New research project: Elections as a Linkage Mechanism between Public Opinion and Policy Outcomes, a longitudinal and comparative analysis

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has announced the results of the February 2017 competition of its Insight Development Grants program. One of the funded research projects is a project on ‘Elections as a Linkage Mechanism between Public Opinion and Policy Outcomes’, that will be supervised by Ruth Dassonneville.


Summary of the research project

There seems to be a growing consensus that electoral democracy is in crisis and that citizens are tuning away from traditional political parties. One of the main sources that scholars have identified for this alleged crisis of electoral democracy is parties’ weakened responsiveness to public demands. That is, it is claimed that political parties are no longer responsive to public opinion and that the policies that governments in established democracies are implementing are disconnected from what citizens want. The assumption, thus, is that democracy is in crisis because electoral democracy and elections no longer serve as an effective mechanism for linking citizens and those who govern.

The empirical evidence substantiating such claims, however, is scattered and fails to show a link between a decline in responsiveness in electoral democracies on the one hand and a crisis of democracy on the other. Three explanations can be given for why the debate remains inconclusive. First, important information is missing on the role that elections generally play in realizing representation. Second, there is hardly any empirical evidence that shows responsiveness to be in decline in established democracies. Third, there is no longitudinal research on the link between responsiveness and citizens’ behaviour or their attitudes towards democracy.

This research project aims to fill these three gaps in the literature. To that end, we will collect over-time comparative data on public opinion and the left-right ideological positions of parties in parliament in government. These data will be matched to information on welfare spending in over thirty OECD countries. A correlation between left-wing attitudes and higher levels of social welfare spending would then be indicating the presence of citizen-policy responsiveness. These data will be retrieved from different sources, will be harmonized and combined in a single dataset that will be made available for other scholars as well. Subsequently, by applying the appropriate statistical methods to deal with serial correlation and country-level heterogeneity in the data, three research questions will be addressed. First, this research project will allow establishing what role elections play in linking public opinion and policies. Second, the longitudinal approach will allow verifying whether citizen-policy responsiveness declines, as is regularly claimed. Finally, it will be investigated whether a lack of responsiveness of political parties decreases levels of satisfaction with democracy.




This content has been updated on 12 June 2017 at 18 h 48 min.