ECPR Research Sessions
Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen
30 June - 3 July 2015

EASE-Project: Elites and their Societies - Longitudinal and Comparative Perspectives

Comparative Politics

Workshop Chair
Lars Vogel
Friedrich-Schiller Universität Jena
Workshop Discussants
José Real-Dato
Universidad de Granada
Daniel Gaxie
Université de Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne
Elena Semenova
Freie Universität Berlin
Trygve Gulbrandsen
Institute for Social Research, Oslo
Luca Verzichelli
Università degli Studi di Siena

Project outline
The EASE project aims to analyse political elites as both creators and creations of current changes and long term developments in contemporary democracies. More precisely it deals with the interdependency of salient social and political developments of societies with the socio-demographic characteristics and the recruitment patterns of the respective legislators. It will take a longitudinal approach to distinguish between long- and short-term trends and a cross-national comparative perspective to analyze the mediating impact of the varying institutional settings. It adds to our understanding of representative democracy by analysing the results of elite behaviour in its dynamic interaction with the structural configuration and the behaviour of those individual and collective actors who constitute the population.

We apply as a group of category “a” at the early stage of the research project and under the sponsorship of the ECPR standing group on Parliaments. The project will in some respects follow up the work of the ESF funded Eurelite research network “European political elites in comparison: the long road to convergence” and relies on the support of its founders and coordinators Maurizio Cotta and Heinrich Best. The intended research group will, however, go beyond Eurelite as it actualizes and enlarges the existing dataset in both content and geographical scope as well as it refines its theoretical framework and analytical perspectives. The participants are thus both still active members of the Eurelite network and researcher who were so far not affiliated. The research sessions are considered as starting point to re-establish a subsequent coherent international research group on the sketched topic who drafts a research proposal to be submitted to funding organisations.

Analytical framework and innovative contribution
The study of political elites contributes significantly to the study of democracies. At the micro level, the social and political background of elites has an impact on their attitudes and decisions, which is beyond the influence of the institutional framework. At the macro level, the elite structure influences the systemic performance and thus the stability, efficacy and legitimacy of democracies (Sartori 1987).

Elite structures are however not endogenous but the result of an interactive process. Political elites do generate political support by claiming that they represent the grievances and interests of social groups (Saward 2010). However, they do not passively mirror preexisting social structures but do transform latent social disparities and deprivations into political demands and establish the organizations (usually parties) to infuse them in the political decision-making process. It is only in this interactive and dynamic sense that the elite structure evolves out of the social structure. Crucial actors in this process and thus the subject of our research are legislators or “representative elites” (Norton 1993: 43), since they are the “(…) primary channel through which society, with its variety of conflicting values, needs, interests, identities, resources, demands, makes itself heard in the democratic institutions” (Best/Cotta 2000a: 7). The co-variation between the macro level of elite structure and the social and political developments is hence founded at the micro level in the process of recruitment for parliamentary mandates. It is herein that groups of selectorates select candidates to gain political support among the electorate. The candidates they present “(…) are an important element of the face parties present to voters and may be indicative to their ‘closeness’ to certain quarters of the electorate. The makeup of a party’s parliamentary representation is therefore both a potential attractor of votes and a ‘tracer’ for the groups it targets in the electorate” (Best/Vogel 2014: 63).

Although elite structure co-varies with change in social and political structures, their position and related resources allow the elites to pursue (countervailing) strategies to respond to these developments. Elite recruitment patterns are therefore the outcome of the interaction between social and political developments constituting challenges to elites on the one hand and the result of elites’ strategies to cope with these challenges on the other. Accordingly, the longitudinal and comparative analysis of recruitment patterns adds to our understanding of representative democracy by analysing in a longitudinal and comparative perspective (the results of) elite behaviour in its dynamic interaction with the structural configuration and the behaviour of the individual and collective actors who constitute the population.

Preceding research of the Eurelite network has already provided some evidence for co-variation between characteristics of representative elites and social and political developments in Europe (Best/Cotta 2000b; Cotta/Best 2007; Best/Vogel 2014). In the mid of the 19th century was the construction of nationhood accompanied by high levels of “symbolic specialists” (professors) and specialists in the application of execu¬tive power (higher administratives) among political elites. In the course of the transformation to party-based mass democracy by the turn to the 20th century the political elites in most European countries were largely constituted by specialists in mass mobilization and the running of inter¬mediary organizations. In the period after WWII the public sector became the pivotal occupational background among representative elites, which indicated their loyalty to the existing political order and their competence in redistribution; both of which were needed in face of the communist threat. This hints as well towards the emerging cartel parties, which are based on arrangements between otherwise competing politicians to appropriate and share the resources of the state. This interpretation is further supported by the low turn-over rates in this period, which indicates collective and individual professionalization, constrained competition and lower risks for individual elite members to become deselected. After the historical watershed of 1989 the trend towards diversification of recruitment patterns and rising turn-over accelerated, which may be a reaction to new developments subsumed under the label “legitimacy challenge” (Best 2007).

Although this research provides first evidence for the elite—society interaction, it leaves open three desiderata. First, the time series ends for most of the countries by the end of the 1990s. Accordingly we cannot consider recent developments that may indicate the growing saliency of the legitimacy challenge, like the rise of populist movements throughout established democracies. Second, this research did not systematically collect and analyze data on structural (social and political) and institutional variables that are potentially responsible for cross-country variation and that are necessary for systematic tests on the hypothesis of the interdependency between social developments and recruitment patterns. Third, the DataCube is restricted to Europe. Although this provides a lot of institutional variation, the inclusion of other world regions would infuse more cultural and historical variation. The inclusion from eastern European countries already demonstrates that regions matter due to their diverging history (Semenova/Edinger/Best 2013).

Guiding research questions and preliminary hypotheses
The EASE project develops its guiding research questions and hypotheses out of the sketched desiderata. Starting from the assumption of a co-variation between the elite and social structure, we identify the most salient trends constituting challenges to elites and formulate preliminary research questions and hypotheses about the potential elite responses measured by change in social characteristics and recruitment patterns of elites.

One of the most salient political trends of the beginning 21st century is that the legitimacy of and the delegation of power to political elites are challenged. The rise of populist movements and anti-systemic parties throughout Europe challenges the institutions of parliamentary democracy (Bustikova & Kitschelt 2009). In addition, the growing importance of "process preferences" (Hibbing/Theiss-Morse 2001) and public dissatisfaction with political institutions and politicians have characterized political process in Western Europe since the 1980s and Eastern Europe since the late 1990s (Dalton 2004; Inglehart & Catterberg 2002).

Despite the significant cross-country variations (Norris 2011; Zmerli/Hooghe 2011), growing political volatility, dissatisfaction with democratic institutions and actors can be considered as increasing bottom-up influence of citizens and hence decreasing elite autonomy or at least the growing demand therefor. Further, political elites are perceived as socially closed and homogenous in their general attitudes and policy positions, which implies constrained political competition and hence restricted policy choice among the electorate. In the public discourse, the competition between political elites is perceived as mere façade (Crouch 2004) or elites are perceived as superfluous or as in need of more intense control by means of participatory and deliberative instruments of democracy.

With regard to citizens’ rising demands for political participation and elite accountability it is also inevitable to pay attention to the ever-expanding and changing opportunities of digital communication and social media (Norris 2001; Coleman 2005). The bulk of activities in digital communication is still performed by a relatively small proportion of the general population. Accordingly, responsiveness and interactivity in digital communication urges representative elites to invest scarce resources (e.g., time), while their benefits remain marginal.

In addition, the growing heterogeneity of societal interests may threaten elite’s autonomy. The size of traditional societal groups, such as blue-collar workers or Catholics, is declining (van der Brug et al. 2008). The influence of traditional cleavages on party systems and electoral behaviour has also been decreasing both in Western and Eastern Europe (Deegan-Krause 2007). At the same time traditionally disadvantaged groups (e.g., females and ethnic minorities) have become more active politically. The challenge of growing societal heterogeneity makes aggregation of interests more difficult. It declines the willingness to accept political decisions and ever diverging demands increasingly block each other consequently impeding compromises.

The relation between elites and population is finally jeopardized by the crisis in economic policies. The financial crisis of 2008 has been perceived by the population as a breach of trust in good governance and thus diminished the output-legitimacy of political elites (Wessels 2011).

Taken together, these developments challenge the autonomy of the established elites vis-a-vis the general population, organized interests and elites of other sectors and motivate counter elites to enter stage. One potential response by the established elites might be the strengthening of openness, inclusiveness and bottom-up participation in the nomination and recruitment process for political offices, which may lead to the diversification of recruitment patterns and increase of turn-over. Another, or even accompanying response, may be means that establish further closing of the political market, which would reduce the risk of de-selection further and result in decreasing turn-over and increasing prevalence of professional politicians with long tenure.

Simultaneously, symbolic patterns of representation may emerge, which are intended to focus on identity politics given that interest politics are less suited to generate political support since interests become too heterogeneous to be aggregated and integrated and the impact of national politics on favorable economic output for serving economic interests remains marginal. Symbolic patterns of representation may for instance be realized by enhanced descriptive representation, i.e. the social characteristics, gender, ethnicity, occupation etc. of political elites and the general population become closer.

Finally, patterns of individual representation may develop. Political elites who pursue personal styles of representation intend to generate political support by referring to their individual achievements and characteristics instead of their membership in collective organizations esp. parties (Blondel et al. 2010). Accordingly the analysis of recruitment patterns would reveal a decline in the partyness of political elites.

Methodology and data
As said, the research group will follow up the work of the Eurelite project and its dataset (DataCube), which currently comprises comprehensive biographical and political information about legislators in 17 European countries. This data is coded at the aggregate level of parliamentary parties and parliaments for each legislative period in the time under investigation, for instance share of women/newcomer/blue-collar worker in the 17th German Bundestag. The time span covered starts for most of the included western countries in the mid of the 19th century and ends at the beginning of the 21st century, for eastern countries it starts after 1990.

This dataset should be enriched by information about the socio-structural configuration of the society and the institutional context in each country and legislative period under investigation. For pragmatic reasons this enrichment should in a first step start in the post-1989 period. A selection of potentially relevant variables is listed below, but the scope that can be realized needs to be discussed in Nijmegen:

• Electoral results
o Electoral results for each party, including non-parliamentary parties
o Voter turn-out
• Electoral system
o Index of disporportionality (Gallagher)
• General Information about political system
o RAI Index of regional government
• Aggregated citizen data from World Value Survey on:
o Trust in political system, institutions and actors
o Level of political participation
o Internet usage
• Economic figures
o Gini-Coefficient
o Unemployment rate

Research steps, milestones and publication plans
The Research Session in Nijmegen is considered to gather researchers who are willing to enduring collaboration in terms of data collection, sharing and integration, scientific debate on the mentioned topic and common publications. The session is regarded as first step to constitute a core-group, in which other researchers are subsequently involved to cover as many countries as possible and to transcend the geographical focus on Europe.

There are various analytical and procedural goals to be reached in Nijmegen. As first step, the participants present their current work and the research goals regarding the mentioned topic. Basing on that we develop first steps toward a common theoretical framework und define the important analytical categories and their possible measures, e.g. legitimacy, personalization, symbolic representation etc. In order to build a real comparative research design, we will need to provide common definitions and common measures that are able to move from one context (country) to another one.

Once we have defined the kind of variables and indicators to be used, we will take a stock taking of the DataCube dataset and identify the necessary adaptations and enlargements. The research group will consider thoroughly the trade-off between longitudinal and cross-national comparisons, since each adaptation of already existing variables interrupts the time series but may be justified by other consideration. Later on data gathering and integration has to be organized: starting with the possible strategies (and sources) to be used, the adaptation of the common codebook, of the time span to be covered ending with the question about responsibilites for data storing and integration. This includes as well that we discuss the cooperation with other related projects and research networks, for instance CSES (Comparative Study of Electoral Systems), PACTA (Parliamentary Activities, Career Tracks and Accountability).

Finally, we will spend a substantial amount of time to elaborate a development strategy for the group, deciding about future research partners and funding possibilities. As said, our team applies as group of the “a” category. Our final goal at the Research session, therefore, is to draft a proposal to submit to a funding organization, or to more than one. Further funding is needed to enable the individual researchers the coding of the variables in their countries, to organize several follow-up events in order to deepen our collaboration and to enlarge the group through calls for papers and to discuss publication strategies.

The immediate follow-up step would be to draft a proposal and to submit it to a major research institution. We will discuss:

• ERC grants
• Grants of national foundations (German DFG, Italian SIR, French ANR, etc.)

Members of the group (confirmed):
• Lars Vogel, Research fellow, University of Jena, Germany, (
• José Real-Dato, Senior Lecturer, University of Almería, Spain, (
• Daniel Gaxie, Professor, University of Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), France, (
• Elena Semenova, Assistant professor, Free University Berlin, Germany, responsible for data collection in Central-Eastern Europe, (
• Trygve Gulbrandsen, Research Professor, Institute for Social Research, Norway, (
• Luca Verzichelli, Professor, University of Siena, Italy, (, confirmed with reservation
Members of the group (requested, would succeed, if someone else cannot attend):
• Cristina Leston-Bandeira, Professor, University of Hull, UK, (

Best, Heinrich (2007): New Challenges, New Elites? Changes in the Recruitment and Career Patterns of European Representative Elites, in: Comparative Sociology 6(1-2), S. 85-113.
Best, Heinrich and Lars Vogel (2014): The sociology of legislators and legislatures. Socialization, recruitment, and representation, in: Strøm, Kaare, Saalfeld, Thomas und Martin, Shane (Hrsg.): The Oxford Handbook of Legislative Studies, Oxford, OuP, S.57-81.
Best, Heinrich und Maurizio Cotta (2000a): Elites Transformation and Modes of Representation since the Mid-Nineteenth Century: Some Theoretical Considerations, in: Best, Heinrich und Cotta, Maurizio (Hrsg.): Parliamentary Representatives in Europe 1848-2000. Legislative Recruitment and Careers in Eleven European Countries, Oxford, Oxford University Press, S.1-28.
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