An Interview with Gabriel Lenz and Romain Lachat (FBF 2021)

July 27, 2023

The 2022 French Presidential Election led to the re-election of Emmanuel Macron in a runoff against his 2017 opponent, Marine Le Pen. With candidates offering different visions for the future of France during their campaigns, two Professors have decided to study how these campaigns influenced voters. Did they lead citizens to change their voting intentions? Did they push voters to rationalize their issue preferences? These are the questions being studied by Professor Gabriel Lenz and Associate Professor Romain Lachat. 

Gabriel Lenz  Romain Lachat

Can you both introduce yourselves and talk about your academic journeys that lead you to this project?

RL: I am an associate professor at Sciences Po, Paris, working at the CEVIPOF (Centre for Political Research). It is an institution which I joined in 2016. Originally, I am from Switzerland, where I studied political science and obtained a PhD at the University of Zurich.

GL: I am a professor in political science at Berkeley.

What made you interested in studying the French electoral campaigns? 

RL: The project focuses on how electoral campaigns affect voters and if they contribute to increasing voters' knowledge about candidates' platforms and policy proposals. It relates to central questions in the study of political behaviour, linked with the role of policy preferences in forming citizens’ voting choices, and with the nature of political representation. These are questions I have been interested in for a very long time. In previous projects, I have been working on the stability or instability of citizens’ voting intentions, and how these are affected, among others, by electoral campaigns and mobilization of the parties’ efforts. I have also been working for a long time on how issue preferences influence citizens’ voting choices. The project we are now working on as part of the FBF grant thus seems like a straightforward extension of previous research interests.

GL: I share similar interests with Romain and our wonderful collaborator Eric Guntermann. I'm particularly interested in how much campaigns help provide voters with the information they need to make informed judgments when they vote. I'm also interested in what information voters have and would want to have.

How and why did you decide to work together on your research?

RL : The collaboration was initiated by Eric Guntermann, who was already working with Gabe Lenz at Berkeley. I had been working with him on a research paper that deals with a similar question, in the context of the 2017 French presidential election. The FBF call for proposals was a great opportunity to collect data designed specifically for our question of interest, and to start this collaborative project.

Can you explain a bit more in detail what your research focuses on?

The main goal of this project is to analyze how voters are influenced by electoral campaigns. We focus on the case of the 2022 French presidential election, which led to the re-election of Emmanuel Macron, in a runoff against her 2017 opponent, Marine Le Pen. We conducted a two-wave panel study. Participants were asked about their own preferences on a number of political issues, and were also invited to indicate the positions of the main candidates. We re-interviewed these participants a few months later, just before the election. Our objective is to understand how the campaign led them to change these preferences and perceptions. Do voters’ perceptions about candidates’ policy positions become more accurate as the campaign unfolds? Does it lead them to change their voting intention, to bring it in line with their own preferences about political issues? Or do campaigns lead some citizens to rationalize their issue preferences, changing them during the campaign, to make them consistent with pre-existing partisan or candidate preferences? This is the type of question that the data collected as part of this project will allow us to answer.

What are the next steps within your research?

Last year we collected data during the campaign for the 2022 French presidential election. We have already analyzed part of these data, and presented the first results at the 2022 Annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. At the present time, we are revising and completing our analyses, in order to submit our paper to a journal.

What are the reasons that pushed you to apply for the FBF (France-Berkeley Fund)?

We thought the French presidential election provided a great opportunity to help understand the role of campaigns in democracies. We also thought it would be a great opportunity to work together. Eric Guntermann was also a driving force.

What has the FBF done for your research? What type of opportunities did it open for you?

It helped connect researchers in the US and France and will lead to future collaborations. It helped fund an important survey, which we will make available to other researchers.