ECPR Graduate Student Conference
University of Tartu, Tartu
10 - 13 July 2016

Public Opinion and Voting Behaviour

Section Number
Section Chair
Constantin Schäfer
Universität Mannheim
Section Co-Chair
Daniel Weber
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz



The last years have brought severe political and economic crises all around Europe. Many countries had to deal with dramatic economic turmoil, the armed conflict in Ukraine and, most recently, mass immigration from Syria and other countries in the European neighbourhood. These difficult circumstances have not only exerted their impact on EU politics and policies, but also shaped citizens’ political attitudes and behaviour in multiple ways. Understanding the varying responses to these macro-level processes by European citizens is essential for political science, especially keeping in mind the paramount importance of public opinion and electoral behaviour for a political system’s democratic legitimacy and stability.

This section therefore includes a variety of panels that aim at shedding light on the individual and contextual causes and consequences of citizens’ political attitudes and electoral behaviour. Despite approaching them in a mainly comparative perspective, we also welcome national or subnational studies, since they can add to our understanding of contextual variations and particularities. Contributions may contain empirical and theoretical research on socio-psychological aspects such as political attitudes, identities, values and personality traits, as well as more behavioural aspects such as vote choice, turnout, and political participation more generally. By integrating different methodological perspectives, the section also strives to explore to what extent various approaches can be combined to address open questions in contemporary public opinion research.


Satisfaction with Democracy in Times of Crisis

Citizens have quite paradoxical views on democracy: While democratic norms and ideals enjoy broad popular support, we observe at the same time considerable dissatisfaction with democracy. The growing success of right-wing populism in Western democracies and the rise of large-scale protest activities like Blockupy or the movements in Spain and Greece show that a certain level of popular discontent is an undisputable fact. This panel analyses how and why dissatisfaction with democracy evolves and to understand its implications for democratic legitimacy. We invite papers from different methodological perspectives, case studies and experimental designs are as welcome as comparative work, especially the analysis of longitudinal or multi-level data.

Ideology and Contextual Variation

Comparative studies on ideology often assume intertemporal and cross-sectional similarities in the meaning and effects of left-right orientations. At the same time, a range of contextual features, such as party system polarization and the content of elite discourse, may lead to considerable heterogeneity in the salience and content of citizens’ ideological orientations, which may in turn lead to quite different effects or effect sizes of ideology. The panel invites papers that address these questions, i.e. whether and how contextual features influence the content of citizens’ ideology and their effects on public opinion and behaviour. Context and ideology are conceived in a broad way and contributions from different methodological perspectives highly welcomed.

National and European Identification in the European Multi-Level Context

The European debt crisis and the conflict between EU member states over refugees and immigration have renewed the interest in national and European identification. While there is scholarly agreement that both identifications complement each other, the recent events have created a cleavage between those who opt for “more Europe” and those who prefer national solutions. This panel therefore looks into the relationship between national and European identifications and how they influence political attitudes. Moreover, questions about the substantive meaning of European identity could also be addressed. The panel welcomes contributions that focus both on case studies as well as on comparative research and that try to examine the impact of contextual factors in cross-sectional or longitudinal perspective.

The Rise of Euroscepticism

The economic and sovereign debt crisis in the EU has triggered a new rise of Euroscepticism among the European publics, not only visible in opinion polls but also in the increasing electoral success of Eurosceptic political parties. This panel welcomes papers that deal with causes and consequences of (sceptical) attitudes towards European integration, but also addresses behavioural aspects such as the election of Eurosceptic parties. Research focussing on the interplay between individual level factors and contextual conditions is highly appreciated. Apart from comparative or intertemporal empirical studies, the panel also welcomes theoretical and conceptual contributions, for example those discussing the consequences for the EU’s political legitimacy.

The Economy and Voting Behaviour

Research has not only established that the economic situation is a major determinant of incumbent government's chances to get re-elected, but also that positions on economic issues play a strong role for the voting decisions of individual citizens. This panel welcomes all contributions that examine empirically how the economy shapes voting behaviour, under which conditions voters are more likely to base their voting decisions on economic issues or economic factors influence turnout. Papers that ask how citizens’ attitudes on economic issues are formed in the first place, such as studies dealing with preferences on issues related to redistribution, the welfare state, international trade, or international redistribution are also of interest.

Direct Democracy and Alternative Forms of Political Participation

Citizens vote in referendums more often and in more places than is commonly thought. The increased use of initiatives and referendums in recent years has heightened academic interest in the subject matter. Formerly mainly a political theorists’ concern, the actual usage of direct democracy has led to an increasing number of empirical studies on the subject. This panel welcomes theoretical, methodological, and empirical contributions to the study of direct democracy.

Experimental Research in the Study of Public Opinion and Voting Behaviour

Experimental research is considered the gold standard for causal inferences and has gained a lot of traction within political science in recent years. However, recent events of prominent misconduct of field-experiments and an ongoing debate about experimental replicability have also brought the limits and perils of experimental research to the forefront. This panel offers to 1) discuss general ethical and methodological questions of experimental research, 2) present current experimental research, meaning experiments already conducted as well as experimental designs before being carried out, and 3) talk about practical challenges that might be unique to this kind of research.

Panel List

P29Experimental Research and New Methods in the Study of Public Opinion and Voting Behaviour View Panel Details
P42Ideology, Identification and its Effects on Political Attitudes View Panel Details
P61Participation and Voting Behaviour in Elections and Referendums View Panel Details
P74Public Opinion and Political Support View Panel Details
P99Direct Democracy and Referendums View Panel Details
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"The less the power, the greater the desire to exercise it" - Bernard Levin

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