Seonghui Lee


Peer-reviewed publications

  1. “How Governments Strategically Time Welfare State Reform Legislation: Empirical Evidence From Five European Countries” (with Georg Wenzelburger, Carsten Jensen, and Christoph Arndt). West European Politics (Forthcoming). [Abstract]

    Building on studies on the political business cycle, the literature on welfare state retrenchment has argued that governments which cut the welfare state try to avoid blame by implementing painful measures in the beginning of the mandate and expanding benefits as elections approach. In contrast to this linear relationship, this article argues that governments often feel pressured to fulfil (mostly expansionary) campaign promises during the first months in office. Consequently, cutting right away is not what should be expected. Instead, a more nuanced, U-shaped timing trajectory is probable with a period in the beginning characterised by both cuts and fulfilment of expansionary pledges, followed by a period of cutbacks, and finally an expansive phase towards the end of a mandate. This argument is tested on our new original dataset of legislative changes in five European countries – Britain, Denmark, Finland, France and Germany – during the last four decades.

  2. “Risky Business? Welfare State Reforms and Government Support in Britain and Denmark” (with Carsten Jensen, Christoph Arndt, and Georg Wenzelburger). British Journal of Political Science (Forthcoming). [ Data] [ Online Appendix] [Abstract]

    Are welfare state reforms electorally dangerous for governments? Political scientists have only recently begun to study this seemingly simple question, and existing work still suffers from two shortcomings. First, it has never tested the reform–vote link with data on actual legislative decisions for enough points in time to allow robust statistical tests. Secondly, it has failed to take into account the many expansionary reforms that have occurred in recent decades. Expansions often happen in the same years as cutbacks. By focusing only on cutbacks, estimates of the effects of reforms on government popularity become biased. This article addresses both shortcomings. The results show that voters punish governments for cutbacks, but also reward them for expansions, making so-called compensation, a viable blame-avoidance strategy. The study also finds that the size of punishments and rewards is roughly the same, suggesting that voters’ well-documented negativity bias does not directly translate into electoral behavior.

  3. “Measuring Knowledge of Parties’ Legislative Seat Shares” (with Agustina Haime and Randy Stevenson). Political Science Research and Methods 7(1): 185-196, 2019. [ Data] [ Online Appendix] [Abstract]

    We use two original surveys (including survey experiments) conducted the week before the 2015 elections in the Britain and Denmark to explore the best method for measuring individuals’ knowledge of the partisan distribution of legislative seats in multi-party democracies. The complete lack of such questions in the corpus of survey research on multi-party democracies is a testament to the skepticism that many survey researchers have about the feasibility of such complex questions. However, our analysis, which is the first empirical test of this skepticism, reveals little evidence of respondents’ frustration or high levels of non-cooperation with these questions. Additionally, our survey experiments, which examine the usefulness of different question formats, make it clear that such questions should be framed in terms of the numbers of seats each party holds rather than shares or percentages of seats.

  4. “Mass Media Attention to Welfare State Reforms: Evidence from Britain 1996-2014” (with Carsten Jensen). West European Politics 42(1): 113-132, 2019. [Abstract]

    One of the core questions facing political scientists is how politicians are able to implement cutbacks without suffering electoral backlash. A possible explanation might be that the mass media refrain from reporting on welfare state reforms in a consistent way. In order to explore this, two unique datasets have been collected: one contains information on all policy reforms of British old age pensions and unemployment protection from 1996 to 2014, and the other contains hand- coded media articles that allow the tracking on a monthly basis of what reforms are picked up. It is found that the mass media report on cutbacks, but not on expansions, and that they prioritise easy-to-understand cutbacks over cutbacks that are more technical in nature.

  5. “Multi-dimensional Policy Preferences in the 2015 UK General Election: A Conjoint Analysis” (with Akitaka Matsuo). Electoral Studies 55: 89-98, 2018. [ Online Appendix] [Abstract] [ Featured in The People’s Choice ]

    This research explores voter preferences in the multi-dimensional policy space of the 2015 UK general election, as well as the influence of those preferences on vote choice. In our original pre-election survey, we apply a conjoint experimental design where we use actual party manifestos to examine voters' policy preferences across five main policy domains. This design allows us to both identify voters' sincere preferences, as estimated by their responses to hypothetical policy packages, and to reveal the influence of these preferences on voter support in the actual election. Our analysis reveals a considerable level of congruence between voters' underlying policy preferences and their vote choice in the 2015 election. Our results also speak to the previous literature on policy preferences and vote choice by demonstrating that voters not only weigh the importance of particular policy domains differently, but also have clear preferences regarding specific policy positions in a given domain, which eventually influence their support for a party in the election.

  6. “Decomposing Political Knowledge: What Is Confidence in Knowledge and Why It Matters” (with Akitaka Matsuo). Electoral Studies 51: 1-13. 2018. [ Online Appendix] [Abstract]

    While political knowledge has been conceptually defined with two constructs – accuracy and confidence in factual information – conventional measurement of political knowledge has relied heavily on retrieval accuracy. Without measuring confidence-in-knowledge, it is not possible to rigorously identify different types of political informedness, such as misinformedness and uninformedness. This article theoretically explores the two constructs of knowledge and argues that each construct has unique antecedents and behavioral consequences. We suggest a survey instrument for confidence-in-knowledge and introduce a method to estimate latent traits of retrieval accuracy and confidence separately. Using our original survey that includes the measure of confidence-in-knowledge, we find that misinformed citizens are as engaged in politics as the well-informed, but their active involvement does not guarantee informed political choices. Our findings warrant further theoretical and empirical exploration of confidence in political knowledge.

  7. “Policy Instruments and Welfare State Reform” (with Carsten Jensen, Christoph Arndt, and Georg Wenzelburger). Journal of European Social Policy 28(2): 161-176. 2018. [Abstract]

    A core, but so far untested, proposition of the new politics perspective, originally introduced by Paul Pierson, is that welfare state cutbacks will be implemented using so-called ‘invisible’ policy instruments, for example, a change in indexation rules. Expansion should, by implication, mainly happen using ‘visible’ policy instruments, for example, a change in nominal benefits. We have coded 1030 legislative reforms of old-age pensions and unemployment protection in Britain, Denmark, Finland and Germany from 1974 to 2014. With this unique data at hand, we find substantial support for this crucial new politics proposition.

  8. “An Expanded Empirical Evaluation of Cross-National Comparability of Survey Measures of Political Interest Using Anchoring Vignettes: A Research Note” (with Nick Lin and Randy Stevenson). Electoral Studies 44: 423-428. 2016.

  9. “Hvordan reagerer vælgerne på velfærdsforringelser?” (How Do Voters Respond to Welfare State Retrenchment?) (with Carsten Jensen, Christoph Arndt, and Georg Wenzelburger) Politica 48(3): 303-319. 2016. [ Media coverage at Altinget]

  10. “Evaluating the Cross-National Comparability of Survey Measures of Political Interest Using Anchoring Vignettes” (with Nick Lin and Randy Stevenson). Electoral Studies 39: 205-218. 2015. [Abstract]

    Making cross-groups comparisons by using survey instruments has raised substantial scholarly concerns due to the potential risk of incomparability resulting from differential item functioning (DIF). However, not every survey item necessarily suffers from DIF. In this paper, we argue that, unlike many other survey items (e.g., political efficacy), the usual question used to measure political interest is likely to be largely immune to DIF. Our theoretical argument centers on the relative specificity of the item and a corresponding cultural homogeneity (at least in advanced democracies) in what it means to be politically interested or not. Utilizing the anchoring vignettes technique (King et al., 2004; King and Wand, 2007) in our original surveys in the UK, France, and the Netherlands, we demonstrate the size of DIF is small for the standard political interest question.

  11. “Party Responsiveness to the Collective Judgment of the Electorate: The Case of Presidential Popularity in Latin America.” Comparative Political Studies 47(14): 1973-1999. 2014. [ Online Appendix] [Abstract]

    Studies on retrospective voting argue that voters under presidentialism tend to assign co-responsibility for the president’s performance to her party in congressional elections. However, it is not uncommon for presidential parties to distance themselves from an unpopular president or for opposition parties to cooperate with a popular president. In doing so, parties can signal to voters that they side with a popular (or against an unpopular) president. Yet little is known about whether this strategic behavior has electoral payoffs. This study proposes a popularity-response model, where parties’ electoral outcomes are a product of how they respond to public opinion on the president. I hypothesize that parties defecting from an unpopular president (or cooperating with a popular president) minimize electoral losses and obtain a further electoral boost. Analysis using an original dataset coding issue congruence between presidents and parties prior to 35 elections in 18 Latin American countries supports this claim.


PhD Dissertation

  1. “What Makes Politics Interesting?: How Political Contexts Shape Political Interest Across the World.” PhD diss., Rice University. 2015.



Work in progress