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Non-elected politics. Cure or Curse for the Crisis of Representative Democracy?

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CUREORCURSE (Non-elected politics.Cure or Curse for the Crisis of Representative Democracy?)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31

Evidence of a growing disengagement of citizens from politics is multiplying. Electoral turnout reaches historically low levels. Anti-establishment and populist parties are on the rise. Fewer and fewer Europeans trust their representative institutions. In response, we have observed a multiplication of institutional reforms aimed at revitalizing representative democracy. Two in particular stand out: the delegation of some political decision-making powers to (1) selected citizens and to (2) selected experts. But there is a paradox in attempting to cure the crisis of representative democracy by introducing such reforms. In representative democracy, control over political decision-making is vested in elected representatives. Delegating political decision-making to selected experts/citizens is at odds with this definition. It empowers the non-elected. If these reforms show that politics could work without elected officials, could we really expect that citizens’ support for representative democracy would be boosted and that citizens would re-engage with representative politics? In that sense, would it be a cure for the crisis of representative democracy, or rather a curse? Our central hypothesis is that there is no universal and univocal healing (or harming) effect of non-elected politics on support for representative democracy. In order to verify it, the project proposes to collect data across Europe on three elements: (1) a detailed study of the preferences of Europeans on how democracy should work and on institutional reforms towards non-elected politics, (2) a comprehensive inventory of all actual cases of empowerment of citizens and experts implemented across Europe since 2000, and (3) an analysis of the impact of exposure to non-elected politics on citizens’ attitudes towards representative democracy. An innovative combination of online survey experiments and of panel surveys will be used to answer this topical research question with far-reaching societal implication.
The project has started in September 2018. Two part-time postdoc researchers have been recruited, Caroline Close and Emilien Paulis. The work conducted during the first year of the project has been mostly centered around two main tasks. First, we have launched WP2, which consists in an inventory of non-elected bodies (citizens and experts) across Europe (EU28, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland). Data collection is organized in relation with a network of national experts to be identified in each country. Each national expert is then asked to collect information on bodies of citizens and of experts implemented in the country since 2000. At the end of year 1, data has been collected and finalized for 20 countries. The remaining countries to be covered will be finalized during year 2. Second, we have intensively worked on the preparation of WP1, and more specifically of the questionnaires that should be developed for surveying citizens' attitudes towards non-elected bodies in representative democracies. We have tested some new questions and approaches in Belgium. Finally, we have also prepared the Data Management Plan for the project.
The main tasks for year 2 were the following. First, we have finalized data collection for WP2, and have completed the inventory of non-elected bodies. The inventory has then been made available to the community of researchers and to the broader public. It has been done via the website of the project and by depositing the data on a public data repository (Harvard Dataverse). A report on the dataset has also been published in the journal European Political Science. Second, we have prepared the comparative surveys on support for mini-publics for WP1. In particular, we have received a great opportunity from two colleagues: D. Bol (University College London) and A. Blais (University of Montreal). They were launching a survey studying citizens attitudes towards electoral institutions in 15 European countries (EPIS project). They offered us the opportunity to add a module of questions within their survey to capture public support for mini-publics. It provided us access to a very high quality sample (over 15,000 citizens) for a very small cost. Since the study was coordinated by Damien Bol, he has been in charge in the selection of a survey company to field the questionnaire and to get the ethics approval from his own university (King's College London). T
The main tasks performed during year 3 were the following. First, we have analysed data collected within the EPIS survey on public support for mini-publics across 15 European countries. A working paper has been drafted and made available in open access (see list of publications). It has then been presented in online seminars in a series of universities (Canberra, Frankfurt, Louvain, Aba Akademy Turku). Second, we have worked extensively on the role of non-elected bodies composed of experts. We started with an inventory of independent bodies of experts but it proved to be unsuccessful since the nature and role of such bodies is too diverse across countries. We have therefore reoriented our work towards an inventory of technocratic ministers in government across Europe. With the assistance of national experts, we have been able to collect data over 31 countries for the period 2000-2020.The dataset has been consolidated and a first article has been prepared. The dataset will be made available in an open data repository and via the website of the project. Third, the team has extensively work on the preparation of a cross-country study on public support for technocrats in government. We have designed a new questionnaire building on the most recent literature on democracy, technocracy and populism. In addition to the scientific part of the survey, the team has also worked on the public tender to subcontract fieldwork for the survey, as well as on the ethical approval of the survey by the Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Philosophy and Social Sciences of the Université libre de Bruxelles and of the Data Protection Officer of the University. The survey has now been attributed to the survey company Qualtrics (which made the best offer). It has been fielded in six countries (France, Germany, UK, Spain, Italy and Poland) over the summer of 2021. After some analyses, a new wave of data collection was launched in November 2021. Finally, we have started working on WP3. We have set up a first survey examining the impact of the technocratic-led government of Mario Draghi on citizens democratic attitudes in Italy. The first wave was fielded over the summer of 2021. A second wave is prepared for December 21-January 22.

In terms of tasks for each work packages (WPs), here is where we stand 3 years after the start of the project.

- We have first ran some pilot study on public support for mini-publics and for sortition in France and Belgium using survey data already available (see the two articles by Bedock and Pilet in 2020).
- On basis of these pilot studies, we have integrated a module on public support for mini-publics in the EPIS project covering 15 countries across Europe (see below). Analyses of the data collected have been performed. A working paper has been published and presented in various universities. The paper is under review for publication.
- We have also prepared a survey on support for technocratic ministers across Europe. The survey whas been fielded in summer-fall 2021.

- We have published our inventory of mini-publics across Europe in July 2020. It is available via the website of the project. The dataset of mini-publics consolidated on basis of the inventory has also been uploaded on Data Repository of the University of Harvard. ( Finally, in order to publicize the dataset to the community of scholars, we have published a dataset report in the journal European Political Science (see Paulis et al., 2020 in the list of publications).

- Regarding the role of experts in politics, we have produced on an inventory of technocratic ministers across Europe. All technocratic ministers in government across 31 countries between 2000 and 2020 have been identified. AThe dataset will be made available via the project website and in an open data repository. Analyses of the factors that seem to increase the appointment of non-elected technocratic ministers in national government have been conducted. A paper is under review for publication.

- We have fielded a survey aiming Italian citizens to study how they react to the appointment of a new government partly composed of (and chaire by) non-elected technocrats.

Nevertheless, for full transparence, I have uploaded on the project management page the ethics form submitted by Damien Bol at King’s College London, the ethics approval by King’s College London committee of ethics, and the consent forms to be filled in by the participants to the survey.
The project has already advanced research to a considerable extent in our understanding of the prevalence of non-elected politics across Europe, as well as regarding public support for non-elected politics.

Regarding the prevalence of non-elected politics, we have produced the two most comprehensive datasets of mini-publics and of technocrats in government across Europe over the last two decades. On the first aspect, an article has already been published, and the dataset is freely available. As for technocrats in government, the article is under review and the dataset shall be published in the coming months. These two pieces of research have already advanced significantly the scientific literature on the prevalence of non-elected politics.

Second, we have also contributed to advance our knowledge on the factors that lead citizens to support (or rather oppose) a greater use of mini-publics in representative democracy. We have already published three articles testing preliminary hypotheses on the role of political trust but also of interpersonal trust in how citizens evaluate democratic innovations (see list of publications). Moreover, we have produced the largest study so far on support for sortition across 15 European countries, and for more than 15,000 citizens. The paper is currently under review but has already been presented in online seminars in Australia (Canberra), Finland (Turku) and Germany (Frankfurt).

And we expect that in the coming months we will also be able to contribute significantly to the study of support for technocracy among citizens. The inventory of technocratic ministers across national governments in Europe has been finalized and the analyses are being produced. And our survey of support for technocratic ministers should be fielded in May 2021.