Video on research

You can find a very short (19 sec.) introduction about my work here (in Dutch). Fast Facts produced a short – 3 minutes – video about my research in their members of The Young Academy (De Jonge Akademie) series. You can find the video (in Dutch) here:

A selection of my research projects are listed below.

Politicians under Radical Uncertainty: How Uncertain Phenomena Influence Political Elites’ Behavior [RADIUNCE, 2023-2028]

Political elites—political representatives who can take binding decisions, e.g. ministers, parliamentarians, local politicians—face numerous radically uncertain phenomena, from Covid-19 to the long-term effects of Brexit. Radical uncertainty is characterized by manifold unknowns, ambiguity and vagueness, and it differs fundamentally from resolvable uncertainty, those situations in which it is possible to assign probabilities to outcomes, like the electoral consequences of welfare retrenchment. This project, RADIUNCE, will explore how these phenomena influence political elites’ behavior. Do they “avoid” uncertainty, as some did with the coronavirus; use rules of thumb, “heuristics”, e.g. comparing Covid-19 to the flu; or display other behavioral responses? Answering this is urgent: different responses have different outcomes that may impact how representative democracies function and how effective they are at solving problems. For example, avoiding a virus may cost lives, while using heuristics may result in faulty courses of action.

RADIUNCE’s aim is to develop a theoretical model of how political elites respond to both radically and resolvably uncertain phenomena. We will focus on four countries with different institutional opportunities and constraints for responding to uncertainty: Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States between 1996 and 2021. The model will be multidisciplinary, integrating insights from political science, behavioral economics, decision theory, psychology and public administration. We will collect new, unique comparative data from politicians through an innovative combination of automated text analysis and survey experiments. Taking a multimethods approach, we will integrate quantitative data with qualitative methods (process tracing, Qualitative Comparative Analysis, interviews). The new model will explain how political elites respond to the challenges and opportunities in our face-pace world from digitalization to Covid-19 to migration.

This project is funded by the European Commission through an ERC Consolidator grant (#101043543). More information about the project is available on the project website:

Political Elites Beyond Bounded Rationality: Decision Making and Uncertainty 

Political elites—such as presidents and members of parliament—take many decisions, often on a daily basis. They make even more judgments, i.e. assessments of situations. They also typically face massive uncertainty. How do political elites make judgments and take decisions in this context? Being oftentimes consequential for citizens, it is important to have knowledge and understanding of how political elites make them.

In this book, which is under contract with Edward Elgar, I will provide exactly this: an up-to-date overview of the current state of knowledge on political elites’ judgment and decision making under uncertainty. It will uniquely bring together numerous seminal and novel insights from fields like behavioral economics, psychology and political science and discuss theoretical, empirical and methodological ways forward. It will connect these insights to the quintessential uncertainty-phenomenon since World War II: the COVID-19 pandemic. Theoretically and empirically, the book will show how political elites’ judgment and decision making under uncertainty has moved beyond bounded rationality. Methodologically, it will discuss strengths and limitations of, especially, comparative and quantitative approaches. Substantively, it will add to knowledge and understanding of political elites’ judgment and decision making on a key uncertainty-phenomenon, using a wealth of data on (especially) advanced democracies.

HIGH-RISK POLITICS: Explaining and improving political actors’ decision-making on electorally risky issues [completed; 2012-2017]
This program’s overall aim was to advance and test a theory of political decision-making under risk that would hold on the individual level (politicians), the meso level (parties), and the macro level (governments). To this end, my team and I have drawn on and developed prospect theory, which predicts that when faced with moderate to large probability outcomes people take risk-averse decisions when facing gains while they are risk-seeking or acceptant when confronting losses.

Objective 1, which was executed by Jona Linde (currently Maastricht University), was to experimentally test to what extent (groups of) politicians display the same attitude towards risk as “normal” individuals do, i.e., whether prospect theory’s predictions hold.  We have shown, for instance in our publication in Political Psychology (2017), that they by and large do. With Sjoerd Stolwijk, I have also expanded this project’s objective to politicians’ judgments and decision-making more generally–we have several manuscripts in the pipeline.

Objective 2, on which Mariken van der Velden worked (currently Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), was to establish empirically why some political parties risk turning their constituency away by changing their policy position on salient topics, but others do not. Mariken met this objective by concentrating on the so-called coalition dilemma, the situation faced by (potential) coalition government parties that they have to compete with their potential coalition partners for votes – providing an incentive to differentiate – while they also have to cooperate with these parties when or in the run-up to office – giving an incentive to pull convergence in terms of policy platform. In December 2017, Mariken successfully defended her PhD dissertation on this topic, entitled ‘Political “Frenemies”: Party Strategies, Electoral Competition & Coalition Cooperation

Objective 3, executed by Dieuwertje Kuijpers (currently investigative journalist), was to assess empirically why some governments take decisions involving substantial electoral risks with regard to military intervention, while others do not. Dieuwertje defended her PhD dissertation entitled ‘Gambling with Lives for Political Survival: How Democratic Governments Respond to Casualties During Military Interventions’ in October 2018.

We answered our research questions through a series of quantitative, qualitative and experimental techniques. The program was financed with a VIDI grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO, grant nr. 452-11-005).

Comparative Welfare State Politics: Development, Opportunities, and Reform [completed]
This book, a monograph written jointly with Kees van Kersbergen that has been published early 2014 by Cambridge University Press, discusses and explains the political opportunities and constraints of contemporary welfare state reform. For a proper understanding of this, we argued that we need to appreciate where the welfare state came from, why we have different worlds or regimes of welfare, how these regimes functioned, what the pressures in favor of reform are, why reform is so difficult and politically risky, and why it nevertheless happens. To our knowledge, this book is the first to offer such a broad perspective. This book is of interest to established welfare state scholars and researchers already well informed in the field. But it is also of particular interest for relative newcomers, such as upper level undergraduate students, graduate students, and scholars arriving at this topic from another research area.

Reviews and endorsements

  • In a review in Political Studies Review, Pieter Vanhuysse indicates that our book ‘(…) a masterfully written text on comparative welfare state politics’.
  • In his review in  Public Administration, Peter Starke states that ‘students and scholars wishing to get an in-depth view intothe dynamic feld of comparative welfare state research will be very well served by Van Kersbergen and Vis’.
  • We were happy with a great review by Emanuele Ferragina in Journal of Social Policy. Ferragina applauds the book’s ‘sheer comprehensiveness’, considers it ‘an essential textbook’ and ‘a truly interdisciplinary achievement’.
  • Oana I. Armeanu calls our book ‘an impressive performance of erudition and insight into the main debates regarding the welfare state and its reform’. You can find the full review in The Journal of Politics.
  • D.B. Robertson ‘highly recommends’ our book for upper-division undergraduate, graduate, and research collections. You can read the review in Choice.
  • A review by John Myles appeared in Canadian Journal of Sociology. You can find the review here.
  • You can find two endorsements, one by Klaus Armingeon & one Gosta Esping-Andersen, here.

Politics of Risk-Taking: What Drives Governments’ Decision-Making in Welfare State Reform? [completed]
This project examined the factors that influence governments’ decision-making in welfare state reform. Why do some governments pursue reforms that may lose them votes, whereas others do not? Moreover, why do some governments implement reforms that offer no avenues for reaping electoral benefits, whilst other do not? Drawing on prospect theory – a psychological theory of choice under risk – this project’s central argument was that governments’ attitude towards risk, and thereby their willingness to pursue different types of reforms, depends on whether they face losses or gains. The empirical focus was on the cross-national and cross-government variation in policy output (i.e., legislation) and policy intentions (i.e., the proposals introduced in parliament or the media) of different types of welfare state reform in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom between 1979 and 2007. I established the extent and type of reform by quantitative and qualitative data. To reveal the factors explaining governments’ risk-taking, I employed fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fs/QCA).
By investigating governments’ risk-taking in welfare state reform, this project allowed both for a better understanding of the politics of such reform and provided insights into governments’ decision-making in general. The project ran from 2009 to October 2012 and was financed with a VENI grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO, grant nr. 451-08-012).