We are (almost) all internationalists now: How right-wing populism drives support for international economic integration in post-crisis Europe

In the last decade, political parties that are opposed to international economic integration (free trade, European integration, and immigration) have become increasingly electorally successful. However, public opinion surveys suggest that, at the same time, Europeans are becoming more supportive of international economic integration. How can we explain these diverging trends? In this paper, I argue that Europeans have become more internationalist over the last decade because they increasingly associate anti-internationalism with extremism. While populist radical right parties initially rose to prominence on primarily anti-internationalist platforms in the wake of the eurozone crisis in Western Europe, they have increasingly de-emphasized anti-internationalism in favor of other issue areas, on which their positions are recognized as extreme. Media coverage that has amplified both anti-internationalism and extremism by populist radical right parties has reinforced the association between them in the minds of individuals. As a result, individuals who reject the extremism associated with populist radical right parties increasingly come to see anti-internationalism as a hallmark of extremists and therefore reject it as well. I test the implications of this argument using a multimethod research design. I conduct an original media analysis for nine Western European countries using supervised machine learning based on hand-coded newspaper articles, and combine the results from this analysis with Eurobarometer survey data to show the relationship between media discourse and support for international economic integration. I complement these findings with an analysis based on an unexpected event during survey design in the case of the United Kingdom, which allows me to estimate the causal effect of the association between radical right extremism and anti-internationalism on attitudes. Finally, interviews I conducted with current and former politicians and party officials associated with the German populist radical right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) shed light on changes in party strategy that led to the increased association between extremism and anti-internationalism in the German case. This research has important implications for our understanding of public opinion towards international economic integration, suggesting new avenues for research in international political economy that take into account processes of contestation and identity generation at the domestic level.


COVID-19, economic anxiety, and support for international economic integration, forthcoming at the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties

There are growing concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic is strengthening nationalism around the world by fueling discrimination, unilateralism, and economic crises. However, there have been few empirical analyses of the effect of the pandemic on individuals’ level of nationalism. Using evidence from two original surveys conducted in Canada in 2019 and 2020, I show that public support for international economic integration has increased rather than decreased since the outbreak of the pandemic. The survey data point to economic anxiety induced by the pandemic as a key mechanism shaping individuals’ attitudes towards international economic integration. While the existing literature has found that negative economic sentiment depresses support for international economic integration, economic anxiety appears to be positively related to support for integration in the COVID-19 era. My findings therefore run counter to current arguments about the effect of the pandemic and to expectations based on the existing literature. Gaining a better empirical understanding of the relationship between the pandemic and nationalism in public opinion is particularly important at a time when international cooperation is needed to address both COVID-19 and its economic effects.

Papers under review

A friend like me: The effect of IO membership on state preferences and behavior, with Naomi Egel (Revise & Resubmit)

Do international organizations (IOs) have an independent effect on state preferences and behavior? How can such an effect be detected? These questions have received considerable attention in the International Relations literature. However, isolating the causal effect of IO membership has proven difficult due to endogeneity concerns. States may choose to join certain IOs—and IOs may choose to admit certain states—because they share latent preferences, meaning any subsequent changes in preferences or behavior may simply reflect selection effects. This empirical article offers a novel approach to identifying the causal effect of shared membership in IOs on member state preferences and behavior. We exploit the fact that states joining the European Union (EU) obtain automatic membership in several other IOs through the EU’s membership in these organizations. This allows us to use a difference-in-differences strategy to estimate the effect of automatic membership in certain IOs on preference similarity and trade with other members versus preference similarity and trade with non-members. We demonstrate that shared IO membership leads to an increase in both preference similarity and bilateral trade. This approach offers a useful way for scholars to disentangle the effect of IO membership from selection effects that lead states to join IOs.

The convergence of our discontent: Explaining the resilience of right-wing populism in Western Europe

What explains the continued success of right-wing populist parties in post-crisis Western Europe? I argue that right-wing populist parties have maintained their popularity by turning ideologically diffuse discontent into specific policy positions that align with their platforms. This process of convergence of discontent with anti-immigration and Euroskeptic attitudes strengthens discontented individuals’ sense of in-group identity and makes them more likely to support right-wing populist parties. I use German panel data to identify the effect of exposure to right-wing populist rhetoric on support for immigration and European integration. I complement this analysis with cross-national evidence from the European Social Survey (ESS) and original media data to show that discontented individuals become more opposed to immigration and European integration with greater exposure to right-wing populist rhetoric. These findings suggest that right-wing populist parties are realigning political space in ways that go beyond short-term backlashes in public opinion.

Working papers

Hegemonic legitimacy as mass politics: Support for US international leadership in Cold War West Germany

While scholars of international politics have often evoked the notion of hegemonic legitimacy, we know little about the domestic political processes through which hegemonic leadership is legitimated or delegitimated in secondary states. I argue that, for democracies, competition among political parties plays a key role in these processes. When parties compete over the issue of support for the hegemon, positions on this issue become linked to other political positions and identities. This in turn shapes public opinion on the hegemon, thereby contributing to or undermining the legitimacy of hegemonic leadership. I explore the mass politics of hegemonic legitimacy in the case of West Germany during the Cold War, using party manifestos and data from public opinion surveys, as well as an “unintended” survey experiment from 1969. My findings indicate that patterns of party competition on US international leadership changed over time in ways that are reflected in the relationship between partisanship and the public’s attitudes towards US leadership, suggesting a strong role for political parties in the legitimation of hegemony during this time period.

Work in progress

Shifting the blame? Economic shocks, political cues, and the backlash against globalization, with Aycan Katıtas

Trading frames: Economic uncertainty and support for free trade