Schönhage, N. L. & Geys, B. (2024). Partisanship, blame avoidance behaviours and voter reactions to allegations of political misconduct. Electoral Studies, Volume 87.

Working paper version (with appendix)

AbstractPoliticians often engage in blame avoidance behaviours in order to evade electoral punishment following allegations of misconduct. A key question concerns the (in)effectiveness of such behaviours in mitigating voter opinions about the alleged misconduct and the appropriate punishment. In this article, we examine how this (in)effectiveness may be shaped by: (1) the characteristics of blame avoidance behaviours, and (2) voters’ partisan (mis)alignment with the alleged offender. We address this question using a between-subject survey experiment among a sample of Norwegian citizens (N = 1996). Our main findings suggest that blame avoidance behaviours can be effective in mitigating voters’ assessment of the alleged misconduct and of the punishment the politician should face. This is particularly true when it concerns politicians from respondents’ most-preferred party, and among left-wing voters. These findings help explain when and why scandals may (fail to) affect politicians’ electoral fortunes.

Schönhage, N. L.; Bækgaard, M. & Geys, B. (2023). The politics of Distributing Blame and Credit: Evidence from a Survey Experiment with Norwegian Local Politicians. European Journal of Political Research.

Working paper version (with appendix)

AbstractHow do politicians attribute responsibility for good and poor policy outcomes across multiple stakeholders in a policy field where they themselves can affect service provision? Such ‘diffusion’ decisions are crucial to understand the political calculations underlying the allocation of blame and credit by office-holders. We study this issue using a between-subjects survey experiment fielded among local politicians in Norway (N=1,073). We find that local politicians attribute responsibility for outcomes in primary education predominantly to school personnel (regardless of whether performance is good or bad), and do not engage in local party-political blame games. However, we show that local politicians are keen to attribute responsibility for poor outcomes to higher levels of government, especially when these are unaligned with the party of the respondent. These findings suggest that vertical, partisan blame shifting prevails over local partisan blame games in settings with a political consensus culture.

Schönhage, N. L. & Geys, B. (2022). Politicians’ Reactions to Scandals that Damage the Party Brand. Legislative Studies Quarterly.
Working paper version (with appendix)

AbstractScandals can cause serious damage to political parties’ brand name and reputation, which may taint all members of the party – even those not implicated in the scandal. In this article, we therefore explore how (uninvolved) politicians are likely to react to the eruption of such events. Building on a survey among UK local councilors (N=2133), we first document the prevalence of distinct response strategies (such as distancing oneself from the scandal-hit party or redirecting attention to similar events in other parties). Then, building on a between subject survey-experimental design, we assess the moderating roles of partisanship and scandal type. We show that a scandal in one’s own party reduces the probability of distancing oneself from the scandal-hit party (particularly among men). We also find that scandal type matters: pointing out similar scandals in other parties is less likely for sex scandals compared to financial scandals (particularly among women).

Schönhage, N. L. & Geys, B. (2021). Partisan Bias in Politicians’ Perception of Scandals. Party Politics.
Working paper version (with appendix)

AbstractDo politicians perceive scandals differently when they implicate members of their own party rather than another party? We address this question using a between-subject survey experiment, whereby we randomly assign UK local councilors (N=2133) to vignettes describing a major national-level scandal in their own party versus another party. Our results show that local politicians perceive a significantly larger impact of this national scandal on the national party image when it concerns their own party (relative to another party). When evaluating the same scandal’s impact on the local party image, however, no similar treatment effect is observed. This suggests that local politician tone down the local impact of a national scandal more when thinking about their own party. We suggest this derives from a form of motivated reasoning whereby politicians selectively focus on information offering a more negative view of their direct electoral opponents. These findings arise independent of the type of scandal under consideration.

Schönhage, N. L. and Geys, B. (2021) Party cues and incumbent assessments under multilevel governance. Electoral studies, 69.
Working paper version
Online Appendix


Politicians’ party membership allows voters to overcome incomplete information issues. In this article, we maintain that such ‘party cues’ in multilevel governance structures also induce voters to incorporate their assessment of incumbents at one level of government into their assessment of incumbents at other levels of government. Moreover, we argue that these assessment ‘spillovers’ increase in magnitude with voters’ level of political information. They become particularly prominent for voters with higher levels of political knowledge and interest as well as during election periods (when information is less costly and more readily available). Empirical analyses using survey data from Germany covering the period 1990 to 2018 corroborate our theoretical propositions.

De Witte, K. Geys, B. and Schönhage, N. L. (2018). Strategic Public Policy around Population Thresholds. Journal of Urban Economics, 106: 46-58.


Political economists have long maintained that politicians respond to both (re-)election and financial incentives. This article contributes to the latter literature by analysing whether, when and how local office-holders respond to the economic incentives embedded in exogenously imposed population thresholds leading to an increased number and remuneration of local politicians. Building on insights from the urban economics and public finance literatures, we argue that local politicians may strategically adjust fiscal and housing policies to stimulate in-migration when approaching a population threshold where their remuneration increases. Using data from all 589 Belgian municipalities over the period 1977–2016, our results confirm that approaching important population thresholds causes lower local tax rates and the granting of additional building permits (particularly for apartments). These policy changes occur early in the election cycle and, at least for housing policy, are restricted to incumbent mayors themselves expecting to benefit from crossing the population threshold.

Policy paper

Busemeyer, M., Schönhage, N. L., Baute, S., Bellani, L. & Schwerdt, G. (2023). Policy Paper No. 12: Gloomy prospects: The Konstanz Inequality Barometer shows that inequality is perceived to have increased (English version)/Deutsche unterschätzen ungleiche Verteilung von Einkommen und Vermögen erheblich (German version in cooperation with publishing partner Das Progressives Zentrum).

In the media:

Ongoing projects and papers

Busemeyer, M., Schönhage, N. L. & Schwerdt, G. (2023). Who should pay for higher education? The Role of Information on Policy Options and Equity Considerations in Shaping Voters’ Preferences.

Schönhage, N. L., Wieland, T., Bellani, L., & Spilker, G. (2023). Can the court bridge the gap? Public perception of economic vs. generational inequality in climate change mitigation policies.

Schönhage, N. L. (2023). Candidate Ethnicity, Party Identification and Vote Choice in Britain.

Schönhage, N. L. & Geys, B. (2023). Partisanship, Blame Avoidance Behaviours and Voter Reactions to Allegations of Political Misconduct

Bastias, F., Schönhage, N. L. & Zanotto, S. (2023). Types of Inequality: What Matters to Whom?

Previous projects

Baute, S. Bellani, L., Busemeyer, M., (Schönhage, N. L.), & Schwerdt, G. (2021-2026). Inequality Barometer: A Repeated Representative Opinion Survey on Inequality and Social Mobility. Still affiliated.