We are proud to fund and present a diverse and compelling set of research projects on the Politics of Inequality. Please find more information below.
Do you also have a research idea that would fit the fund's criteria and would you like to secure additional funding to make the project happen? The next deadline for Inequality Research Fund applications is July 1, 2022. For eligibility and other criteria, please consult the general description of the fund.
Recipients and Project Descriptions
The Political Consequences of Policies with Redistributive Effects: Evidence from a Large-scale Unconditional Cash Transfer in Brazil
The main goal of this project is to gather data that helps us understand the political effects of cash transfers. For this purpose, we designed a survey to be administered in the Brazilian municipality of Marica ́. We target Maric ́a specifically to evaluate a unique policy, the Renda Ba ́sica de Cidadania (RBC). The RBC is a monthly cash transfer of approx. R$170 (US$31) per person. All households with an income below 3 times the minimum wage (3 × R$ 1100) are eligible. We are specifically interested in how the program changed the citizen-government relationship. On the one hand cash transfers which reduce vulnerability are expected to decrease clientelism on the other hand other corrupt activities may replace clientelism when people have more cash on hand. Importantly, perceptions on corruption in general relate to political participation and public support for democracy, which is historically low in Brazil, especially among the poor and vulnerable. Yet, successful programmatic social policies can raise participation and democratic support. Political effects of cash transfers are generally difficult to estimate, since most transfer programs are transitory not permanent like the RBC. We leverage the the eligibility threshold of the RBC, a quasi-exogenous cut-off, which allows us to apply causal inference methods. Since the RBC is financed through oil royalties our research will be informative for the prominent “resource- curse” literature. In this respect we will be able to provide tangible policy conclusions on whether the RBC is feasible model for spending resource revenues.
Understanding Shifting Social Status Perceptions
Social status is a promising concept to capture different societal inequalities and perceptions of them. This survey project combines two research designs that aim to investigate two aspects of the mechanism by which objective social status may affect political behavior through subjective social status perceptions.
First, we address the consequences of changing social status hierarchies: How are objective structural shifts translated into individuals' subjective status evaluations and political attitudes/outcomes? This question will be addressed with a priming experiment evoking gendered social status threat. Importantly, this design addresses the question along which dividing lines individuals’ positive and negative evaluations of shifts in social status vary. At the same time, the design assesses the role of gender and resistance to gender equality within radical right backlash phenomena.
Second, we explore the implicit social comparisons that underlay the social status mechanism: Which reference groups do individuals compare themselves to and what determines their salience? Here, we combine open-ended questions and quantitative text analysis. This design thus helps to clarify what underlies current measures and survey items of subjective social status, where it is often unclear what one measures, especially over time and between different groups. The experimental treatment from the first design can be used here to evaluate whether a gendered prime can increase the salience of socio-cultural conflicts and reference groups.
Global Tax Fairness and Mass Attitudes Towards Preferential Tax Regimes
In recent years, tax scandals like the Panama and Paradise Papers have brought the issue of tax avoidance to the attention of the public and politicians. Many now recognize that tax avoidance is a major problem, because of its implications for public finance and its role in the rise of inequality between and within countries. In response to these scandals, international organizations and civil society actors have advocated for policies designed to reign-in tax avoidance. Two key strategies have been to push for increased transparency in corporate accounting, and to stoke public outrage in order to put pressure on governments. Both of these instruments are related to what International Relations scholars call “naming and shaming,” and are partly designed to affect public opinion in order to put pressure on governments. In this project, we ask: What are the effects of “naming and shaming” and transparency initiatives on public opinion about tax reform? To answer this, we plan to embed two randomized experiments in large scale surveys conducted in Switzerland (and the United States). Our first experiment measures the effect of corporate transparency initiatives on opinions about international tax reform through a guessing game related to the international allocation of a multinational company’s profits. In the second experiment, we ask individuals whether they support the elimination of tax incentives for international businesses in their country, after seeing a vignette about how the European Union wants to place that country on a blacklist of tax havens.
Consensus Building on Equality of Opportunity in the Context of a New School Mixing Policy
Research has captured the sense of social justice in society and consensus and contestation on concepts of citizenship by means of international surveys. Surveys, however, give limited insights with regard to newly emerging specific policies and the processes of consensus building among differently affected population groups. Yet these processes are important for understanding public support and contestation of a policy, particularly if the policy in question is highly divisive.
Our school mixing algorithm, currently reviewed by the city of Zurich, offers a unique opportunity for investigating consensus building among potentially affected parents of children entering first grade primary. The algorithm designs socially and ethnically balanced school catchment areas, thereby affecting pupils’ educational opportunities and their intimate social environment. While provoking fears among privileged families, mixed schools do not impede individual performance, as long the share of disadvantaged children remains under a certain threshold. A large body of US research even finds overall positive effects of mixed schools on social skills, tolerance and problem-solving capacities.
Employing the method focus group discussions, the study will study consensus building in differently composed groups, with a particular focus on opinion formation, articulation and impact among parents belonging to potentially oppressed groups. At the present stage, the method allows exploring subjective concepts of equality of opportunities and evaluations of the new policy, but it can also contribute to elaborating hypotheses for further research. Moreover, the study will help formulating valid items for a planned longitudinal survey on understandings and evaluations, as the policy unfolds.
Political Information in an Age of Inequality
Political scientists report that rising inequality in established democracies goes hand in hand with declining trust in politics, political disengagement, and voters flocking toward populist parties. What remains unclear is why inequality affects political behaviour. This is the gap that our project addresses. We suggest that a key missing piece is the information that citizens consume in increasingly unequal societies. We posit that the experience of disadvantage in unequal societies leaves citizens resentful and vulnerable to populist political narratives and sensationalist media. To test our propositions, we plan to field an online survey experiment in Italy and the UK. We manipulate two things: First, we manipulate feelings of personal economic disadvantage among some respondents; second, we provide information about inequality statistics in respondents' home country. Some see the uncommented statistics; others see a commented version, i.e., a right or left- wing narrative. Our outcome measures ask for respondents' media choices, trust and preferences for different media outlets, and test their ability to detect false facts. Results may inform the mechanisms behind political disengagement, affective polarization, and the success of media outlets promoting fake news.
Appealing to the local voter: Place-based campaigning and the supply-side of the urban-rural divide
A number of high-profile political events such as Brexit, the Gilets Jaunes and several national elections have raised political scientists’ interest in political conflicts between urban and rural areas. These conflicts are seen as rooted in both an economic divergence between booming metropolitan areas and left-behind communities in former industrial towns and the countryside and a cultural clash between ‘cosmopolitan’ cities and ‘nationalist’ towns and rural areas.
While it is increasingly well understood how citizens in urban and rural areas differ in their political preferences, we know much less about how these preferences are mobilized in the political system. Can place-based appeals be a potentially successful strategy for politicians? Does the mobilization of urban or rural voters mainly work through economic or cultural appeals? And which parties are seen as most likely to make such appeals?
Our project seeks to answer these questions and to deepen our understanding of urban- rural conflict on the supply side of the political system. We implement a multi-arm vignette experiment in Germany and England, where we investigate the political supply side of the urban-rural divide. We present respondents with political appeals by fictitious political candidates, which cater to the urban-rural divide with respect to symbolic, economic, and cultural statements. Specifically, we seek to uncover whether economic or cultural appeals are more successful in mobilizing voters and whether urban or rural voters are more likely to react to such appeals.