Joshua R. Thorp

PhD Candidate in Political Science

University of Michigan

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Welcome! I am a PhD candidate in political science at the University of Michigan, specializing in political behavior and political psychology. I am particularly interested in the development and behavioral implications of political identities, the psychological foundations of political cohesion and cooperation, and the role of stereotypes and social cognition in shaping political attitudes. The key substantive focus of my research is the politics of disability, but I am broadly interested in minority group politics in the United States and other advanced democracies. My research draws on a range of methodological techniques, including survey and experimental methods, text analysis, and comparative-historical analysis.

My dissertation and book project (Body Politic: Disability and Political Cohesion) examines the political psychology of disability in the United States. Using original national surveys and experiments, I develop and validate a new measure of disability as a subjective political identity, and demonstrate the far-reaching consequences of this identity for political behavior, policy attitudes, and intergroup relations.

At Michigan, I am affiliated with the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research (ISR). I am a recipient of the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust Small Grant, the Rapoport Family Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Grant, the Gerald R. Ford Fellowship, and the Converse-Miller Fellowship in American Political Behavior.

You can contact me at: jrthorp[at]umich[dot]edu


  • Political psychology
  • Political behavior
  • Minority group politics
  • The politics of disability


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PhD in Political Science (Expected 2024)

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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MA in Political Science (Honors)

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

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BA in Development Studies (Hons 1, UM)

University of New South Wales


Dissertation & Book Project

Body Politic: Disability and Political Cohesion

[Job market paper available upon request]

  • Project summary

To what extent does disability shape political identity? Disability impacts the lives of tens of millions of Americans and is a central feature of American political institutions, public policy, and social movements. Nevertheless, political scientists have only a superficial understanding of how disability shapes political behavior. In particular, whereas some work considers the impact of disability on political participation, almost no empirical work has examined the implications of disability for political psychology. My dissertation project addresses this gap.

In three national surveys of more than 2,000 American adults with disabilities - fielded by YouGov and Bovitz - I derive a new empirical measure of subjective identification with disability (“Disability ID”) and examine the implications of this identity for political attitudes and behavior. Consistent with expectations, I find Disability ID to be strongest among those with more severe, visible, and long-standing impairments; among African-Americans, and among those who report receiving disability welfare or accommodations. Disability ID has far-reaching political implications. Specifically, I find that while Disability ID unrelated to political partisanship, Disability ID is a powerful driver of support for a range of redistributive policies, including those not explicitly related to disability. Additionally, I find that the policy preferences of Republicans and conservatives converge with those of Democrats and liberals at high levels of Disability ID, suggesting disability is an important cross-cutting political cleavage. Finally, using experimental methods, I find that those higher in Disability ID are more reactive to group threats, show higher levels of political solidarity with other PWD, and are mobilized by appeals to PWD as a political group or community.



Responsibility for Impairment Shapes the Perceived Deservingness of Welfare Claimants with Disabilities, Political Psychology

  • Abstract

When do people support government assistance for people with disabilities (PWD)? Disability welfare programs account for large shares of national welfare budgets, but little is known about public attitudes toward disabled welfare claimants. Drawing on psychological research in stereotype content, we argue that attitudes toward welfare for PWD are likely to be more conditional than previously acknowledged. In two nationally representative, pre-registered survey experiments in Wales (N=3,393) and Scotland (1,707), we ask respondents to evaluate the deservingness of a fictitious disabled claimant to government assistance. We manipulate the claimant’s out-group status and the manner in which they acquired their impairment. We find that disabled claimants perceived as even somewhat responsible for their impairments are considered substantially less deserving of government assistance than those perceived not responsible, even when their needs for assistance are identical. Contrary to expectations, we find relatively modest and inconsistent out-group penalties in perceived deservingness. Finally, we find large heterogeneous treatment effects among respondents with different political values. These results challenge conventional wisdom regarding the universality of support for disability welfare, and help explain why voters may not be inclined to punish politicians who propose cuts to programs for even stereotypically high-deserving groups.

Under Review

Vulnerability Appeals in the COVID-19 Pandemic: Insights from a National Survey Experiment (R&R, Journal of Experimental Political Science)

  • Abstract

Does priming the vulnerability of particular groups to COVID-19 encourage empathy and prosocial behaviour? Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, elite appeals emphasized the particular vulnerability of some social minorities to severe illness and death. Did these appeals work? In a nationally representative survey experiment (N=4,000) conducted in early 2021, we examine whether providing respondents with information about the particular vulnerability of ethnic minorities and people with disabilities (PWD) elicits empathic concern and support for COVID-19 restrictions. We find no evidence that such appeals increase empathic concern or willingness to abide by COVID-19 restrictions in the general population. By contrast, we find that disabled respondents report significantly higher levels of empathic concern and support for restrictions than non-disabled respondents. These findings provide novel experimental evidence of group-level political solidarity among people with disabilities.

Working Papers & In Progress

Disability Stereotypes and Support for Redistribution in the United States

With Jac Larner [PAP available upon request]

  • Abstract

In multiple studies across time and in differing contexts, opposition to state welfare has been linked to beliefs on the demographic composition of welfare recipients. Particular, and almost exclusive, attention has been paid to the share of groups stereotyped as 'undeserving', namely people from minority ethnic backgrounds and immigrants. In this paper, we test whether eliciting associations between welfare and disabled people - a group frequently stereotyped as highly deserving - increases support for welfare. Using a nationally representative survey experiment (N=2500) conducted in the United States, we employ random assignment to different treatments aimed at providing distinct signals regarding the proportion of welfare recipients who are disabled. Our analysis encompasses both attitudinal shifts and behavioral responses elicited by these treatments.

Disability Identity and Political Solidarity: The Case of the COVID-19 Pandemic

[In Preparation]

  • Abstract

People with disabilities (PWD) are at substantially elevated risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Yet, research in political behavior has not considered how disability status shapes attitudes toward policy interventions designed to curb the spread of the virus (e.g. vaccines, social distancing, masking). Using data from a nationally representative YouGov survey (N=1000) of American adults, I find respondents who report a functional impairment are no more likely to support vaccine mandates or to report engaging in behaviors to curb transmission than people without such impairments. By contrast, among respondents with functional impairments, those who consider disability to be an important part of their social identity are much more likely to report adopting pro-social behaviors to curb the spread of COVID-19, and report significantly higher levels of support for vaccine mandates. Indeed, Disability ID is in many instances the strongest predictor of support for such measures, and is a stronger predictor of these behaviors than linked fate with other PWD, and severity of functional limitation.

Disability, Group Empathy, and Political Attitudes

With Nick Valentino [In Preparation]

  • Abstract

People with disabilities (PWD) are widely recognized as a stigmatized minority group that faces entrenched social and economic disadvantage, but very little is known about how disability status shapes political psychology. We suspect disability may have political consequences for policy opinions and political behavior via the socialization of empathy for stigmatized groups in general. In this paper, we explore the first link in this causal chain in order to see whether various factors related to disability, including the type, duration, life-stage onset, and strength of disability identity lead to higher levels of empathy for disadvantaged outgroups on a completely separate dimension- race and ethnicity. If so, we would then expect disability identity to have political consequences outside narrowly group-relevant concerns

CV and Contact

Contact Information


Twitter: @JoshuaThorp

University of Michigan

Center for Political Studies

Institute for Social Research

426 Thompson Street

Ann Arbor, MI 48104