Professor Sara B. Hobolt currently holds the Sutherland Chair in European Institutions at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research focuses on the European Union, Public Opinion, Parties, Voting Behavior and Comparative Politics. She is the Principal Investigator of the ERC-funded project 'EUDEMOS: Constrained Democracy: Citizens’ Responses to Limited Political Choice in the European Union.' (http://www.lse.ac.uk/european-institute/research/eudemos). She is also Chair of the European Election Studies (http://europeanelectionstudies.net/).
Skills and Expertise
GovernancePublic Policy AnalysisPolitical SociologyCitizen ParticipationPolitical ParticipationEuropean UnionComparative AnalysisInstitutional AnalysisEuropean PoliticsComparative StudiesElection StudiesPublic OpinionRepresentationPoliticsPolitical InstitutionsElections, Public Opinion and Voting Behavior
National governments in Europe operate under the growing constraints of European integration that limit the choices they can offer citizens and the policy instruments they can use. Yet, despite the centrality of political choice to the functioning of electoral democracy, we know very little about the consequences of constrained political choices for citizens’ engagement in democratic processes. Across Europe, an increasing number of citizens are supporting extreme parties or declining to take part in democratic elections. This project offers a systematic examination of how the range and substance of political choices offered to citizens in the EU shape democratic perceptions and electoral behaviour. It combines a large-N cross-national analysis of citizens’ responses to mainstream party convergence and case studies of the ‘emergency politics’ of the Eurozone crisis with micro-level experimental work. This project will contribute to the study of citizens’ democratic attitudes and behaviour by focusing on the importance of political choice. By developing and testing a theoretical model of heterogeneous citizen responses to the constrained political choice, the project provides insights into why citizens turn against mainstream parties or exit democratic process altogether.
In the referendum on 23 June 2016 voters gave the British government a mandate for Britain to be the first country to ever leave the EU. Yet, the options of ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ do not give clear guidance as to what kind of Brexit people want or will accept. At the heart of this research project is a question of huge political importance: which negotiation outcomes will be considered legitimate by the British public? The negotiations ahead involve an array of complex policy questions, including the much debated trade-off over whether the government should prioritise controlling the inflow of EU immigrants or preferential trade agreements with the EU. But there are many other policy choices that relate to EU budget contributions, EU subsidies, financial services, jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and so on. None of these featured on the referendum ballot, nor are they issues that most people gave much thought to in advance of the referendum. This project therefore aims to shed light on the question of what the Prime Minister’s repeated dictum – ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ – actually means to ordinary people. What expectations do voters, both Leavers and Remainers, have of Brexit, what process do they want the negotiations to take and ultimately what outcome do they want? Our aim is to thus gather new information on people’s views about the Brexit negotiations, but also shed light on what types of social and political cues shape these opinions. We focus on three crucial questions: What, Why and With What Consequence. - What do people expect of Brexit, what process do they want the negotiations to take and what are their preferred outcomes? - Why, and how, do people arrive at positions on these complex policy issues? - What are the consequences of these expectations and preferences for the negotiation positions of policy-makers and the legitimacy of the Brexit outcome?
Research Items (105)
Project - EUDEMOS: Constrained Democracy: Citizens’ Responses to Limited Political Choice in the European Union
Project - Brexit Attitudes
Brief summary of our work on emerging Brexit identities here on pp. 18-20:
- Jan 2018
When do parties use emotive rhetoric to appeal to voters? In this article, we argue that politicians are more likely to employ positive affect (valence) in their rhetoric to appeal to voters when parties are not ideologically distinct and when there is uncertainty about public preferences. To test these propositions, our paper uses well-established psycholinguistic affect dictionaries to generate scores from three time-series of political text: British party manifestos (1900-2015) and annual party leaders’ speeches (1977-2014) as well as US Presidents’ State of the Union addresses (1880-2016). Our findings corroborate our expectations and have important implications for the study of party competition by illuminating the role of valence in way politicians communicate their policies
Project - EUDEMOS: Constrained Democracy: Citizens’ Responses to Limited Political Choice in the European Union
The link between individual perceptions of the economy and vote choice is fundamental to electoral accountability. Yet, while it is well-established that economic perceptions are correlated with voting behaviour, it is unclear whether these perceptions are rooted in the real economy or whether they simply reflect voters’ partisan biases. This article uses time-series data, survey data and unique experimental evidence to shed new light on how British voters update their economic perceptions in response to economic change. Our findings demonstrate that while partisanship influences levels of economic optimism, people respond to information about real economic changes by adjusting their economic perceptions.
Project - Brexit Attitudes
In this paper we revisit the often disregarded ‘pocketbook voting’ thesis that suggests that people evaluate governments based on the state of their own finances. Using data from the British Household Panel Survey over the last 20 years, we measure changes in personal financial circumstances and show that the ‘pocketbook voting’ model works. Crucially, we also argue that the ability to attribute responsibility for these changes to the government matters. People respond much more strongly to changes in their own finances that are linked to government spending, such as welfare transfers, than to similar changes that are less clearly the responsibility of elected officials, such as lower personal earnings. We conclude that pocketbook voting is a real phenomenon, but that more attention should be paid to how people assign credit and blame for changes in their own economic circumstances.
What motivates politicians to engage in legislative activities? In multilevel systems politicians may be incentivized by ambitions to advance their careers either at the state or federal level. This article argues that the design of the electoral institutions influences how politicians respond to these incentives. Analyzing a unique dataset of both ‘stated’ and ‘realized’ career ambitions of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), it finds that those who seek to move from the European to the national (state) level participate less in legislative activities than those who plan to stay at the European (federal) level. For MEPs who aim to move to the state level, attendance and participation in legislative activities is substantively lower among legislators from candidate-centered systems. Importantly, the effect of career ambitions on legislative participation is stronger in candidate-centered systems than in party-centered systems. These findings suggest that the responsiveness associated with candidate-centered systems comes at the expense of legislative activity.
The outcome of the British referendum on EU membership sent shockwaves through Europe. While Britain is an outlier when it comes to the strength of Euroscepticism, the anti-immigration and anti-establishment sentiments that produced the referendum outcome are gaining strength across Europe. Analysing campaign and survey data, this article shows that the divide between winners and losers of globalization was a key driver of the vote. Favouring British EU exit, or ‘Brexit’, was particularly common among less educated, poorer and older voters, and those who expressed concerns about immigration and multi-culturalism. While there is no evidence of a short-term contagion effect with similar membership referendums in other countries, the Brexit vote nonetheless poses a serious challenge to the political establishment across Europe.
The Eurozone crisis has altered the party political landscape across Europe. The most visible effect is the rise of challenger parties. The crisis not only caused economic hardship, but also placed considerable fiscal constraints upon a number of national governments. Many voters have reacted to this by turning their back on the traditional parties and opting instead for new, or reinvigorated, challenger parties that reject the mainstream consensus of austerity and European integration. This article argues that both sanctioning and selection mechanisms can help to explain this flight from the centre to challenger parties. First, voters who were economically adversely affected by the crisis punish mainstream parties both in government and in opposition by voting for challenger parties. Second, the choice of specific challenger party is shaped by preferences on three issues that directly flow from the Euro crisis: EU integration, austerity and immigration. Analysing both aggregate-level and individual-level survey data from all 17 Western EU member states, this article finds strong support for both propositions and shows how the crisis has reshaped the nature of party competition in Europe.
Public opinion is increasingly at the heart of both political and scholarly debates on European integration. This essay reviews the large literature on public support for, and opposition to, European integration, focusing on conceptualization, causes and consequences: What is public support for European integration? How can we explain variation in support and Euroskepticism? And, what are the consequences of public support for elections and policy-making in the European Union? The review reveals that while a growing literature has sought to explain individual support for European integration, more work is still needed to understand the ways in which opinions are shaped by their national context and how public contestation of the EU poses a challenge to, and an opportunity, for the future of the integration project.
The 2014 European Parliament elections were held against the backdrop of the worst economic crisis in post-war Europe. The elections saw an unprecedented surge in support for Eurosceptic parties. This raises the question of whether the crisis, and the EU's response to it, can explain the rise of Eurosceptic parties. Our analysis of the 2014 European Election Study demonstrates that the degree to which individuals were adversely affected by the crisis and their discontent with the EU's handling of the crisis are major factors in explaining defection from mainstream pro-European to Eurosceptic parties in these elections. This suggests that far from being second-order national elections concerned only with domestic politics, European issues had a significant impact on vote choices.
Are governments responsive to public preferences when legislating in international organizations? This paper demonstrates that governments respond to domestic public opinion even when acting at the international level. Specifically, we examine conflict in the European Union’s primary legislative body, the Council of the European Union (EU). We argue that domestic electoral incentives compel governments to react to public opinion. Analyzing a unique dataset on all legislative decisions adopted in the Council since 1999, we show that governments are more likely to oppose legislative proposals that extend the level and scope of EU authority when their domestic electorates are skeptical about the EU. We also find that governments are more responsive when the issue of European integration is salient in domestic party politics. Our findings demonstrate that governments can use the international stage to signal their responsiveness to public concerns and that such signals resonate in the domestic political debate.
Assessing and Maximizing the Impact of the Social Sciences: A British Perspective - Volume 48 Issue S1 - Sara B. Hobolt
How do issues enter the political arena and come to affect party competition? This study extends the literature on issue evolution from the U.S. context to multiparty systems. While traditional models assume opposition parties to be the agents of issue evolution, this study argues that within multiparty competition not all parties in opposition have an incentive to change the issue basis of political competition. The central propositions of our issue entrepreneurship model are twofold: First, political parties are more likely to become issue entrepreneurs when they are losers on the dominant dimension of contestation. We focus on three components of political loss in multiparty systems relating to the office-seeking, voting-seeking, and policy-seeking objectives of parties. Second, parties will choose which issue to promote on the basis of their internal cohesion and proximity to the mean voter on that same issue. We test these propositions by examining the evolution of the issue of European integration in 14 European party systems from 1984 to 2006. The time-series cross-sectional analyses lend strong support to our model.
There is an extensive literature on the relative virtues of different electoral systems in producing more responsive and effective governments, but far less attention has been paid to role of dynamic factors. This article examines how government minority/majority status and popularity shape the trade-off between government responsiveness and effectiveness. We argue that minority governments face legislative constraints that incentivize them to be responsive to the public, but that this comes at the expense of legislative effectiveness. This trade-off between responsiveness and effectiveness is, however, conditioned by the government's standing in the polls. The more popular a minority government is in the polls, the less responsive and the more effective it becomes. These propositions are tested using original time-series data on public policy preferences, government popularity, legislative output and public expenditures in Canada from 1958 to 2009. Our findings demonstrate that minority governments are more responsive to the median voter but less legislatively effective than majority governments, and that these effects are moderated by the popularity of the government.
- Jun 2015
The 2014 European Parliament elections were the first elections where the major political groups each nominated a lead candidate (Spitzenkandidat) for the Commission presidency in the hope that this would increase the visibility of the elections and mobilize more citizens to turn out. Using data from the 2014 European Elections Study, an EU-wide post-election survey, we analyse whether and how the presence of the lead candidates influenced the individual probability to participate in these elections. Our findings show that the recognition of the candidates increased the propensity to turn out, even when controlling for a host of other individual-level factors explaining turnout and the context factors known to facilitate participation. Furthermore, the campaign efforts of the lead candidates are associated with higher turnout levels and are reinforced by candidate recognition.
Finding reliable and valid positions for political actors is of key importance to political scientists. In this paper we compare estimates obtained using the automated Wordscores and Wordfish techniques with estimates from the widely-used Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP) as well as voter and expert placements. We estimate the positions of 254 manifestos across 33 elections in Germany and Denmark, two cases with very different textual data available. The paper contributes to the literature on automated content analysis by providing a comprehensive test of convergent validation, both in terms of number of cases analyzed and number of validation measures. In both cases, Wordscores approximately replicates the CMP, voter and expert assessments of party positions, whereas Wordfish replicates the positions in the German manifestos. The results demonstrate that automated methods can produce valid estimates of party positions, but also that the appropriateness of each method hinges on the quality of the textual data. Additional analyses suggest that Wordfish requires both longer texts and a more ideologically charged vocabulary in order to produce estimates comparable to Wordscores.
Further integration in the European Union (EU) increasingly depends on public legitimacy. The global financial crisis and the subsequent euro area crisis have amplified both the salience and the redistributive consequences of decisions taken in Brussels, raising the question of how this has influenced public support for European integration. In this contribution, we examine how public opinion has responded to the crisis, focusing on support for monetary integration. Interestingly, our results show that support for the euro has remained high within the euro area; however, attitudes are increasingly driven by utilitarian considerations, whereas identity concerns have become less important. While the crisis has been seen to deepen divisions within Europe, our findings suggest that it has also encouraged citizens in the euro area to form opinions on the euro on the basis of a cost–benefit analysis of European economic governance, rather than relying primarily on national attachments.
- Jan 2015
Democratic accountability requires that citizens can assign responsibility for policy outcomes, yet multilevel structures of government complicate this task as they blur lines of accountability and leave voters uncertain about which level of government is responsible. This study examines the extent to which Europeans are able to navigate the complex and ever-changing divisions of responsibility between their national governments and the European Union (EU). Specifically, we compare citizen and expert responsibility attributions to evaluate if and how voters can competently assign policy responsibility to the European Union. Using multilevel modeling to analyze survey and media data from 27 EU member states, we demonstrate that extreme attitudes decrease citizen competence by motivating biased information processing. Yet at the contextual level, highly politicized environments result in more correct allocations of responsibility by creating an information-rich context.
The European Parliament promised voters that the 2014 elections would be different. According to its interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty, a vote in these European elections would also be a vote for the President of the Europe's executive, the Commission. To reinforce this link between the European elections and the Commission President, the major political groups each nominated a lead candidate, Spitzenkandidat, for the post. This article examines how this innovation affected the 2014 elections. It concludes that the presidential candidates did not play a major role in the election campaigns, except in a handful of countries, and thus had a limited impact on voter participation and vote choices. However, the European Parliament was very successful in imposing its interpretation of the new modified procedure for electing the Commission President, not shared by all national governments, and this will have important implications for the inter-institutional dynamics in the Union and the future of European democracy.
This study examines the extent to which opposition parties engage in wedge-issue competition. The literature on wedge-issue competition has exclusively focused on the two-party system in the United States, arguing that wedge issues are the domain of opposition parties. This study argues that within multiparty systems opposition status is a necessary but not sufficient condition for wedge-issue competition. Since parties within multiparty systems compete in the wake of past and dawn of future coalition negotiations, parties that are regularly part of a coalition are not likely to exploit wedge issues as it could potentially jeopardize relationships with future coalition partners. Conversely, it is less risky for parties that have never been part of a government coalition to mobilize wedge issues. These theoretical propositions are empirically substantiated by examining the attention given to the European integration issue between 1984 and 2010 within 14 Western European countries, utilizing pooled time-series regressions
Proponents of the European project often portray further enlargement of the European Union as a complement to the process of building an ever closer union. The eurozone crisis, however, has highlighted the risks associated with pursuing deeper integration in a diverse union and reignited the debate on differentiated integration. This contribution examines how public attitudes towards the processes of deepening and broadening are related and asks whether European citizens see them as complementary or conflicting. Using multilevel analysis of Eurobarometer data, the contribution examines the factors – individual and contextual – that shape attitudes towards enlargement and deeper political integration across the 27 member states. The findings suggest that the ‘winners’ of integration – high-skilled individuals in core eurozone countries – are most likely to support deepening, but oppose further enlargement out of fear that an ever wider union might be costly.
As an emerging federal system, the European Union (EU) divides decision-making powers between multiple levels of government. Yet little is known about how EU citizens attribute responsibility to the EU. In particular, do people hold the EU, rather than national governments, responsible for different policy outcomes, some of which are primarily decided at the EU level? This article investigates the extent to which institutional differences and individual biases influence citizens’ attribution of responsibility in the EU. We rely on unique survey data collected in all 27 EU member states to explore how citizens attribute responsibility across five different policy areas. Using a multilevel model of responsibility judgments, our findings show that while citizens’ evaluations correspond to the institutional context, group-serving biases, related to support for the EU, have a more important role in shaping attributions of responsibility in the EU.
A key component of democratic accountability is that citizens understand 'who is to blame'. Nonetheless, little is known about how citizens attribute responsibility in the European Union or how those perceptions of responsibility matter. This book presents the first comprehensive account of how citizens assign blame to the EU, how politicians and the media attempt to shift blame and finally, how it matters for electoral democracy. Based on rich and unique data sources, Blaming Europe? sheds light on all three aspects of responsibility in the EU. First, it shows that while institutional differences between countries shape citizen judgements of EU responsibility, those judgements are also highly determined by pre-existing attitudes towards the EU. Second, it demonstrates that neither politicians nor the media assign much blame to the EU. Third, it establishes that regardless of whether voters are capable of accurately assigning responsibility, they are not able to hold their EU representatives to account via the ballot box in European elections due to the lack of an identifiable 'European government' to reward or punish. As a consequence, when citizens hold the EU responsible for poor performance, but are unable to sanction an EU incumbent, they lose trust in the EU as a whole instead. In conclusion, it argues that this 'accountability deficit' has significant implications for the future of the European Union.
This study addresses the dynamics of the issue space in multiparty systems by examining to what extent, and under what conditions, parties respond to the issue ownership of other parties on the green issue. To understand why some issues become part and parcel of the political agenda in multiparty systems, it is crucial not only to examine the strategies of issue entrepreneurs, but also the responses of other parties. It is argued that the extent to which other parties respond to, rather than ignore, the issue mobilisation of green parties depends on two factors: how much of an electoral threat the green party poses to a specific party; and the extent to which the political and economic context makes the green issue a potential vote winner. To analyse the evolution of the green issue, a time-series cross-section analysis is conducted using data from the Comparative Manifestos Project for 19 West European countries from 1980–2010. The findings have important implications for understanding issue evolution in multiparty systems and how and why the dynamics of party competition on the green issue vary across time and space.
Why do certain ministers remain in their post for years while others have their time in office cut short? Drawing on the broader literature on portfolio allocation, this article argues that the saliency of individual portfolios shapes ministerial turnover. The main argument is that ministerial dismissals are less likely to occur the higher the saliency attributed to the ministerial portfolio since ministers appointed to important posts are more likely to have been through extensive screening before appointment. Importantly, it is also posited in the article that the effect of portfolio salience is conditioned by government approval ratings: when government ratings are on the decline, prime ministers are less likely to reshuffle or fire important ministers than when approval ratings are improving. To test these claims, Cox proportional hazards models are applied to a new dataset on ministerial turnover in Scandinavia during the postwar period. The results strongly support the proposition that portfolio saliency matters for ministerial survival, and that this effect is moderated by government popularity.
Recent literature has shown that the long established link between economic performance and electoral outcomes is conditioned by a country's institutions and government, what is often termed ‘clarity of responsibility’. In this article two distinct dimensions of the clarity of the political context are identified: institutional and government clarity. The first captures the formal dispersion of government power, both horizontally and vertically. The second captures the cohesion of the incumbent government. Analysing survey data from 27 European countries, it is shown that voters' ability to hold governments to account, for both the economy and management of public services, is primarily influenced by the extent to which there is an identifiable and cohesive incumbent, whereas formal institutional rules have no direct impact on performance voting.
Assigning credit and blame in systems of multilevel government, such as federal states, requires information. This paper examines how voters respond to information about policy outcomes when attributing responsibility to multiple levels of government in a European context. Using an experimental design, we show that the responsibility attributions of British voters are affected by perceptual biases, notably their feelings about the government and the European Union (EU). But interestingly, we also find that voters, regardless of their predispositions, are only responsive to information they receive from their national government, whereas they ignore information provided by EU officials. These findings have implications not only for our understanding of attribution in systems of multiple levels of government, but also for how voters use information selectively depending on the credibility of the source.
- Oct 2012
Voters behave differently in European Parliament (EP) elections compared to national elections because less is at stake in these ‘second‐order’ elections. While this explains the primary characteristic of EP elections, it has often led to a conflation of distinct motivations for changing behaviour – namely sincere and protest voting. By distinguishing these motivations, this article addresses the question of when and why voters alter their behaviour in EP elections. In addition, it argues that the degree of politicisation of the EU in the domestic debate shapes the extent to which voters rely on EU, rather than national, considerations. These propositions are tested in a multilevel analysis in 27 countries in the 2009 EP elections. The findings have important implications for understanding why voters change their behaviour between different types of elections.
Recent studies have shown that variation in political attitudes and participation can be attributed to both genes and the environment. This finding raises the question of why genes matter to participation, and by which pathways. Two hypotheses suggest that feelings of civic duty and sense of political efficacy intermediate the relationship between genes and political participation and, thus, that these traits have a common heritable component. If so, how robust are the relationships across cultural contexts? Utilizing two new twin studies on political traits, one in Denmark and one in the United States, we show that the heritability of political participation and political efficacy is remarkably similar across cultures. Moreover, most of the covariation between efficacy and political participation is accounted for by a common underlying genetic component.
Theories of issue evolution and issue manipulation suggest that ‘political losers’ in the party system can advance their position by introducing a new issue dimension. According to these theories, this strategy of issue entrepreneurship, i.e. the attempt to restructure political competition by mobilizing a previously non-salient issue dimension, allows political losers to attract new voters and reap electoral gains. In this study, we examine the extent to which these expectations hold by exploring issue entrepreneurial strategies by political parties when applied to the issue of European integration. Using multilevel modelling to analyse European Election Study data, we firstly show that voters are more likely to cast their ballot for parties which are losers on the extant dimension based on concerns related to European integration. Secondly, a time-series cross-sectional analysis demonstrates that parties which employ an issue entrepreneurial strategy are more successful electorally. In other words, voters are responsive to the issue entrepreneurial strategies of parties. These findings have important implications for our understanding of party competition and electoral behaviour in multiparty systems.
Turkey's bid to join the European Union (EU) is more contentious than any previous enlargement of the EU. With the prospect of a predominantly Muslim country joining the Union, religious differences are often argued to be at the heart of public opposition to Turkish membership, whereas economic reasoning seems to dominate arguments in favour. Yet, public opinion on this issue is also highly volatile. This raises the question of the extent to which elite framing of the debate on Turkish accession can shape public opinion. Using a survey-embedded experimental study, we examine the differences in support between people exposed to – positive and negative – cultural and economic arguments. Our results show that the economic frames are persuasive across the board, whereas cultural (religious) frames are strongly conditioned by individual predispositions on religious diversity.
The debate about the democratic deficit of the European Union has preoccupied scholars for decades. This article examines democracy in the Union from the perspective of citizens by asking what determines satisfaction with EU democracy? Two key models of regime support are applied to the European Union: the output‐oriented performance model and the input‐oriented procedural model. Contrary to previous work, it is argued here that there is a positive spillover effect from confidence in national institutions to the European level. These propositions are tested using survey data from 27 EU Member States. Using multi‐level modelling, it is found that both performance and procedural factors matter, and that confidence in EU institutions matters more to citizens who are knowledgeable about the EU.
Religion can affect public support for the European Union (EU). However, specifying the circumstances under which religion may become a stronger predictor of EU-support has so far been neglected. This article shows that the media play a role in this process and it is investigated to what extent the presence or absence of references to religious issues in EU news coverage primes people's religious attitudes to contribute to their evaluation of the EU. For this purpose, a content analysis of the amount of religious news items in EU coverage in German and Dutch newspapers between 1997 and 2007 was conducted. Two points in time were chosen-1998, when only a small amount of religious news items appeared in EU coverage, and 2005, when religious items reached a peak. Eurobarometer data were used to test the media priming proposition. The findings show that an increasing religious dimension in media coverage about the EU primes a linkage between religious and political considerations and thus influences the strength of the impact of religion on attitudes towards the EU.
Interest in politics is important for a host of political behaviors and beliefs. Yet little is known about where political interest comes from. Most studies exploring the source of political interest focus on parental influences, economic status, and opportunity. Here, we investigate an alternative source: genetic transmission. Using two twin samples, one drawn from Denmark and the other from USA, we find that there is a high degree of heritability in political interest. Furthermore, we show that interest in politics and political efficacy share the same underlying, latent genetic factor. These findings add to the growing body of literature that documents political behaviors and attitudes as not simply the result of socialization, but also as part of an individual's genetically informed disposition.
We compare a recent Danish twin survey on political attitudes and behaviors to a nationally representative survey covering similar topics. We find very similar means and variances for most of our constructed scales of political attitudes and behaviors in the two surveys, although even small differences tend to be statistically significant due to sample size. This suggests that the twin study can be used to make inferences on the heritability of several political traits in the Danish population.
This paper investigates the career paths of legislators in the European Parliament. Specifically, we examine how the link between the career trajectories of legislators and their legislative activities is moderated by electoral institutions. The European Parliament provides an excellent laboratory for addressing these issues because electoral and candidate selection rules vary across the constituencies (the EU member states) of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Following the literature, we identify three types of representatives: (1) those who see European level as their primary area for their future political career; (2) those whose who see the European Parliament as a stepping-stone to a career at the national level; and (3) those who see the European Parliament as the final stage of their political career. We rely on an original dataset of the career trajectories of all MEPs that were elected to the 1999â2004 (5th) European Parliament. The results from our hierarchical multi-nominal model show that different career trajectories are associated with different levels of legislative activity, suggesting that career ambitions shape legislative behavior, but that crucially this relationship is moderated by electoral institutions and candidate selection rules.
This eBook contains some of the first fruits of a large collaborative project funded by the EU’s DG Research under their FP7 Programme: an “infrastructure design study” whose ultimate goal is “Providing an Infrastructure for Research on Electoral Democracy in the European Union” – a title that gives rise to the unlovely acronym PIREDEU, used repeatedly in the pages of the book. The design study was complemented by a feasibility study conducted in the context of the 2009 elections to the European Parliament. While somewhat restricted in breadth of coverage (for example the numbers of questions asked in voter and candidate surveys were limited by available funds) this was still a fully-fledged election study that included all the component parts needed to address fundamental questions regarding the quality of democracy in the European Union at the time of elections to the European Parliament. It included five of these components. A voter study sought to interview about 1,000 respondents in each of the 27 EU member countries, using essentially the same questionnaire in all countries; A candidate study sought to interview all candidates with any viable chance of actually gaining a seat in the European Parliament; A media study content-analyzed newspapers, television channels and radio stations during a three-week period leading up to the elections; A manifesto study coded all the campaign platforms published by parties seeking representation in the European Parliament; A contextual data study sought to collect all relevant statistical information regarding the outcome of the election in each of the 27 participating countries. This book contains fifteen chapters showcasing the research opportunities provided by these data.
- Oct 2011
Research on Euroscepticism focuses increasingly on the role of group identities: national identities and attitudes towards multiculturalism. Yet hardly any attention has been paid to the way in which religious intolerance shapes Euroscepticism. We argue that religious intolerance influences not only diffuse Euroscepticism, but also more specifically opposition to enlargement of the European Union with Turkey. To examine the relationship between religious intolerance and Euroscepticism, this article analyses unique data from two representative surveys conducted in Ireland and the Netherlands. Our findings show that religious intolerance is indeed a powerful determinant of attitudes towards the European Union and that it particularly shapes people's attitudes towards future Turkish enlargement. This study therefore contributes to the literature by demonstrating that social identities are strong determinants of Euroscepticism.
Elections are inherently about selecting good candidates for public office and sanctioning incumbents for past performance. Yet, in the low salience context of ‘second-order elections’ to the European Parliament, empirical evidence suggests that voters sanction first-order national incumbents. However, no previous study has examined whether voters also use these elections to select good candidates. This article draws on a unique dataset on the political experience of party representatives in eighty-five national elections to the European Parliament to evaluate the extent to which voters prefer candidates with more political experience. The results show that selection considerations do matter. Parties that choose experienced top candidates are rewarded by voters. This effect is greatest when European elections are held in the middle of the national electoral cycle.
The idea that voters use elections to hold governments to account for their performance lies at the heart of democratic theory, and countless studies have shown that economic performance can predict support for incumbents. Nonetheless recent work has challenged this simple link between policy performance and party choice by arguing that any relationship is conditioned by prior political beliefs, notably partisanship. Some have argued that economic perceptions are shaped by party choice rather than vice versa. Others have claimed that voters tend to attribute responsibility for perceived successes to their favored party, but absolve them of responsibility if performance is poor. This study examines the effect of partisanship on both performance evaluations and responsibility attributions using survey experiments to disentangle the complex causal relationships. Our findings show that partisan loyalties have pervasive effects on responsibility attributions, but somewhat weaker effects on evaluations of performance.
Why has turnout in European Parliament (EP) elections remained so low, despite attempts to expand the Parliament’s powers? One possible answer is that because little is at stake in these second-order elections only those with an established habit of voting, acquired in previous national elections, can be counted on to vote. Others argue that low turnout is an indication of apathy or even scepticism towards Europe. This article conducts a critical test of the “little at stake” hypothesis by focusing on a testable implication: that turnout at these elections will be particularly low on the part of voters not yet socialized into habitual voting. This proposition is examined using both time-series cross-section analyses and a regression discontinuity design. Our findings show that EP elections depress turnout as they inculcate habits of non-voting, with long-term implications for political participation in EU member states.
This paper examines the micro-foundations of the second-order elections model of European Parliament (EP) elections. We extend the existing literature in several ways. First, we propose an individual-level model of voting behaviour in second-order elections. Second, we present the first study using experimental methods to test the predictions of the second-order model, allowing us to test the individual-level propositions about vote choice in a controlled environment. Importantly, we also examine the conditioning effect of information on the ‘second-order’ nature of voting behaviour in EP elections. Our findings show that while voters base their EP vote choices primarily on domestic preferences, those who are given additional information about the European integration dimension are also more likely to vote on this basis.
The idea that voters use elections to hold governments to account for their performance lies at the heart of democratic theory, and countless studies have shown that economic performance can predict support for incumbents. Importantly, however, recent literature has shown that the link between economic performance and electoral outcomes is conditioned by countries’ institutional set-up, notably the level of ‘clarity of responsibility’. Clarity of responsibility is commonly employed as a rather generic concept that encompasses both formal institutional structures as well as dynamic traits of the incumbent government. In contrast, this paper distinguishes between two distinct dimensions of the political context: institutional and situational clarity. The first captures the formal dispersion of government power, both horizontally and vertically. The second captures the cohesiveness of the incumbent government. In addition, the impact of situational clarity of responsibility on performance voting will be greater amongst the politically informed. Using multilevel modeling to analyse survey data from 27 European countries, we find that voters’ ability to hold governments accountable is primarily influenced by the extent to which there is an identifiable and cohesive incumbent, whereas formal institutional rules have a limited impact on performance voting. We also show that the political context matters much more to people who are politically informed. These findings have implications for the literature on economic voting and more generally for the debate on electoral accountability.
- Sep 2010
Coalition governments are the norm in parliamentary democracies. Yet, despite the predominance of this type of government, political scientists have only recently started to investigate how voters approach elections when a coalition government is the likely outcome. Such elections present additional uncertainty and complexity for voters compared with elections in plurality systems, where party choice translates more directly into a choice of government. These factors have lead to the assumption that strategic voting is unlikely to occur in systems that produce coalition governments. In this introductory article to the special issue on Voters and Coalition Governments, we consider whether voters have the capacity to anticipate specific coalition outcomes and propose a framework for understanding the conditions that lead to strategic voting in both plurality and proportional systems.
Single-party governments are commonly thought to be more clearly responsible for government policy than coalition governments. One particular problem for voters evaluating coalition governments is how to assess whether all parties within a coalition should be held equally responsible for past performance. As a result, it is generally argued that voters are less likely to hold coalition governments to account for past performance. This article uses data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems project to assess whether and how the composition of coalition governments affects the way in which people use their votes to hold governments to account, and which parties within coalitions are more likely to be held to account for the government’s past performance.
- May 2010
The process of establishing a Constitution for Europe came to an end when voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the proposal. Analyzing both media coverage and survey data, this article seeks to disentangle the reasons why a majority of voters rejected the Constitution. Our findings suggest that the campaign played an important role in priming certain attitudes and that vote choices, in turn, were driven by specific issue concerns rather than general dissatisfaction with the European Union or national governments. These findings have implications not only for our understanding of direct democracy in Europe, but also for the study of campaign effects in referendums.
- Jan 2010
Abstract will be provided by author.
- Jan 2010
- Financing Referendum Campaigns
Direct democracy has been an important component of Danish democracy since the 1953 Constitution expanded the use of referendums. In particular, direct democracy has shaped Denmark’s relations with the European Union (EU), as all Danish referendums since 1978 have concerned aspects of European integration. The Danish electorate notably rejected both the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and full membership of the EMU in 2000, despite broad elite support for these proposals. This apparent disconnect between a largely pro-European political elite and an electorate, which is more evenly divided on issues of European integration, has raised the question of how public funding should be allocated in referendums on EU questions. Public funding constitutes the bulk of financing for referendum campaigns, yet there are no constitutional provisions or legal framework for determining its allocation. Instead, the distribution of funds is based on a political compromise in parliament prior to each referendum. Funding purely on the basis of seats in the national parliament would give the ‘Yes’ side a considerable financial advantage. We know from the literature on campaign spending in (mainly US) elections and referendums that campaign spending provides important information to voters, by reducing uncertainty, transmitting signals about the quality of the proposal, and in turn, influences outcomes.
This paper investigates religiosity in relation to party choice in European Parliament elections. Conventional wisdom tells us that as Europe has secularised, the effect of religion on party choice should also have diminished. Yet, this cross-national and cross-temporal study of religious voting in European elections from 1989 to 2004 paints a more nuanced picture. It shows that a) the effect of religion has been declining, but has increased in recent years, b) religion matters in particular for voting for Christian Democratic parties and Conservative parties, c) while generational replacement reduces the overall effect of religion on electoral decisions, the effect of religion has recently increased within each generation, and d) the impact of religion depends on the religious context in which citizens live so that religion plays a bigger role in fractionalised societies. These findings are discussed in the light of a revived importance of religion for European politics.
The No to the euro in referendums in Denmark and Sweden has been characterized as a public rebellion against an elite project and a sign of a general Euroscepticism among the citizens. However, it is often ignored that support for the euro fluctuates significantly over time in these countries, and hence analysing referendum outcomes simply in terms on static factors will provide only part of the explanation. In contrast to existing studies, this paper provides an analysis of the short-term dynamics in public support for the euro in the period leading up to the referendums. We thus address the question of why public attitudes towards monetary integration vary over time. We argue that at least part of the answer can be found in exchange rate fluctuations. Existing studies have neglected the fact that the national currency is not only a purely monetary indicator, but also carries symbolic weight. The public is therefore less likely to surrender their national currency when it is strong than when it is weak. They are also less willing to accept a replacement currency (e.g. the euro) when it is seen as weak vis-à-vis other world currencies. Our analysis of the two euro campaigns lends credence to our proposition that exchange rates matter. Moreover, we test impact of exchange rate changes on support of the euro using time series analysis. We find that the rapid fall in the value of the euro vis-à-vis the dollar contributed to the Danish rejection of the euro, whereas the strength of the Swedish currency made the Swedes more reluctant to relinquish their crown.
- Apr 2009
- Oxford University Press
Comprehensive comparative analysis of EU referendums from 1972 to 2008 Variety of sources used including survey data, content analysis of media coverage, experimental studies, and elite interviews not found elsewhere in the literature How do voters decide in referendums on European integration? Direct democracy has become an increasingly common feature of European politics with important implications for policy-making in the European Union. Attempts to reform the EU treaties have been stalled, and even abandoned, due to no-votes in referendums. Europe in Question sheds new light on the pivotal issue of electoral behaviour in referendums and provides a major contribution to the study of democracy in the European Union and voting behaviour more generally. Hobolt develops a comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding voting behaviour in referendums and presents a comparative analysis of EU referendums from 1972 to 2008. To examine why people vote the way they do, the role of political elites and the impact of the campaign dynamics, this books relies on a variety of sources including survey data, content analysis of media coverage, survey experiments, and elite interviews. The book illustrates the importance of campaign dynamics and elite endorsements in shaping public opinion, electoral mobilization and vote choices. Referendums are often criticized for presenting citizens with choices that are too complex and thereby generating outcomes that have little or no connection with the ballot proposal. Importantly this book shows that voters are smarter than they are often given credit for. They may not be fully informed about European politics, but they do consider the issues at stake before they go to the ballot box and they make use of the information provided by parties and the campaign environment. Readership: Scholars and students of political science, especially those interested in political behaviour, political parties, and European studies.
In light of the recent economic crisis, this paper examines how economic conditions shape public attitudes toward the European Union’s single currency, the euro. We argue that attitudes towards the euro are shaped by both utilitarian and symbolic concerns, but that economic insecurity is a key factor explaining support for the euro both inside and outside the eurozone. The effect of economic insecurity on aggregate euro support is mediated by eurozone membership status as well as economic structure, notably whether the economy is more dependent on manufacturing or services. Our time-series cross-section analysis of euro support from 1999-2008 in 28 countries corroborates these propositions.
Governing parties generally win fewer votes at European Parliament elections than at national electionsmost common explanation for this is that European elections are ‘second order national elections’ acting as mid-term referendums on government performance. This article proposes an alternative, though complementary, explanation: voters defect because governing parties are generally far more pro-European than the typical voter. Additionally, the more the campaign context primes Eurosceptic sentiments, the more likely voters are to turn against governing parties. A multi-level model is used to test these propositions and analyse the effects of individual and contextual factors at the 1999 and 2004 European Parliament elections. Both European and domestic concerns matter to voters; moreover, campaign context plays an important role in shaping vote choices.
- Sep 2008
Explanations of party competition and vote choice are commonly based on the Downsian view of politics: parties maximise votes by adopting positions on policy dimensions. However, recent research suggests that British voters choose parties based on evaluations of competence rather than on ideological position. This paper proposes a theoretical account which combines elements of the spatial model with the ‘issue ownership’ approach. Whereas the issue ownership theory has focused mainly on party competition, this paper examines the validity of the model from the perspective of both parties and voters, by testing its application to recent British general elections. Our findings suggest that as parties have converged ideologically, competence considerations have become more important than ideological position in British elections.
- May 2008
Elections are commonly viewed as mechanisms of accountability where voters sanction politicians for past performance. Yet the received wisdom is that in the low salience context of 'second-order elections', such as elections to the European Parliament, voters have little information about the behavior of their representa-tives and therefore punish national, first-order, governments instead. An alternative explanation proposed in the paper is that second-order elections are not only about sanctioning, but also about the selection of good candidates. Drawing on a unique dataset on the political experience of party representatives in 85 national elections to the European Parliament, we show that parties with experienced candidates are rewarded by voters. This effect is greater for opposition parties and when European Parliament elections are held during the mid-term of the national electoral cycle.
- Mar 2008
A number of studies have found that turnout tends to be lower under plurality rule than when some system of proportional representation is in place. Meanwhile, there is reason to believe that when turnout is lower, it is voters who are less knowledgeable about politics who are particularly less likely to participate. This suggests that turnout is lower under plurality rule because those with weaker motivations to vote are particularly discouraged from voting. We consider whether this is the case and if so, why. We examine four main reasons why the electoral system might influence the relationship between political knowledge and turnout: district competitiveness, mobilization efforts, efficacy, and the size and polarization of the party system. Using data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems project, we find that those with low levels of knowledge are indeed particularly less likely to vote under plurality rule. However, why this is the case is more difficult to ascertain.
Governments in democratic systems are expected to respond to the issue preferences of citizens. Yet we have a limited understanding of the factors that cause levels of responsiveness to vary across time and between countries. In this article, the authors suggest that political contestation is the primary mechanism driving policy responsiveness and that this, in turn, is mediated by political institutions and government popularity. To test this proposition, the authors analyze the responsiveness of executive policy promises (speeches) and policy actions (public expenditure) in Britain, Denmark, and the United States in the period from 1970 to 2005. These time-series analyses show that higher levels of political contestation are associated with more responsive executives.
- Dec 2007
This paper evaluates a recently developed method for extracting policy positions from political texts, known as Wordscores. This computerized content analysis technique is a potentially powerful tool for scholars interested in the study of political elites, since it promises an easy and efficient way of inferring policy position from texts and speeches. In this article, we provide a systematic evaluation of this promising method. Using Danish manifestos and government speeches from 1945 to 2005, we compare the policy positions extracted using Wordscores with measures of positions from the well-known Comparative Manifesto Project and cross-validate these with party expert surveys. Our analysis shows that the word scoring technique arrives at largely similar estimates to independently derived position measures and produces time series of government positions with high face validity.
- Feb 2007
One of the criticisms often levelled against direct democracy is that citizens lack sufficient knowledge to vote directly on policy issues. The ‘No’ votes in the French and Dutch referendums on the Constitutional Treaty have highlighted the importance of examining voter competence in referendums. This article proposes a theoretical framework for evaluating competence in EU referendums. It suggests that competent voting in EU referendums is based on issue-specific preferences and requires political information. Since most voters have little detailed knowledge of European integration, they rely on heuristics and cues when deciding how to vote. The important question is how much and which type of information voters require to make competent choices. This article examines whether and under what conditions the use of party endorsements as information cues can enhance competent voting in EU referendums. These theoretical questions are examined in an analysis of the 1994 Norwegian referendum on EU membership.
Direct democracy allows citizens to undercut the will of their elected representatives. Yet, while the electorate has the final say in referen- dums, political parties are in a privileged position to influence voters' perceptions of the issue on the ballot. By developing a model on voting behaviour in referendums, this article examines how and to what extent parties can influence referendum outcomes. It argues that as pivotal information providers in referendum campaigns, political parties can influence the framing of and uncertainty associated with the ballot proposal and thus, in turn, affect the voting behaviour. These proposi- tions are evaluated empirically in a 'controlled comparison' of the two Danish referendums on the Maastricht Treaty, as these cases allow us to examine how changes in party strategies affect changes in referen- dum outcomes.
The no-votes in the French and Dutch referendums on the Consti-tutional Treaty have highlighted the importance of understanding the mechanisms of direct democracy. Despite the increasing use and significance of referendums in the process of European integration, comparative studies of referendums in Europe are still few and many questions concerning direct democracy thus remain unanswered. This article reviews recent advances in the literature on direct democ-racy and European integration and suggests future avenues for research. To under-stand the ways in which referendums may influence the European integration process, this article approaches the study of direct democracy from the perspective of voters (how do they decide?) and political élites (which strategies do they adopt?), as well as examining the impact on policy outcomes.
The no-votes in the French and Dutch referendums on the Constitutional Treaty have highlighted the importance of understanding the mechanisms of direct democracy. Despite the increasing use and significance of referendums in the process of European integration, comparative studies of referendums in Europe are still few and many questions concerning direct democracy thus remain unanswered. This article reviews recent advances in the literature on direct democracy and European integration and suggests future avenues for research. To understand the ways in which referendums may influence the European integration process, this article approaches the study of direct democracy from the perspective of voters (how do they decide?) and political élites (which strategies do they adopt?), as well as examining the impact on policy outcomes.
A BSTRACT This article investigates how voters decide in referendums on European integra-tion. More specifically, it analyses how political information influences voting behaviour. It argues that political information conditions the way in which people make decisions in refer-endums. The impact of political information is examined not only at the individual, but also at the contextual level. It is hypothesized that variations in the context of the referendum – the intensity of the campaign – produce differences in the way in which citizens act in referen-dums. As the intensity of the referendum campaign increases, more information is available to citizens and voters will rely more heavily on sophisticated criteria, such as attitudes and issue positions on the European Union (EU). While the informational context influences voting patterns, individuals also vary in their awareness of politics. It is argued that people with high levels of political awareness receive more information and consequently rely more on their own attitudes and less on elite cues when deciding. These theoretical propositions are tested by analysing survey data from EU referendums in Denmark, Ireland and Norway.
- Apr 2005
Opinion polls suggest the UK Government faces an uphill task in winning the forthcoming referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty. This article provides a detailed analysis of the factors that are likely to decide the referendum outcome. Using recent survey data, we analyze the factors that influence individual-level support for the Constitutional Treaty. These results show that it is not only general attitudes towards European integration which are likely to play an important role, but also partisanship and satisfaction with the government. Given the low levels of information about the Constitution and the large number of undecided voters, the campaign itself will be crucial to the outcome. We argue that while information alone will not necessarily persuade voters, a successful campaign strategy by the yes-camp could make a decisive difference by motivating and informing voters, as well as setting the agenda for the debate.
- Feb 2005
The ability of a political system to respond to the preferences of its citizens is central to democra- tic theory and practice; yet most empirical research on government responsiveness has concen- trated on the United States. As a result, we know very little about the nature of government policy responsiveness in Europe and we have a poor understanding of the conditions that affect cross- national variations. This comparative study examines the relationship between public opinion and policy preferences in the United Kingdom and Denmark during the past three decades. We address two key questions: First, are the government's policy intentions driven by public opinion or vice versa? Second, do political institutions influence the level of government responsiveness? We suggest that public opinion tends to drive the government's policy intentions due to the threat of electoral sanction, and that this is more pronounced in proportional systems than in majoritarian democracies. In this comparative study of government policy responsiveness in Britain and Denmark, we examine whether the results generated by previous research are robust when tested in a longitudinal cross-national design. Moreover, our choice of cases enables us to assess how differences in institutional set-up affect the level of policy responsiveness. We thus address two key questions: first, are the gov- ernment's policy intentions driven by the public's attitudes towards political issues
It is well-established that voters behave very differently in European Parliament (EP) elections compared to national elections. They are more likely to switch their allegiances to smaller opposition parties or even to abstain. The classic explanation is that these changing patterns of behavior are due to the fact that less is at stake in 'second-order' EP elections. While this second-order explanation aptly captures the primary characteristic of EP elections, it has often led to a conflation of three quite distinct motivations for changing behavior, namely sincere voting, strategic protest voting and arena-specific voting. By clearly distinguishing among different types of motivations driving second-order voting behavior, we are able to address the important question of when and why voters are more likely to rely on sincere, strategic and arena specific considerations in EP elections. We argue that the primary conditioning factors are located at two levels. At the individual-level, voters are differently motivated depending on which type of party they normally support. At the context-level, the level of politicization of the EU in the domestic debate shapes the degree of arena-specific voting. These propositions are tested in a multi-level analysis of voting behavior in 27 countries in the 2009 European Parliament elections. Our findings have important implications for understanding why voters change their behavior between different types of elections.
This paper examines the role emotions play in moderating partisan electoral behavior. We argue that election campaigns can shape voters’ emotions about their preferred party in ways that moderate the extent to which they rely on party identification. Specifically, we hypothesize that voters who receive campaign communications that make them feel enthusiastic about their preferred party are more likely to vote on the basis of party identification, while those who experience anxiety or anger are more likely to defect from their preferred party. To test these propositions, we conduct a laboratory experiment, using the Dynamic Process Tracing Environment software, in the context of the 2010 British general elections. This experimental setup allows us to examine the role of emotions in the electoral process in a fully controlled environment, and thus offers a distinctive contribution to our understanding of the psychological mechanisms that drive vote choice. By disentangling the effect emotions have on the relationship between partisanship and vote choice, this paper contributes to our understanding of the effect of campaigns on voting behavior.
Abstract will be provided by author.
Elections provide an important opportunity for voters to sanction governments for their performance. This paper contributes to the literature on how voters reward or punish governments for the state of the economy by testing three related propositions. The first is that, because individuals respond more strongly to negative information, deteriorating economic conditions have a greater effect on voting behaviour than improving economic conditions. Second, we test the mechanism behind that information asymmetry. In particular, we show that the differing impact of better and worse performance is due to the fact that voters hold governments more responsible for poor performance. Finally, we demonstrate that partisanship colours the extent to which individuals use this mechanism of blaming the government for poor economic conditions, but not rewarding them for good. We test these complex causal relationships by means of a survey experiment.
Research in political psychology has highlighted the importance of emotions for persuasion, however, only limited work has been done to understand the strategic use of emotions in party rhetoric. To rectify this, our paper introduces a measure of emotions that is based on psycholinguistics. We use the Affective Norms of English Words (ANEW) dictionary to generate affect scores derived from British election manifestos. Using time series data for the three major parties in all British elections since 1900, we analyze how public opinion and political and economic conditions can explain the strategic use of emotions in party rhetoric. This allows us to gain insight into the role of emotions in party competition.