My current research agenda revolves around two main themes. First, I am interested in how institutional structures shape judicial decisions, at the national and international level. Second, I focus on how demographic change—with transnational migration as one of its most salient drivers—impacts on people’s attitudes and policy preferences. To study questions about how people and institutions react to demographic change, I collect novel data, employ both qualitative and state-of-the-art quantitative methods and increasingly draw on historical records.

My dissertation entitled “Like Cases Alike or Asylum Lottery? Inconsistency in Judicial Decision Making at the Swiss Federal Administrative Court”, advised by Marco Steenbergen (chair), Benjamin Lauderdale, David Soskice and Heiko Rauhut focuses on the behavior of asylum judges. It investigates both how judges’ individual immigration preferences influence their appeal decisions and which extra-legal factors moderate this influence. Drawing on a large dataset of all asylum appeal decisions (∼40,000) in Switzerland between 2007 and 2015 and leveraging causal inference techniques, I gather evidence of different factors that influence the asylum appeal decisions of judges. I argue and show that even for these expert decision makers, immigration preferences matter: a judge affiliated with a left-wing party is on average much more likely to grant an asylum appeal than a judge from a right-wing party. Beyond this individual-level effect, my research uncovers two further factors, one at the institutional and one at the contextual level, that moderate the impact of judges’ identity. First, I show that the number of judges on a panel matters; more judges are more likely to grant similar appeals than fewer judges. Second, my findings corroborate that the salience of asylum and refugee issues in the media influences judges’ decision making.

My dissertation research was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation with a Doc.CH grant. It was awarded the University of Zurich’s Department of Political Science’s Best Dissertation Award 2018 and the SIAF award for an outstanding PhD thesis at the University or ETH Zurich.

Beyond the study of the behavior of judicial elites, I have a broader interest in the roots of exclusionary attitudes. In two ongoing projects, I seek to shed light on determinants and moderators of exclusionary attitudes and voting behavior. The first project investigates how voters respond to a sudden change in the depiction of immigrants and refugees in a local newspaper, after it was taken over by a well-known right-wing politician. Preliminary findings suggest that if voters a) have alternative sources of information and b) are aware of the reason behind the change in tone, their voting behavior on immigration referendums does not change. The second project aims to trace the proximity of historic anti-Semitic and modern-day anti-Islam sentiment (as expressed in votes on issues such as the ban on kosher slaughter, the construction of minarets) to further our understanding of the historical roots of exclusionary attitudes.

Working Papers

Inferring Individual Preferences from Group Decisions: Judicial Preference Variation and Aggregation in Asylum Appeals.” (with Dominik Hangartner and Benjamin E. Lauderdale) Working Paper.

Bad News for Asylum Seekers: The Impact of Issue Salience on Judicial Decision Making.” Working Paper.

Do Fewer Judges Reach Different Decisions? Evidence from a Procedural Change in Asylum Appeal Decision Making.” Working Paper.

‘You Don’t Enter the Media Business to Get Rich’: Does a Change in the Political Orientation of a Newspaper Affect Voting Behavior in Immigration Referendums?” Working Paper.

Ongoing Projects

Historical Anti-Semitism and Contemporary Exclusionary Attitudes.”

Policy Papers

Dealing with the Refugee Crisis: Policy Lessons from Economics and Political Science.” (with Dominik Hangartner and Matti Sarvimäki), Report for Finland’s Economic Policy Council, 2017.

“The Political Economy of the West Bank. An Attempt to Explain the Economic Protests in September 2012.” (with Hans Heyn), KAS Country Report (also in German).

“Is Resilience a Valid Objective for Humanitarian Aid?” (with Caroline Hargreaves et al.), Report for MSF UK, 2012.