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Despite the growing role of subnational governments in many contemporary democracies and the development of multi-level governance systems, our knowledge on local elections, their institutional variation and voting behavior is surprisingly fragmented and incomprehensive. The existing literature traditionally approaches local elections either as of lower rank or as of a different kind. The first conceives of these elections as being of less importance and political relevance (Miller, 1988). This is exemplified by the longstanding and predominant approach of local as second-order national elections (Clark & Krebs, 2012). Allegedly part of a subordinate plethora, participation and party choice in local elections are said to reflect main arena conditions and considerations guiding partisan actors and voters alike. The latter will perceive less impetus to turn out and tend towards expressive voting (e.g. for small and/or new political parties or by punishing or rewarding nationally governing parties, etc.). This reasoning emphasizes the vertical integration of the local level into the national political system and the asymmetrical relation between both levels (with the local acting as an agent of the central and/or captured in centrally determined modes of co-governance with differing degrees of discretion). The second approach points to local elections as being of a different kind. Given its specific size, scope and/or redistributive bias, the level produces particular electoral features and dynamics (Oliver et al., 2012). Personal contacts with candidates and/or place-bound considerations tend to overwrite national party identification or ideological considerations. Here, horizontal variation is also highlighted instead. Not only do local authorities differ substantially from their national counterparts (offering a complementary form of place-bound self-government) but equally they do from one another (producing different kinds of elections in various local polities). Meanwhile, the recently growing body of comparative research on multi-level elections (Jeffery & Hough, 2003; Golder et al., 2017; Schakel, 2013a; Schakel 2013b) usually focuses on the regional tier only (Dandoy & Schakel, 2013; Schakel, 2017). The elections of regional legislatures are then treated as exemplifications of the subnational political arena, which is compared with its national (sometimes also with the European) counterpart. Often adopting the second-order framework as its default analytical conjecture, this literature emphasizes effects specific to the regional arena as well. The national (lower rank) versus regional (different kind) template of subnational elections may, therefore, vary in empirical practice (depending on the scope of regional authority, the presence and/or success of non-state-wide parties and territorial identity) Nevertheless, this approach can obscure the peculiarities of the local level, which in many countries remains equipped with more resources and tends to be equally to more important for citizens than the regional level (Loughlin, Hendriks & Lidström, 2011). In the study of multi-level elections, insights on the patterns and dynamics of local elections and voting can thus still be considered as a missing link. One of the reference points to further the theoretical groundwork is the recent contribution on local as second-tier elections and voting (Kjaer & Steyvers, 2018). Critically engaging with existing frameworks, the model reformulates these into an alternative that combines insights of vertical integration and horizontal variation. The model takes the second-order framework as a reference amending some of its assumptions however to renewed premises. It conceives the stakes of local elections and voting as a balance between nationalization (depending on the position in the national electoral cycle of the second-tier elections) and localization (depending on second-tier features in terms of government, politics, elections and voting). This balance is differentiated but inverse and affected by the procedures and campaigning at the second-tier. Positions on the balance differ between individuals, localities and countries and the model develops some hypotheses to account for this variation (e.g. in terms of the territorial and functional organization of local government or local party politicization and system nationalization, etc.). Still, theoretical refinement and empirical falsification are needed. The comparative study of local elections and voting remains underdeveloped, however. As Marschall notes (2010: 471): ‘to say that a field of study of local elections exists would be a bit of an overstatement’. This is divergent from other topics in the field. In recent years one can observe an increasing interest in the comparative study of European local governments and politics. For example, the Local Autonomy Index, similar to the well-known Regional Autonomy Index (Hooghe et al., 2016) systematically mapped the institutional setting of local discretion and the dynamics of decentralization in Europe (Ladner et al., 2016). Various undertakings of the COST research network Local Public Sector Reforms: An International Comparison contributed to the better understanding of recent administrative and political reforms at the local level (Kuhlmann & Bouckaert, 2016). Thanks to the extensive cross-national surveys of European mayors (Heinelt et al., 2018) and councilors (Egner et al., 2013) it was possible to analyze local elites’ perceptions of democracy, legitimacy, accountability and representation in the changing context of local democracy. We believe that a more comprehensive and integrated study of electoral systems and voting behavior in local elections constitutes an essential part for the development of this emerging research field. This holds also beyond the confinements of this topic narrowly defined. Clark and Krebs (2012) e.g. point out that the electoral politics in the local settings is particularly important to understand the mechanisms of representative democracy and electoral accountability at large. This is because of the proximity of local political institutions to their citizens and usually larger relative value of a single vote in considerably smaller constituencies (Blais, 2000; Miller, 1988; Oliver et al., 2012; Denters et al., 2014). The functions of elections are as important at the local than at the national level (Vetter, 2007), even if the patterns of participation, competition and vote choice differ substantially. Though fragmented and incomprehensive, existing studies document many important dissimilarities between the local and national level in terms of rules, candidates supply, voters’ turnout and electoral choice. The electoral rules applied at the local level not always follow the system functioning in the parliamentary election. The report of the Council of Europe (1998) and the article of Van der Kolk (2007) attempted to systematize the variety of electoral systems applied for the election of local councils in West European countries, yet empirical studies verifying their performance and impact on local policy dynamics are still much less numerous than in case of national elections. Turnout rates in local elections are usually lower than in national elections, yet the size of the turnout gap varies substantially between countries and over time (Hoffmann-Martinot et al., 1996; Frandsen, 2002). In many municipalities, usually smaller and peripheral, electoral participation is higher in local than in national elections. The recent meta-analysis performed by van Houwelingen (2017) confirms that quite universally local turnout rates decrease along with the increase of municipal population size. However, our knowledge on the determinants of electoral participation in local elections, both between countries as well as municipalities, is still rather limited. It seems that local voting is less nationalized and follows unique local patterns of political conflict and competition. The nationalization of the local vote, often understood as the congruence between the preferences expressed in local and national elections, is related to the extent to which national parties are active in municipal politics and provide relevant cues for local voters (Kjaer & Elklit, 2010). Many authors argue that local electoral arenas provide an opportunity for expressive voting and offer a chance for small and radical parties, local independent lists (Reiser & Holtmann, 2008), as well as new coalition lineups between the established national parties. Apart from the substantial reasons to study local electoral politics, there is also a methodological argument. Clark and Krebs (2012) notice that local elections offer the political analysts the greater number of observations both within and across jurisdictions upon which to base their research – in Europe local elections are held in more than 100,000 municipalities (Loughlin et al., 2011). In other words, numerous local government units offer a chance for more robust findings and increasing knowledge on the functioning of various electoral rules and political behavior. The electoral reforms and experiments at the local level, often introduced selectively in the part of local jurisdictions, equally allow to implement (quasi-)experimental research designs (van der Kolk, 2007). The aim of the workshop is thus to further develop the analytical framework for the study local elections and voting, accounting for the peculiarities of local democracy within contemporary multi-level political systems. The contributions presented by the workshop attendees should enrich the existing literature on local elections, providing answers to central questions as: Is there anything specifically local¬ about local elections and voting? To what extent and under which conditions do they resemble elections and voting at other levels of governance (taking the national level as a main point of reference)? The following topics are defined as key to enhancing our comparative understanding of local elections and voting in Europe: - Electoral systems in local elections, their outcomes and consequences of associated electoral reforms - Party systems in local elections, branches of national political parties and local independent lists as their main counterparts, nationalization of the local elections and party systems - Turnout in local elections, patterns of electoral participation typical for the local elections - Voting in local elections – determinants of the vote choice, stability and congruence of the voters’ preferences, personalization of local politics, patterns of issue or economic voting - Political representation and accountability – the role of elections in assuring the legitimacy and responsiveness of local authorities (councils and mayors) Each might be treated in its own right (discerning dimensions and aspects, describing indicators and categories and/or accounting for variation therein) as well as for its wider effects (scrutinizing their explanatory power for other dimensions or aspects of the local political system) Local elections, held regularly in numerous municipalities across Europe, deliver a large amount of rich data for comparative analyses, calling the attention of the local government scholars predominantly, but also valuable for those thematically interested in the study of electoral systems, political participation, elite selection, representation and accountability. It seems that this resource remains underestimated and insufficiently exploited by comparative political science. The workshop would provide a good opportunity to discuss the strategies to overcome these challenges, through more coordinated collaboration in existing research networks and/or the development of new ones. It should identify the gaps in the existing approaches and set the agenda for future research. The workshop should foster high-quality publications dealing with local elections and voting, either as a special issue in a peer-reviewed journal and/or as an edited volume in one of the existing publishing series (e.g. ECPR Press Palgrave, Routledge or Sage). --- REFERENCES: Blais, A. (2000). To vote or not to vote? The merits and limits of rational choice theory. University of Pittsburgh Press. Clark, A., & Krebs, T. B. (2012). Elections and policy responsiveness. In: Mossberger, K., Clarke, S. E., & John, P. (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of urban politics. Oxford University Press. Council of Europe (1998), Electoral systems and voting procedures at the local level. Report by the Steering Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR). Dandoy, R., & Schakel, A. (Eds.). (2013). Regional and national elections in Western Europe: territoriality of the vote in thirteen countries. Springer. Denters, B., Goldsmith, M., Ladner, A., Mouritzen, P. E., & Rose, L. E. (2014). Size and local democracy. Edward Elgar Publishing. Egner, B., Sweeting, D., & Klok, P. J. (eds.) (2013). Local councillors in Europe. Springer. Golder, S. N., Lago, I., Blais, A., Gidengil, E., & Gschwend, T. (2017). Multi-level electoral politics: beyond the second-order election model. Oxford University Press. Frandsen, A. G. (2002). Size and electoral participation in local elections. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 20(6), 853-869. Heinelt, H., Magnier, A., Cabria, M., & Reynaert, H. (eds.) (2018). Political Leaders and Changing Local Democracy. Palgrave Macmillan Hoffmann-Martinot, V., Rallings, C., Thrasher, M. (1996), Comparing local electoral turnout in Great Britain and France: More similarities than differences? European Journal of Political Research, 30(2): 241-257. Hooghe, L., Marks, G., Schakel, A. H., Niedzwiecki, S., Osterkatz, S. C., & Shair-Rosenfield, S. (2016). Measuring regional authority. Oxford University Press. Jeffery, C., & Hough, D. (2003). Regional elections in multi-level systems. European Urban and Regional Studies, 10(3), 199-212. Kjaer, U., & Elklit, J. (2010). Party politicisation of local councils: Cultural or institutional explanations for trends in Denmark, 1966–2005. European Journal of Political Research, 49(3), 337-358. Kjaer, U. & Steyvers, K. (2018). Second Thoughts on Second-Order? Towards a Second-Tier Model of Local Government Elections and Voting. In R. Kerley, P. Dunning and J. Liddle (Eds.). Routledge Handbook on International Local Government Research. Routledge. Kuhlmann, S., & Bouckaert, G. (eds.) (2016). Local Public Sector Reforms in Times of Crisis. Palgrave. Loughlin, J., Hendriks, F. & Lidström, A. (Eds.) (2011). The Oxford Handbook of Local and Regional Democracy in Europe. Oxford University Press. Ladner, A., Keuffer, N., & Baldersheim, H. (2016). Measuring Local Autonomy in 39 Countries (1990–2014). Regional & Federal Studies, 26(3), 321-357. Marschall, M. (2010). The Study of Local Elections in American Politics. J. Leighley (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of American Elections and Political Behavior. Oxford University Press. Miller, W. L. (1988). Irrelevant elections? The quality of local democracy in Britain. Oxford University Press. Oliver, J. E., Ha, S. E., & Callen, Z. (2012). Local elections and the politics of small-scale democracy. Princeton University Press. Reiser, M., & Holtmann, E. (Eds.). (2008). Farewell to the party model? Independent local lists in East and West European countries. Springer. Schakel, A. H. (2013). Congruence between regional and national elections. Comparative Political Studies, 46(5), 631-662. Schakel, A. H. (2013). Nationalisation of multilevel party systems: A conceptual and empirical analysis. European Journal of Political Research, 52(2), 212-236. Schakel, A.H. (2017). Regional and National Elections in Eastern Europe. Territoriality of the Vote in Ten Countries. Palgrave. Van der Kolk, H. (2007). Local electoral systems in Western Europe. Local Government Studies, 33(2), 159-180. van Houwelingen, P. (2017). Political participation and municipal population size: A meta-study. Local Government Studies, 43(3), 408-428. Vetter, A. (2007). Local politics: a resource for democracy in Western Europe? Local autonomy, local integrative capacity, and citizens’ attitudes toward politics. Lexington Books.
The workshop seeks to attract scholars working on the various aspects of local elections and voting in order to facilitate the exchange of ideas, to develop stronger connections between researchers in the field and involve scholars representing different subfields of political science. We are particularly looking for empirical and/or cross-country comparative research. However, purely theoretical contributions (provided that they further the current state-of-the-art) and/or within-country comparative studies are also welcomed. Contributions using aggregate electoral data as well as individual survey data would be suitable. There is no preconception towards quantitative methods, the workshop is equally open to qualitative studies and/or mixed approaches. Among the scientifically qualitative paper proposals for the workshop, the directors will aim to preserve a proper balance of topics (ensuring those mentioned above are sufficiently addressed) as well as of participants (in terms of gender, region, career stage, etc.). The workshop proposal is endorsed by the Standing Group on Local Government and Politics. We feel the topic is of high relevance to scholars parking in other Standing Groups as well (e.g. Comparative Political Institutions, Participation and Mobilization or Political Parties).
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