Tensions in representative democracy

The fact that representative democracy is weakening in multiple ways and for multiple reasons is beyond doubt. Political participation is changing and exposing fractures and inequalities. The lines between those included in and those excluded from the political system are shifting. Voting patterns show forms of rejection of the traditional elites or their choices. The procedural framework of representative democracy is also changing. The reversion to an illiberal form of democracy, reduced to electoral choices, seems to be less and less confined to a few isolated cases in Eastern Europe. In addition, the cooperation between states within the framework of regional integration, in particular the EU, is challenging the mechanisms of accountability, but also – more simply – of political choice.

Over the next five years, and in synergy with the research questions in the previous axes, this axis of CEE’s scientific project will develop in three directions: 1) the political effects of social inequalities and, in particular, the question of the representation and participation of minority groups; 2) the quality and functioning of democracy; 3) changing divides in Europe.

1) Inequalities, minorities and politics

 The question of the politicisation of minority groups, in particular ethnic groups, is at the core of several ongoing surveys:  the European Value Survey which has chosen to overrepresent ethnic minorities in its sample, the annual survey of France’s Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme (CNCDH) (national consultative commission on human rights) which promotes innovative survey practices and research into the administration of questionnaires, the TéO2 survey (INED – French Institute for demographic studies) directed by Patrick Simon, a very active associate member of CEE. As part of the same dynamic. Laura Morales, a specialist in political participation and, in particular, the participation of migrants and minority groups in Europe, further boosts this research agenda (she heads a Cost-Action project on the question of the integration of immigrant minorities).  

 The relationship between inequality, minorities and politics is also at the heart of three new research projects. The first is the SAB POLMIN project led by Jan Rovny examines how inequality between group political positions influences political preferences and individual behaviour. The second, the participation of Nonna Mayer and Elodie Druez in the ERC- Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom project ("The Effect of Manifestations of Religion in the Public Space on Sociopolitical Integration of Minority-Religion Immigrants") exploring the priming impact of symbols of religion in the public space among minority-religion immigrants. More recently, the SAB YELLOWPOL project led by Caterina Froio and Nonna Mayer.

 Along similar lines, PhD theses are in progress on socio-sexual issues and minorities (Léa Morabito on activism and counter-activism on sexual issues, Mickaël Durand on the political socialisation of homosexuals), or on ethnic minorities (Elodie Druez on the effects of experiences of discrimination on the politicisation of graduates of Sub-Saharan African origin: comparison between Paris and London).

 2) The quality and functioning of democracy

 The second research plank relates to questions of “responsiveness”, in other words how governments respond (or fail to respond) to the expectations and wishes of citizens. This leads us to the core of the relationship between citizens and political representatives, which is known to be defective, and to an approach that combines policy and politics, which which has been in the DNA of CEE since its foundation.

 The second research plank focuses on the quality and functioning of democracy. Research addresses questions  related to the "responsiveness" of governments and to the degradation of democracy in Europe. This leads us to the core of the relationship between citizens and political representatives, which is known to be defective, and to an approach that combines policy and politics, which which has been in the DNA of CEE since its foundation.

 In this respect, the comparative CONDRESP - Conditional Responsiveness in France and Germany (ANR) project headed by Emiliano Grossman will explore if and when governments in France and Germany respond to electoral pressure from citizens, by implementing an original experimental method which simulates the “contacting” of MPs by their constituents. Since October 2017, CEE has hosted the (RESPONSIVEGOV) ERC project headed by  Laura Morales "Democratic Responsiveness in Comparative Perspective: How do Democratic Government Respond to Different Expressions of Public Opinion?", which will prompt the development of comparative work on the response of European governments to the expectations expressed through social activism or polls in different conjunctural and institutional configurations.

Analysing failures of governmental responsiveness also requires examination of the mediators that help to forge links between citizens and government: political parties, the media, parliaments.  Several ongoing theses will explore the role of political parties in creating the representative bond: Florence Nocca focuses on the use of social media to implement methods based on IT and machine learning (thesis funded within the framework of the Université Sorbonne Paris Cité Group with the LIPADE computing lab at Paris- Descartes), Clément Claret considers the attitude to ideology among activists in the socialist and labour parties. Following the HDR (accreditation to supervise research) defended by Emiliano Grossman, the media old and new will be the subject of specific research (including the thesis begun by Abdelkarim Amengay, holder of Canada’s prestigious Joseph-Armand-Bombardier advanced studies scholarship, on the impact of the media coverage of the National Front on France’s electoral results). The third kind of institution that contributes to the formation of the representative – Parliament – will be at the heart of new research, including the HDR by Olivier Rozenberg based on archive work (from 1880 to our day) on the different dimensions of parliamentary activity (selection of ministers, legislation, oversight, representation).

The axis covers also research focusing on variations in the quality of democracy. Democratic backsliding lies at the heart of a research project “ Democratic backsliding in Eastern Europe: Sequence, Strategies, Citizens” undertaken by Natasha Wunsch, which examines the sequencing, elite strategies as well as citizens' responses to the deterioration of democratic standards in Eastern Europe. 

3) Shifting divides in Europe

What are the political effects of the changes in Europe’s economic and social systems? In posing this research question, CEE has adopted a Rokkanian perspective recently revived by researchers working both on the state and on political representations and behaviours.  This perspective requires attention to European comparisons and to the interplay between economic, social and territorial changes, and political reconfigurations. Logically, the debate around shifting divides will form a guiding thread for research in this new scientific project.

The objective will then be to explore – with the support of empirical data – the importance of European integration as a new structural divide and to assess the role of Europeanisation (European divide) and globalisation (transnational divide) in current political reconfigurations. This examination of the formation of new divides cannot be undertaken without an in-depth analysis of persistent or new forms of differentiation and social inequalities (see above). Differences in education, gender, generations, model divides in political structure. By participating actively in numerous quantitative survey projects (EVS, EES, Chapell Hill Expert Survey, ESFRI European Roadmap), by initiating specific operations (Nicolas Sauger’s establishment of a database on French legislative elections since 1876), and by sponsoring theses (Anja Durovic on the “gender generation gap” and cohort effects in women’s political participation), CEE has set itself the goal of contributing directly to this central debate in European political science.