Project

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

Goal: 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.

Date: 1 September 2015

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Project log

Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
Research has shown that emotions matter in politics, but we know less about when and why politicians use emotive rhetoric in the legislative arena. This article argues that emotive rhetoric is one of the tools politicians can use strategically to appeal to voters. Consequently, we expect that legislators are more likely to use emotive rhetoric in debates that have a large general audience. Our analysis covers two million parliamentary speeches held in the UK House of Commons and the Irish Parliament. We use a dictionary-based method to measure emotive rhetoric, combining the Affective Norms for English Words dictionary with word-embedding techniques to create a domain-specific dictionary. We show that emotive rhetoric is more pronounced in high-profile legislative debates, such as Prime Minister’s Questions. These findings contribute to the study of legislative speech and political representation by suggesting that emotive rhetoric is used by legislators to appeal directly to voters.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
Citizen satisfaction with democracy is greater when parties offer choices that are congruent with voter preferences. But are citizens content with simply having a party that represents their views or does their satisfaction depend on whether that party can also be instrumental in implementing policies? We argue that instrumentality moderates the effect of ideological congruence on democratic satisfaction. Combining an analysis of cross‐national survey data with an experimental conjoint design, we find that citizens able to vote for a congruent party with a chance of entering government are more satisfied with democracy, whereas congruence without instrumentality has no such effect.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
The recent rise of populist parties across Europe has attracted much attention. But is this a new phenomenon? In this article, we argue that populist parties can be seen as a type of challenger parties, that is, political entrepreneurs without government experience seeking to disrupt the dominance of mainstream parties. We discuss how ongoing changes in European party systems compares with previous waves of challenger parties, including social democratic and green parties. We then present the core strategies used by successful challengers, namely issue entrepreneurship and anti-establishment rhetoric, as they mobilize issues that gives them an electoral advantage and attack the competence of the established political parties. Finally, we consider what the rise of challenger parties may mean for democracy in Europe.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
Challenger parties are on the rise in Europe, exemplified by the likes of Podemos in Spain, the National Rally in France, the Alternative for Germany, or the Brexit Party in Great Britain. Like disruptive entrepreneurs, these parties offer new policies and defy the dominance of established party brands. In the face of these challenges and a more volatile electorate, mainstream parties are losing their grip on power. In this book, Catherine De Vries and Sara Hobolt explore why some challenger parties are so successful and what mainstream parties can do to confront these political entrepreneurs. Drawing analogies with how firms compete, De Vries and Hobolt demonstrate that political change is as much about the ability of challenger parties to innovate as it is about the inability of dominant parties to respond. Challenger parties employ two types of innovation to break established party dominance: they mobilize new issues, such as immigration, the environment, and Euroscepticism, and they employ antiestablishment rhetoric to undermine mainstream party appeal. Unencumbered by government experience, challenger parties adapt more quickly to shifting voter tastes and harness voter disenchantment. Delving into strategies of dominance versus innovation, the authors explain why European party systems have remained stable for decades, but also why they are now increasingly under strain. As challenger parties continue to seek to disrupt the existing order, Political Entrepreneurs shows that their ascendency fundamentally alters government stability and democratic politics.
Sara B. Hobolt
added 2 research items
How do the range of issues voters care about and party system polarization impact democratic outcomes? Recent debates have focused on the negative effect of polarized systems on democratic quality. However, the extent to which this polarization is channeled or diffused over a wide range of issues on the public agenda has not been analyzed systematically. Using data from 31 European countries from 2003 to 2018, we show that party polarization indeed has a negative effect on people's satisfaction with democracy. Importantly, however, we demonstrate that at high levels of issue diversity, the negative effect of polarization is minimized. Drawing on the deliberative democracy literature, we argue that at low levels of issue diversity, polarization makes compromise in society less likely and the political discourse more antagonistic. However, at higher levels of issue diversity, contestation and conflict can be diffused over a large range of issues, providing more favorable conditions for collective will formation and, ultimately, higher levels of satisfaction with democracy.
As political competition is becoming increasingly multi-dimensional in Europe, voters often face the challenge of choosing which issues matter most to them. The European integration issue presents a particular difficulty for voters, since it is not closely aligned to the left-right dimension. We test the impact of the EU issue in the first parliamentary election following the UK's divisive Brexit referendum. We argue that while the EU issue was salient to voters, EU issue voting was inhibited by the indistinct and ambiguous positions adopted by the two major parties. To examine this, we combine an analysis of British Election Study data from the 2017 General Election with a conjoint experiment that allows us to present voters with a range of choices on both dimensions. Our findings show that the EU dimension has the potential to become a cross-cutting dimension that rivals the left-right dimension in British electoral politics, but this crucially depends on party competition.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
Political choice is central to citizens’ participation in elections. Nonetheless, little is known about the individual‐level mechanisms that link political choice and turnout. It is argued in this article that turnout decisions are shaped not only by the differences between the parties (party polarisation), but also by the closeness of parties to citizens’ own ideological position (congruence), and that congruence matters more in polarised systems where more is at stake. Analysing cross‐national survey data from 80 elections, it is found that both polarisation and congruence have a mobilising effect, but that polarisation moderates the effect of congruence on turnout. To further explore the causal effect of political choice, the arrival of a new radical right‐wing party in Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), is leveraged and the findings show that the presence of the AfD had a mobilising effect, especially for citizens with congruent views.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
Political choice is central to citizens' participation in elections. Nonetheless, we know little about the individual-level mechanisms that link political choice and turnout. In the paper, we argue that turnout decisions are shaped not only by the differences between the parties (party polarization), but also by the closeness of parties to citizens' own ideological position (congruence), and that congruence matters more in polarized systems where more is at stake. Analyzing cross-national survey data from 80 elections, we find that both polarization and congruence have a mobilizing effect, but that polarization moderates the effect of congruence on turnout. To further explore the causal effect of political choice, we leverage the arrival of a new radical right-wing party in Germany, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), and our findings show that the presence of the AfD had a mobilizing effect, especially for citizens with congruent views.
Sara B. Hobolt
added an update
Applications are invited for a Research Officer (Postdoctoral Researcher), tenable from 2nd January 2019 - 1st August 2020 for 19 months.
The successful candidate must have a keen interest in political behaviour, advanced training in quantitative statistical methods, enthusiasm about learning new analytical techniques, and have a high level of proficiency in STATA and/or R. Ideally, the successful candidate will also have experience of analysing large-N survey data and/or designing and analysing experiments (survey-embedded and/or laboratory).
The successful candidate must also have, or be close to completing (by 2 January 2019), a PhD in political science or a closely related discipline (e.g. sociology/ behavioural economics) and have excellent written and verbal communication skills.
The postdoctoral researcher will take part in the research activities of the ERC-funded project “Constrained Democracy: Citizens’ Responses to Limited Political Choice in the European Union” (EUDEMOS), led by Professor Sara Hobolt (LSE Department of Government). The aim of this research programme is to examine how the range and substance of political choices offered to citizens in the Europe shape democratic perceptions and electoral behaviour. The project combines a large-N cross-national analysis of citizens’ responses to choices offered by political parties with micro-level experimental work.
We offer an occupational pension scheme, generous annual leave and excellent training and development opportunities.
For further information about the post, please see https://jobs.lse.ac.uk.
If you have any technical queries with applying on the online system, please use the “contact us” links at the bottom of the LSE Jobs page. Should you have any queries about the role, please contact Professor Sara Hobolt (s.b.hobolt@lse.ac.uk) or if you would like more information about the project (information about EUDEMOS can be found here: http://www.lse.ac.uk/european-institute/research/eudemos).
The closing date for receipt of applications is 16 September 2018 (23.59 UK time). Regrettably, we are unable to accept any late applications.
The interview date is anticipated to be 16 October 2018.
 
Sara B. Hobolt
added an update
Sara B. Hobolt
added a research item
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.
Sara B. Hobolt
added a project goal
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.