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Do Interests Trump Ideas? Explaining Political Parties’ Positions towards Democratic Innovations

Democracy
Political Parties
Qualitative
Nino Junius
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Didier Caluwaerts
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Nino Junius
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Joke Matthieu
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Julien Vrydagh
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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Abstract

In this paper, we aim to focus on political parties’ opinions on deliberative democratic innovations. The strong rise of such innovations forced political parties to more openly develop their standpoints on these innovations in recent years, and research has shown that these positions vary widely (Caluwaerts & Reuchamps 2018). One general assumption is that parties’ positions reflect their ideological preference. Progressive parties, which favor the redistribution of economic and social power, are generally assumed to be more in favor of the redistribution of democratic power through deliberative innovations. As a logical corollary, conservative parties are considered to be more skeptical of democratic innovations. Even though these assumptions hold intuitive appeal, research has hitherto not been able to explaining why parties support democratic innovations or not. The research question of this paper is therefore: what explains parties’ positions towards deliberative innovations? More specifically we will look at the relative weight of ideas and interests in parties’ preferences for deliberative democracy. In other words: are their preferences consistent with their ideas on democracy, or are their positions primarily inspired by electoral and strategic considerations? Based on an analysis of the recent Commission for Political Reform in the Belgian federal parliament, we will argue that parties indeed adapt their positions on deliberative innovations based on whether or not they are in power. Parties in power are less likely to want to share that power with ordinary citizens, even if they ideologically support more citizen deliberation. Strategic interests thus trump ideas when defending democratic innovations.