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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Representation Beyond Parties: The Role of Political Elites in Weakening and Strengthening Contemporary Democracy

Political Parties
Section Number
Section Chair
Eva Heida Önnudóttir
University of Iceland
Section Co-Chair
Heiko Giebler
WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Political representation, as the link between political elites and citizens, is one of the core elements of liberal democracy, where political elites and parties can be said to form the supply side of representation, while citizens constitute the demand side. In recent years, the relationship and interaction between both sides appear to be worsening - and with these developments, there seems to be a strong challenge to the model of representative democracy. This challenge is mounted from the inside, mainly by (new) populist parties and institutional reforms, or by outside factors which include different models of democratic rule, loss of sovereignty to supranational organizations, technocratic rule or even aspects of autocratic regimes. Are we witnessing the beginning of far-reaching reform processes which might lead to new democratic models succeeding, the up to now, dominating model of representative democracy? Is this just a shake-up of existing structures which need time to adapt to societal and global changes - similar to 1970s and 80s when ‘new politics’ became much more relevant in the minds of citizens? Or, will there be a severe crisis of democracy proofing finally that there was indeed no end of history when the Soviet Union broke down?

In this proposed Section the focus is on the supply side, the politicians (e.g. candidates and MPs) and political parties, to investigate these very broad questions. More precisely, this Section is supposed to primarily focus on the role of politicians and, thereby, acknowledge that parties are no unitary actors, that there is a personalization of politics, that social media strengthens individual politicians and that politicians as a group of society are not only key when thinking about interactions with the demand side but are also often portrayed as being responsible for problems of political representation.

We aim to fill our Section with 6 panels and these panels are dealing with the following set of topics and questions: What is expected of politicians and how well do they perform? Have those expectations changed over the past few decades? Is the role of politicians and political parties as central actors in representative democracy outdated? How do politicians and political parties respond to the challenge to represent diverse voters on an increasingly more complex issue space? Are parties and politicians changing their ways, e.g. candidate selection and electoral campaigns, as a response to an alleged crisis (e.g. an increase in support for populist parties) of representative democracy?

In addition to studies focusing on the aforementioned questions about political elites and parties, we are interested in developing deeper understanding of whether and how the dynamic relationship between parties, politicians and citizens can be improved. Are populist parties (left-wing, right-wing or otherwise), and other types of anti-establishment parties, on the rise because there is a demand for a structural change to the political system? Or, is the increase in their support a reflection of a citizens’ dissatisfaction with the performance of the established parties and politicians, and they simply demand a change within the established political system (new actors, same system)? Finally, are especially populist politicians pushing forward the critique of the representative model which might lead to either even more dissatisfaction or even more extensive reforms of current institutions and processes?

Among others, and in addition to the two Section proposers, the following colleagues have agreed to serve as potential panel chairs and discussants: Ioannis Andreadis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Katrine Beauregarde (Australian National University), André Freire (Lisbon University Institute), Zsófia Papp (Hungarian Academy of Science), Andrea Pedrazzani (University of MIlan), Åsa von Schoultz (University of Helsinki) and Anke Tresch (FORS & University of Lausanne).

Similar to the selection of chairs and discussants, we will take great care of selecting paper givers representing ECPR’s diversity along all relevant criteria. The Section is initiated and endorsed by the Comparative Candidates Survey, a joint multinational project with the goal of collecting data on candidates running for national parliamentary elections in different countries using a common core questionnaire.

Panel List

Code Title Details
P025Between Parties and Voters: Representation Among Candidates View Panel Details
P037Candidate Selection Changes and Representative Democracy Crisis View Panel Details
P064Competition within Parties under Open- and Flexible-List PR Systems – The Perspective of Candidates and Voters View Panel Details
P103Electoral System, Party System and Society View Panel Details
P131Facilitating Representation: Elite Behaviour and its Restrictions View Panel Details
P261Political Careers, Selection and Election View Panel Details
P269Political Elites, Populism and Legitimacy View Panel Details
P326Representation, Congruence and Political Elites View Panel Details
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