I am currently conducting research in several areas of study. If you are thinking of applying for a PhD in Political Science at UCL, then please do contact me if you plan to work in any of these areas. More broadly, I would be willing to supervise projects focused on comparative political economy in advanced industrialized democracies.
Public Assessments of Covid19 Economic Response (PACER)
The PACER project is a programme of research to track and – critically, going beyond simple descriptive opinion polling – explain the forces shaping public support for the British government’s newly expanded role in society. We are collecting longitudinal data from a panel of British citizens to understand how and why respondent attitudes vary.
Our core interests are in (UK) public opinion regarding:
- lockdown measures;
- policies designed to support companies;
- levels of health spending;
- the operation of the welfare system and the deservingness of its users;
- the appropriate scope of government intervention in the economy;
- appropriate levels of taxation;
- the importance of debt- and deficit-reduction;
- approval of and trust in the UK government.
Please see our dedicated web site with more details and access to data.
The Politics of Austerity
My primary line of active research, currently, relates to the politics of austerity and fiscal policy. This work is mainly collaborative with Lucy Barnes (UCL), and is funded by a grant by the Leverhulme Trust. We are interested in the ways in which voters think about fiscal policy, especially in the context of “austerity”. This has led to a working paper that seeks to link attitudes towards government debts and deficits to attitudes regarding welfare state expenditure. We have also published a paper exploring how the media influenced perceptions of fiscal policy and austerity in the UK while the coalition government of 2010-2015 was in office. We are seeking to develop this project further, with the goal of understanding people’s attitudes about fiscal consolidation more generally, how this relates to (possibly implicit) mental models of public finance, and the extent to which austerity can be seen as “popular”.
- Barnes, Lucy and Timothy Hicks (Accepted). “Are Policy Analogies Persuasive? The Household Budget Analogy and Public Support for Austerity”. British Journal of Political Science.
- Pre-publication draft.
- Replication data coming soon.
Public opinion on complex policy questions is shaped by the ways elites simplify the issues. Given the prevalence of metaphor and analogy as tools for cognitive problem-solving, the deployment of analogies is often proposed as a tool for this kind of influence. For instance, a prominent explanation for the acceptance of austerity is that voters understand government deficits through an analogy to borrowing by households. Indeed, there are theoretical reasons to think that the household finance analogy represents a most likely case for the causal influence of analogical reasoning on policy preferences. This paper examines this best-case scenario using original survey data from the United Kingdom. In both observational and experimental analyses we find no evidence of a causation running from the household analogy to preferences over the government budget. Rather, endorsement of the analogy is invoked ex post to justify support for fiscal consolidation.
- Barnes, Lucy and Timothy Hicks (2021). “All Keynesians Now? Public Support for Countercyclical Government Borrowing”. Political Science Research & Methods 9:1, pp.180-188.
- Pre-publication draft.
- Final journal publication ($).
- Replication data available from the PSRM Dataverse.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, macroeconomic policy returned to the political agenda, and the influence of Keynesian ideas about fiscal stimulus rose (and then fell) in expert circles. Much less is known, however, about whether and when Keynesian prescriptions for countercyclical spending have any support among the general public. We use a survey experiment, fielded twice, to recover the extent to which UK respondents hold such countercyclical attitudes. Our results indicate that public opinion was countercyclical — Keynesian — in 2016. We then use Eurobarometer data to estimate the same basic parameter for the population for the period 2010-2017. The observational results validate our experimental findings for the later period, but also provide evidence that the UK population held procyclical views at the start of the period. Thus, there appear to be important dynamics in public opinion on a key macroeconomic policy issue.
- Barnes, Lucy and Timothy Hicks (2018). “Making Austerity Popular: The Media and Mass Attitudes Towards Fiscal Policy”. American Journal of Political Science.
- Pre-publication draft.
- Final journal publication ($).
- Replication data available from the AJPS Dataverse.
What explains variation in individual attitudes towards government deficits? Although macroeconomic stance is of paramount importance for contemporary governments, our understanding of its popular politics is limited. We argue that popular attitudes regarding austerity are influenced by media (and wider elite) framing. Information necessary to form preferences on the deficit is not provided neutrally, and its provision shapes how voters understand their interests. A wide range of evidence from Britain between 2010 and 2015 supports this claim. In the British Election Study, deficit attitudes vary systematically with the source of news consumption, even controlling for party identification. A structural topic model of two major newspapers’ reporting shows that content varies systematically with respect to coverage of public borrowing – in ways that intuitively accord with the attitudes of their readerships. Finally, a survey experiment suggests causation from media to attitudes: deficit preferences change based on the presentation of deficit information.
- Barnes, Lucy and Timothy Hicks. “The Popular Side of Austerity: Public Support for Budget Balance in Europe”
- Barnes, Lucy and Timothy Hicks. “Risk, Recession, and Popular Demand for the Welfare State”
- CAGE Working Paper no. 228, Department of Economics, University of Warwick.
The Politics of Inequality
This work is mainly collaborative with Alan Jacobs (UBC) and Scott Matthews (MUN). We are interested in whether and how economic inequality translates into political inequality. Our focus is comparative but, in many ways, we are motivated by research on the USA. Thus, we have a working paper that extends the finding by Larry Bartels that the US exhibits “class-biased economic voting”, whereby voters reward incumbent presidents for income growth at the top of the income distribution, rather than more generally. We show that the phenomenon is much more general across developed democracies. Building on this, we also have a working paper that seeks to assess whether newspaper reports of economic performance are skewed such that they are more responsive to factors correlated with top income growth.
- Hicks, Timothy, Alan Jacobs, Scott Matthews, and Eric Merkley (Conditionally Accepted). “Whose News? How Economic News Responds to the Distribution of Gains and Losses”. American Political Science Review
- Hicks, Timothy, Alan M. Jacobs, and J. Scott Matthews (2016). “Inequality and Electoral Accountability: Class-Biased Economic Voting in Comparative Perspective”. Journal of Politics 78:4, pp.1076–1093.
The Politics Education
I have a long-running interest in education policy – especially schools policy – often in comparative perspective. My focus is typically on whether and why such policy is moved towards more marketized models of provision – including policies such as school choice, vouchers, free schools, academies, and the like. This has led to papers that seek to understand the politics of marketization in England and Sweden, as well as how politics has influenced the implementation of the Academy conversion programme in England.
- Hicks, Timothy. “Consequences of School Autonomy: Evidence from Mass ‘Academy’ Conversion in the English Schooling System”
- Hicks, Timothy. “Decentralized Public Management and the Workforce: Evidence from Mass ‘Academy’ Conversion in the English Schooling System”
- Chapman, Bruce and Timothy Hicks (2018). “The Politics of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme”, in Hamish Coates, Brendan Cantwell, and Roger King (Eds.), Handbook on the Politics of Higher Education. Edward Elgar.
- Hicks, Timothy (2015). “Inequality, marketisation, and the left: Schools policy in England and Sweden”. European Journal of Political Research 54:2, 326-342.
- Hicks, Timothy (2014). “Partisan Governance and Policy Implementation: The Politics of Academy Conversion Amongst English Schools”. Public Administration 92:4, 995-1016.