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The Substantive Representation of Disabled People in Europe: Patterns and Explanations

Parliaments
Representation
Quantitative
Political Engagement
Public Opinion
Survey Research
Stefanie Reher
University of Strathclyde
Elizabeth Evans
Université de Lausanne
Stefanie Reher
University of Strathclyde

Abstract

Around 1 in 6 people in the working age population in Europe are disabled, and studies suggest that their policy preferences are distinct from those of non-disabled people on a number of dimensions including health, public spending, and civil rights. In spite of that, this group of citizens has been largely ignored in the growing literature on substantive representation, which seeks to explore how well the preferences of various groups in society are represented by parties, governments, and policy outcomes. Disabled citizens tend to be less politically engaged and disabled politicians are far and few between, as such we argue that it is important to question whether their political views are also under-represented. In this study, we address two inter-related questions: (1) how well the policy positions of disabled citizens across Europe are reflected by parties and governments; and (2) what explains differences in the patterns of substantive representation. We link data from the European Social Survey and the Chapel Hill Expert Survey to analyse congruence between the policy positions of disabled people and those of the parties in parliament and government. We focus on several policy dimensions where the views of disabled citizens have been shown to differ from those of non-disabled citizens, including public spending and redistribution. The potential explanations of differences in representation which we analyse include government ideology, the existence of party disability groups, and the political engagement levels and franchise of disabled people. The study will provide important insights into whether disabled people have a voice in politics, despite their rare presence in positions of power. At the same time, it will also contribute to the larger literature on the substantive policy representation of marginalised groups, as well as to the growing questions about how best to interrogate these questions both methodologically and empirically.