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POLCON Report Summary

Project ID: 338875
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Italy

Periodic Report Summary 3 - POLCON (Political Conflict in Europe in the Shadow of the Great Recession)

By its mid-term, the achievements of the POLCON project can be summarized by three points. First, the project produced three important datasets:

• a dataset on election outcomes covering the two last elections before fall 2008 and all elections from fall 2008 to the end of 2015
• a dataset on protest events, covering the period 2000-2015 for 30 European countries,
• a dataset on election campaigns, covering 76 elections in 15 European countries, and
• a dataset on political events, covering the period from Fall 2008 to 2015.

Second, in producing the protest event dataset, the project has contributed to the development of semi-automated content analyses procedures for event data.
Third, the analysis of this new and original data has provided already a rich set of results, which have been partly summarized above. The regional differences with respect to the political consequences of the Great Recession is maybe the most important overall result so far. In terms of electoral outcomes and structuring of conflicts in the party system, the Great Recession has at best accentuated long-term trends in Northwestern Europe – the inexorable rise of right-wing populist parties, while it has had much more disruptive consequences in the South of Europe, where it led to the rise of left-wing populists and to the profound reconfi-guration of the party systems (with the exception of Portugal). The countries in Southern Europe simultaneously faced an economic crisis and political crisis, with both crises having strong domestic and European components. In Central- and Eastern Europe, the impact of the Great Recession on electoral outcomes and party systems has been weak, too. In this part of Europe, electoral volatility has rather decreased during the economic crisis and, if anything, party systems that lacked institutionalization in the first place have stabilized. The driver of the reconfiguration of party systems in this part of Europe have been political rather than economic crises. These results in terms of electoral outcomes are confirmed by the first stab at the analysis of the protest event data. At least with respect to the overall magnitude of protest, the Great Recession did not seem to have made any impact at all in the Northwest of Europe. By contrast, with the exception of Malta, all Southern European countries experienced a wave of protest during the Euro-crisis. This wave was particularly intense in Greece, but it also occurred in the other countries. However, both in Spain and in Italy, this protest wave did not reach the intensity of the protests in the early 2000s – either in terms of participants (Italy) or in terms of both participants and number of events (Spain). Even in Greece, a major mobilization in terms of participants preceded the Great Recession in spring 2008. In Cyprus, we find a clear-cut wave linked to the Euro-crisis and in Portugal, we can discern even two waves, one before the crisis and one during the Euro-crisis, the second being clearly the more important one. In Central- and Eastern Europe, protest increased already before the Great Recession as a result of political crises, and during the economic crisis, it increased only in Bulgaria, mainly due to political reasons again.
The general impression is that the political experience of the Great Recession varies substantially across Europe. In addition to regional difference there are also country-specific differences within regions. This means that we need to be careful with generalizations, but also with scenarios of doom that tend to prevail currently in the media.

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