Assistant Professor of Political Science  


This page summarizes some of Mathieu's recently published articles and current research projects.

Published Articles

Blais, A., M. Turgeon, E. Gidengil, N. Nevitte, and R. Nadeau. 2004. "Which Matters Most? Comparing the Impact of Issues and the Economy in American, British, and Canadian Election." British Journal of Political Science 34 (3): 555-563.
Abstract: This article assesses and compares the relative impact of issues and the economy in recent American, British, and Canadian elections. There is a rich and vast literature dealing with issue voting on the one hand and economic voting on the other hand, but relatively little work has been done to compare the relative weight of these two factors in democratic elections. Our hypothesis is that voters realize that parties and governments should be held responsible first and foremost for their positions on the issues and only secondarily for the performance of the economy. Consequently, issues matter more than the economy in vote choice. We develop multinomial probit estimations of vote choice in 11 recent American, British, and Canadian elections, and perform simulations to estimate how many people would have voted differently and how different the vote shares of the parties would have been if either the issues or the economy had had no effect on vote choice. We find that in each country issues matter more than the economy with respect to both individual vote choice and the actual outcome of the election.

Blais, A. and M. Turgeon. 2004. "How Good Are Voters at Sorting Out the Weakest Candidate in their Constituency?" Electoral Studies 23 (3): 455-461.
Abstract: This article examines voters’ capacity to determine which of the three main parties (the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the New Democratic Party) was weakest in their constituency in the 1988 Canadian election. We find that half of the voters correctly identified the party that would finish third in their constituency. Voters who did not identify with the third party and who were well informed were generally able to predict correctly which party would finish third. The rational expectations condition did not hold so well among other subgroups of the electorate.

McKee, S. C., J. Teigen, and M. Turgeon. 2006. "The Partisan Impact of Congressional Redistricting: The Case of Texas, 2001-2003." Social Science Quarterly 87 (2): 308-317.
Abstract: This research note assesses the partisan effects of five plans proposed by Republican state legislators during Texas’ 2003 congressional redistricting. Using the JudgeIt statistical program developed by Andrew Gelman and Gary King, and data provided by the Texas Legislative Council, we assess the bias, responsiveness, and the probability that the Democratic Party wins each district for each plan. We find that all five Republican plans, including the one enacted, were strongly biased in favor of the Republican Party. We conclude that the Texas’ Democratic legislators were wise to use every parliamentary maneuver available to block the enactment of the new congressional map.

Turgeon, M. Forthcoming. "`Just Thinking:' Attitude Development, Public Opinion, and Political Representation." Political Behavior.
Abstract: The role of public opinion polls in electoral democracy is undeniable because, for good or for bad, they affect, in part, the kinds of laws and policies elected officials enact. But the voices measured in polls are not perfectly representative of their populations of interest. More precisely, polls generally sing with a more ''knowledgeable'' accent than those they represent because of the greater tendency of the less knowledgeable to remain silent. This distortion, however, can be palliated by providing conditions more propitious to attitude development. By relying on survey-experiments conducted in Brazil and in the U.S., I present evidence that inducing people to think more carefully before answering attitude questions reduces substantially the likelihood of the less knowledgeable, which compose most of the Brazilian and American populations, to express a nonopinion response. Thus providing people with greater opportunity to think about politics—something most of them do not do very frequently—makes for more representative measures of public opinion. But the analyses also suggest that increased thought induces greater uncertainty or ambivalence among the most knowledgeable. As a whole, this paper improves our understanding on how people come to develop political attitudes and on the conditions that lead to greater attitude uncertainty or ambivalence. It also carries important lessons and implications for survey design more generally.

Current Research Projects

`Just Thinking:' Attitude Authenticity and Citizen Competence
Abstract: Several decades of empirical research have established that most citizens know very little about politics. Most of the recent work in the area has focused instead on the consequences for political attitudes and choices. Some scholars have argued that by using cues from friends, interest groups, or other sources, even ill-informed citizens arrive at roughly the same attitudes and choices as if they were highly informed. Others, however, have suggested that knowledge affects attitudes and preferences, both at the individual level and in the aggregate. But while these scholars reach divergent conclusions about the implications for electoral democracy, they all focus their attention on knowledge, be it detailed or encapsulated into simple cues. Knowledge undoubtedly matters, but I argue and show, using a survey-experiment conducted with a representative national sample of adult Americans, that thinking more carefully about what one already knows also affects people's attitudes. More precisely, I show that increased thought produces more authentic attitudes, that is, attitudes more reflective of underlying interests.
**Note that this paper received the 2007 Seymor Sudman Student Paper Award from the American Association for Public Opinion Research.

Explaining Executive Approval Ratings in France
Abstract: For several decades, scholars have attempted to explain the popularity of public figures such as presidents and prime ministers. This paper explores the French case, with its unique dual executive where the president is head of state and the prime minister head of government. The prime minister is responsible for the government's day-to-day business, but so long as the president's party, in coalition or not, controls the parliament, the Assemblée Nationale, the president is the most powerful single actor in both the domestic and foreign policy domains. In times of cohabitation, however, when another party, or a coalition of ideologically opposing parties, controls the parliament, the president's powers are vastly more circumscribed. Thus as the president's powers contract, the prime minister's expand. While France has operated most of the time under unified executive since the inception of the Fifth Republic, the past two decades have been almost evenly split between periods of unified executive and cohabition. Some have argued that this dual executive feature carries important implications for democratic accountability by making it harder for the French to assign blame or credit for good or bad times or failed or successful public policies. The question that obviously arises is: Are the French sophisticated enough to perceive ``who is in charge'' and thus adjust their evaluations of the president and prime minister accordingly? Using monthly data on the French presidential and prime ministerial approval ratings, I show that this institutional arrangement affects the way, or the standards by which, the French evaluate their presidents and prime ministers, and that periods of cohabitation have dynamics of their own.

A Matter of Distinction: Candidate Similarity and On-Line vs. Memory-Based Processing (with Daniel Hayes)
Abstract: Recent work on information processing suggests that people rely on both on-line and memory-based strategies in making political decisions, with such a “hybrid” process especially likely in the context of a vote choice. In this paper, we present evidence showing that candidate ideological similarity affects the balance of on-line and memory-based processing individuals employ. Based on experimental data, we find that subjects recall more factual information about candidates with similar policy positions than about ideologically divergent candidates, indicating a heavier reliance on memory-based processing when it is more difficult to distinguish between the candidates. We also find the relationship to be strongest with respect to negative information. The results provide one possible explanation for the existence of a hybrid memory process during campaigns and raise important implications for research on persuasion and deliberation.
**Note that this project just recently received funding by Time-Sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences, funded by the National Science Foundation.

'Deliberation From Within:' Surveys and the Quality of Political Preferences (with Patrick Fournier)
Abstract: Three separate factors can foster deliberation. Information, discussion, and thought can all bring about the expression of more enlightened attitudes. We argue that certain unremarkable features of a cross-sectional survey can also induce thought and improve the quality of survey responses. More precisely, we argue that positioning a political attitude question after a lengthy and balanced series of relevant items can increase the breadth of considerations activated, thereby producing answers that are more closely related to individuals’ underlying values and interests, and that are more predictive of behavior. By examining a split-sample experiment on the location of the vote intention questions, we find evidence of a new question order effect which we label the deliberative effect. Our results carry important lessons for understanding the quality of survey results, of citizen decision-making, and of the democratic process.

Measuring and Explaining Political Knowledge in a Comparative Context
Abstract: A lot has been said about how to measure political knowledge and what factors explain it. But most of the work in the area has focused almost exclusively on the American case, and very few of it is comparative. This paper shows that measuring political knowledge in a comparative context presents its own challenges, and that individual-level factors explaining political knowledge in some countries have considerably less importance in others. Using data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, and a methodology adapted for multilevel modeling with large clusters, I show that part of the country differences can be explained at the institutional level. The results carry important lessons for institutional design and those interested in improving democratic citizenship.