Michael F. Meffert
Lecturer | Political Science | Leiden University


My research focuses primarily on political information processing and decision making. Five specific topics are summarized below.

The first two topics are active and ongoing. For each topic, a short summary and selected references are given.

Strategic Coalition Voting

Strategic voting is defined as voting for a party or candidate other than the most preferred choice because the alternative is expected to have a better chance of influencing government formation. The main goal of the project is to extend this micro-level explanation to strategic voting in multiparty systems using proportional representation, minimum vote thresholds, and coalition governments. The focus is on the causal effects of contextual information sources and cues such as polls and coalition signals on strategic voting, moderated by individual cognitive information processing capacities and motivations. Special attention is paid to the formation of "rational" expectations about the outcome of elections and the role of coalition.

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The project uses a multi-method design and includes laboratory experiments and a representative national survey. A "psychological" experiment was conducted and embedded in ongoing German state election campaigns. As part of an information search task, participants encountered manipulated polls and coalition signals embedded in real campaign information. In two "economic" experiments, an individual decision making experiment and a group decision making experiment, participants played a strategic voting game to maxmized their influence on government formation, motivated by financial incentives. A representive national election study shortly before the 2006 Austrian national election collected detailed information about voters' party and coalition preferences and expectations about the election outcome and included an experimental manipulation in form of coalition vignettes as well.


Meffert, Michael F., and Thomas Gschwend. 2011. "Polls, Coalition Signals, and Strategic Voting: An Experimental Investigation of Perceptions and Effects." European Journal of Political Research 50 (5): 636-667.

Meffert, Michael F., and Thomas Gschwend. 2010. "Strategic Coalition Voting: Evidence from Austria." Electoral Studies 29 (3): 339-349.

Meffert, Michael F., and Thomas Gschwend. 2007. Strategic Voting under Proportional Representation and Coalition Governments: A Simulation and Laboratory Experiment. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Working Group for Decision Theory and Behavioral Decision Making (AK Handlungs- und Entscheidungstheorie) of the German Political Science Association (DVPW), Jena, Germany, June 15 - 16, 2007.

Negativity and Motivated Information Processing

Information BoardThis research program investigates how voters select, process, are affected by, and recall political information in a dynamic campaign environment. It was hypothesized that voters’ information selection are subject to a negativity bias (i.e., negative information dominates over positive information) and a candidate bias (i.e., information about the preferred candidate dominates over information about the opponent). Motivated by an initial candidate preference, participants were also expected to develop more polarized candidate evaluations over time. In two different experiments, participants were exposed to quickly changing information in the form of newspaper-style headlines on a dynamic, computer-based information board. The results supported negativity bias and candidate bias whereas congruency bias was only found during information recall. At the information selection and processing stages, participants with a strong initial candidate preference showed a disproportionate preference for negative information about the preferred candidate. However, they developed more positive attitudes at the evaluation and recall stage. This finding suggests that participants were engaged in motivated information processing by counterarguing negative information about their preferred candidate.


Meffert, Michael F., Sungeun Chung, Amber Joiner, Leah Waks, and Jennifer Garst. 2006. "The Effects of Negativity and Motivated Information Processing During a Political Campaign." Journal of Communication 56 (March): 27-51.

Media Effects and Personal Networks

The development of individual candidate preferences during a political campaign is a complex process that involves both individual predispositions and external, contextual information received from the two most important sources of political information, the mass media and personal networks.
Interaction EffectThe central hypothesis, based on McPhee’s "campaign simulator," postulates that citizens, after receiving external political stimuli from any source, use personal networks to form and test their political attitudes. In case they encounter disagreement in their networks, they have to look for other sources of information that help them to make up their mind. This opens a window of opportunity for persuasive mass media effects. Using data from the cross-national election project (CNEP), including a national election study and a content analysis of newspapers read by the respondents, the findings support the hypothesis.


Meffert, Michael F. 1999. Citizens in Context: Persuasive Influences of Newspapers and Personal Networks on Candidate Evaluations. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, April 15 - 17, 1999.

Attitudinal Ambivalence

The goal of the project was to measure attitudinal ambivalence and analyze its consequences for the quality of individual information processing and judgments. The central hypothesis was that ambivalent (conflicted) voters process information more systematically and even-handedly than individuals with a one-sided preference. As a consequence, ambivalent individuals should be able to make more accurate judgments about an evaluative target.
AmbivalenceThe concept of ambivalence has received increased attention in various fields such as communication, psychology, political science, and behavioral decision making. Rather than assuming that individuals have a single, overall evaluative attitude towards a target such as a political candidate, we assume that individuals can have positive and negative reactions at the same time, which can be independent of each other and which can have independent effects on the overall attitude. If both reactions are present, individuals are in the state of ambivalence.
Although the existence of ambivalence has received more attention in recent years, the consequences for individual information processing and judgments have barely been examined. Using NES data, we found support for three consequences of ambivalence: attitudinal moderation, more accurate information processing, and less certainty in judgments about presidential candidates. These findings suggest that ambivalent individuals process information more thoroughly or systematically, which enables them to make more accurate judgments. However, this increased accuracy does not prevent feelings of uncertainty.


Meffert, Michael F., Michael Guge, and Milton Lodge. 2004. "Good, Bad, and Ambivalent: The Consequences of Multidimensional Political Attitudes." In Studies in Public Opinion: Attitudes, Nonattitudes, Measurement Error, and Change, ed. Willem E. Saris and Paul M. Sniderman. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 63-92.


MacropartisanshipAggregate party identification (“macropartisanship”) has exhibited substantial movement in the U.S. electorate over the last half century. We contend that the key to that movement is a realignment capable of permanently altering the electoral equilibrium. Consistent with a gradual-permanent model of change, the presidential election of 1980 set in motion an enduring shift of the partisan balance, eroding the overwhelming Democratic lead dating back to the New Deal realignment. Our analysis, based on the classic measurement of party identification, shows none of two widely cited movers of macropartisanship to be responsible for that process. Neither presidential approval nor consumer sentiment possesses enough leverage to tilt the partisan balance for good; nor is there evidence for a structural change in the partisan influence of those short-term forces. Realignments aside, macropartisanship is guided by a stable, not a continuously moving, baseline.


Meffert, Michael F., Helmut Norpoth, and Anirudh V. S. Ruhil. 2001. "Realignment and Macropartisanship." American Political Science Review 95 (December): 953-962.

Last Update: 6/30/2011