the opposite directions. Thus, third parties have undermined their own policy objectives when they have expressed (and shifted to) strong key-policy positions during election campaigns. Though third parties do have a strategic option pertaining to this effect – expressing insincere, moderated policy preferences – the long-term applicability of this tactic appears limited, especially in conjunction with the problems third parties have faced regarding the occupied-position effect.

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Gender as a tool of the right: women and the Tea Party movement (2011)

With the rise of the Tea Party movement, conservative women are yet again in the spotlight in America. Prominent, influential, and strong-willed women have become the public face of the Tea Party nationwide, and a substantial portion of the movement’s grassroots support is among women. This thesis argues that female Tea Party elites have constructed a gendered narrative in order to mobilize their socially conservative women into supporting their primarily economic movement by infusing the otherwise autonomous and atomized individual at the center of their economic conservatism with the gendered identities of “family,” “mother,” and “woman,” effectively narrowing the gap between social and economic conservatism. The results of logit regression analyses using survey data offer limited support for the effectiveness of this strategy in increasing grassroots support. Differences in men’s and women’s support for the Tea Party based on family concerns and gender awareness do not emerge; but among those who have children, women – and especially socially conservative women – are more likely to support the Tea Party than their male counterparts. Ultimately, I suggest that the higher level of involvement of socially conservative women in an economically conservative movement raises the possibility of a broader and more inclusive women’s agenda in the U.S.

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Causal explanations, media effects, and public opinion on obesity (2010)

A public debate about obesity has emerged in America since this pressing public health issue moved into the political arena. Using survey data, this study showed that attitudes about the causes of obesity, or causal explanations, are central in individuals‘ decision-making on this topic. Public support for the different causal explanations was not influenced by media frames, but rather, public opinion on the causes of obesity is congruent with prominent political values in media coverage. Specifically, an increase in conservative values in media coverage of obesity likely contributed to the public sentiment that ones lifestyle causes obesity. It is suitable to think of the obesity debate in terms of competing causal explanations.

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Examining the effect of partisanship on the 2005 and 2009 BC-STV referenda (2010)

In the past decade, British Columbians were twice given the option of replacingthe province’s first-past-the-post method of electing Members of the LegislativeAssembly with the single-transferable vote system designed by the Citizens’ Assembly.The central inquiry of this paper is: Did partisanship affect British Columbians’intentions to vote for or against the 2005 and 2009 BC-STy referenda?Employing the 2005 and 2009 B.C. Referendum Studies, this paper investigateswhether partisanship, combined knowledge about the Citizens’ Assembly and the BCSTV proposal itself, and/or predisposition towards electoral system reform influencedindividuals’ referendum vote intentions. This paper also seeks to identify the specificmechanisms via which party interests came to be, and subsequently operated, as a keyfactor in partisans’ decision-making processes.Regression analysis reveals that in both 2005 and 2009, individuals who plannedto vote for different parties in the general election exhibited noticeably differentprobabilities of supporting BC-STy. On average, supporters of the Green Party of B.C.were the most likely to vote in favour of BC-STy, followed by supporters the NewDemocratic Party ofBC voters and then supporters of the B.C. Liberal Party.Partisanship, knowledge and predisposition all played a significant role inbringing about these different vote intentions. Partisanship affected voters increasinglyover time via two processes. When party leader cues were given, partisans respondedaccordingly. Absent such cues, however, voters were nevertheless able to determine ontheir own, likely through mental calculation, how best to vote given their partypreferences. Both the progression of the referendum campaigns and increased knowledgehelped individuals become more accurate and more confident at matching their partisaninterests to their vote intention. Predisposition affected voters steadily over time, thoughdifferent levels of predisposition had a greater effect on BC-STy vote intentions in thetwo referendum years.

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