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Constrained Democracy: Citizens’ Responses to Limited Political Choice in the European Union

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - EUDEMOS (Constrained Democracy: Citizens’ Responses to Limited Political Choice in the European Union)

Período documentado: 2020-03-01 hasta 2021-08-31

The EUDEMOS project examines the impact of political choice on citizens’ political behaviour and attitudes. How is political choice changing in Europe? What are the implications for citizen mobilization, vote choices and satisfaction with democracy?

Political choice is crucial to democracy and lies at the heart of what distinguishes democratic systems from non-democratic ones. Political parties play a key role in offering choice to citizens. The extent to which a party system can provide a range of political choices to citizens that match their preferences has profound implications for the nature and quality of democracy.

EUDEMOS is a pioneering study that has examined both how the nature of political choice has developed in Europe in the post-war period – with closer European integration, the rise of challenger parties, increasing fragmentation and polarization – and the consequences of changing political choice for voter mobilization, electoral choices, satisfaction with democracy and polarization. In the book, “Political Entrepreneurs. The Rise of Challenger Parties in Europe” (Princeton University Press, 2020), Sara Hobolt and Catherine De Vries show that European party systems are changing. Challenger parties are on the rise in Europe. Like disruptive entrepreneurs, these parties offer new policies and defy the dominance of established party brands. This has implications for the nature of choice offered by a system.

In a series of peer-reviewed articles, combining analysis of speeches and manifestos, survey data and experimental analysis, the findings from this project have shown how political choice has implications for citizen engagement with politics, their electoral choices and how polarized and satisfied they are with politics. The project team has shown that increasing choice has a mobilizing effect. Citizen satisfaction with democracy is also greater when parties offer choices that are congruent with voter preferences. Yet, the findings have revealed that citizens aren’t simply content with having a party that represents their views, they also want to be able to vote for a party can also be instrumental in implementing policies. Hence, greater polarization of choice by itself does not increase satisfaction with democracy. Importantly, the EUDEMOS project has also explored how the rise of illiberal politicians is not always punished by voters at the ballot box, but that the counter actions of other politicians can be effective in reducing the populist and illiberal appeals. This project has thus advanced the understanding of how political choice is changing in Europe, what the consequences of the changing political landscape are for citizens, and how we can best defend liberal democratic values in the face of current challenges.
We are witnessing worrying trends of declining turnout, increase in support for extreme parties and reduced levels of trust in democratic institutions in Europe. The EUDEMOS project presents a path-breaking study of the consequences of political choice on the democratic attitudes and electoral behaviour of citizens in Europe.

The project has examined both how the nature of political choice has developed in Europe in the post-war period and the consequences of changing political choice for voter mobilization, electoral choices, satisfaction with democracy and polarization.
EUDEMOS has explored these questions using an innovative research design that combines methods from comparative politics, political psychology and behavioural economics. The five interconnected project components of EUDEMOS examine the development of political choice and responses to it at the macro- and the micro-level. Combined these studies have provided new insights into the importance of political choice and the transformation of European democracy today. The empirical studies focus specifically on how the properties of political choice shape turnout decisions, satisfaction with democracy, electoral behaviour and political preferences. The project has also examined the appeal of challenger parties offering new issues and appealing to voters with their populist anti-establishment rhetoric. These empirical studies use a mixed-method multilevel design. At the macrolevel, a time-series cross-sectional study of the effects of party political choice and rhetoric on democratic attitudes and behaviour over time. At the micro-level, using innovative experimental methods, such as conjoint analysis and laboratory experiments, to examine the mechanisms of political choice and the effects of elite framing of choice on behaviour.

The project findings have been published in two books (De Vries and Hobolt 2020; Hobolt and Rodon 2021) and a series of articles in international peer-reviewed journals and they have been disseminated through workshops, conferences, blog pieces, podcasts and media interviews (for up-to-date details see: https://hobolt.com/eudemos-constrained-democracy/ ).
EUDEMOS provides a pioneering study of the consequences of political choice in Europe on citizens’ attitudes towards democracy and electoral behaviour. The EUDEMOS project team, and its collaborators, have achieved the following objectives:

THEORETICAL CONTRIBUTION: EUDEMOS has developed a theoretical argument for understanding the changing nature of political choice in Europe and the impact of political choice on citizens’ perceptions of democracy and their electoral behaviour in Europe.

EMPIRICAL CONTRIBUTION: The project has provided a series of innovative books and articles on how political choice is changing and how properties of political choice shape attitudes towards democracy, policy preferences, turnout and electoral behaviour. The project has combined large-N analysis of developments in party positions cross-nationally over time with survey and laboratory experiments to test the impact of political choice, focusing on democratic attitudes and electoral behaviour (e.g. turnout and vote for extreme parties).

METHODOLOGICAL CONTRIBUTION: Innovatively combining methods from comparative politics, psychology and behavioural economics, this project has employed large-N cross-national and time-series analysis and experimental methods as well as state-of-the-art quantitative text analysis. Drawing on the Principal Investigator’s and post-doctoral researchers’ wide-ranging methodological expertise, this multi-level mixed methods strategy has made it possible to examine the changing nature of political choice macro-level as well as exploring the micro-level mechanisms.

PROJECT OUTPUTS: The EUDEMOS team has produced two books, 11 peer-reviewed journal articles, and several papers currently under review in top scientific journals. The wider impact and dissemination of the project findings have also been ensured through conference and workshop presentations, podcasts, blog pieces and media interviews.

While the funded project period has now come to an end, the PI and her collaborators continue to work on papers and projects that have arisen from EUDEMOS.
Sara Hobolt & Toni Rodon (2021) Domestic Contestation of the European Union. Routledge
Catherine De Vries & Sara Hobolt (2020) Political Entrepreneurs. Princeton University Press