This Section is sponsored by the ECPR Standing Group on Elites and Political Leadership. The Panels bring together contemporary debates, traditions and trajectories that researchers who study political and social elites and leadership share. These range from those that focus on theory and method to single and large n case studies. The scope is far-reaching and considers developed and developing worlds as well as the gamut of individual actors in their capacities as elites and leaders.
Drawing on the success of the Standing Group’s Section at the 2019 General Conference in Wroclaw, we are proposing to host ten Panels. First, we continue to recognize the theoretical and interdisciplinary foundations that make up the study of leaders and elites by including Panels on gender and elite politics as well as political sociology and social psychology.
Second, we further the ongoing debates on the challenges facing leaders and political elites as familiar political environments gives way to something unpredictable. These challenges include the standards and expectations of leaders and elites in the greater public, the legitimacy of representation in the face of party switching, and the roles and activities of para-political elites outside of the parliamentary environment. In these new and uncertain contexts leaders must adapt and employ new strategies to reconnect with citizens.
Finally, we include a number of Panels to keep abreast of the ongoing developments in the methods applied to the study of elites and political leaders.
The Section welcomes proposals within the following themes (we will also consider potential full panel proposals):
• Panel 1: “Charisma, populism and plebiscitary leadership”
Co-chairs: András Körösényi, Center for Social Sciences, Budapest, Hungary and Maria Esperanza Casullo, Universidad Nacional de Río Negro, Sede Alto Valle, Argentina
Discussant: Rudolf Metz, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary
In contrast to the 20th century which can be featured by enduring political cleavages, party democracy and parliamentarism, the Millennium opened an era which is marked by the dealignment and the growth of volatility in electoral behaviour, the decline of political parties, increasing personalization and mediatisation of politics and the emergence of identity politics and populism. In the past two decades, radical and populist parties, movements and politicians in Western democracies have shifted from marginality to mainstream. The concern about the deconsolidation of (liberal) democracy, which has characterized the literature dealing with new democracies in East and Central Europe and Latin America, has by now extended to the core states of the Western World (Fukuyama 2016; Foa and Mounk 2016; 2017).
This panel focuses on the emergence of the new form and dynamics of leadership and the new type of leaders, like populist and charismatic leaders. To which extent are they different from the leadership type of the previous era? How have the interaction patterns and charismatic relationship between leaders and followers (Weber 1978; Gardner and Avolio 1998; cf. McDonnell 2016) changed under the influence of populism? How has populism as political style, performance or storytelling (Canovan 2001; Casullo 2019; Moffitt 2016, Weyland 2001) transformed political leaders’ messages, decisions and actions and citizens’ expectations of leadership and its outcome? How can the phenomenon of populism be understood from the perspective of leadership? The panel also addresses the impact of the emergence of new forms of political leadership and the new political conditions on (liberal) democracies. To which extent have the new leadership types of ‘Millennial decades’ changed the nature of democracy? The panel discusses the role and impact of leaders in populist democracy (Pappas 2014), in hybrid regimes (Wigell 2008; Levitsky and Way 2010) and in plebiscitary leader democracy (Green 2010; Körösényi 2005; 2019). Both theoretical and empirical papers (comparative works or single country case studies) are welcome.
• Panel 2: “Elites’ perceptions of public opinion” (note that this panel has a ‘sister panel’ in the section ‘Contemporary Challenges to Representative Democracy’ – ‘Politicians’ unequal perceptions of public opinion’)
Co-chairs: Chris Butler, University of Manchester, UK and Karolin Soontjens, Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium
Elites responding to public preferences is one of the mechanisms via which representation comes about—the other classic mechanism being electoral replacement through a correctly voting electorate (as Miller & Stokes, 1963 classically argued). If politicians, whether out of strategic concerns or out of an intrinsic feeling of duty, want to be responsive towards the preferences of citizens, they first and foremost need to have accurate ideas of what those preferences actually are. If the opposite is true and elites hold (in)accurate perceptions of voters’ concerns and act upon those, public preferences will not be properly represented. Given that elite perceptions of public opinion matter greatly for democratic representation, we propose to organize a panel on this topic at the ECPR general conference 2020, in which scholars are invited to submit papers on the broad topic of elite perceptions, whether of voters’ preferences for policy positions, voters’ priorities for actions, or of potential electoral reactions.
• Panel 3 : “Directly elected governors and heads of regional executives”
Chair: Régis Dandoy, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
Contrary to many Asian and American countries, the head of the regional executive in Europe is often appointed by the regional parliament or designated by the national executive. Yet, several countries such as Italy, Croatia or Slovakia recently decided to allow for a direct elections of the regional governors. This panel aims at analyzing this new trend in the election of the heads of regional executives regarding (but not limited to) a wide range of issues and phenomena. Did the introduction of direct elections lead to differences regarding the profile of these governors (i.e. age, gender, education, experience, party affiliation, etc.) and/or their career patterns and survival in these positions ? What are the consequences for the regions in terms of public policies, socio-economic performance and independence from central actors and institutions ? And how can we understand the electoral and party dynamics at stake behind these elections ? This panel gathers papers that analyse the different aspects related to this election of governors and heads of regional executives in Europe. While we particularly welcome papers that compare governors and elections across different countries or regions, we are also open to case studies. We are also open to analyses of regional governors in under-explored countries outside the European continent or that compare European and non-European cases.
• Panel 4: “Who Change Parties, When, and Why: Party switching in developing and developed countries”
Co-chairs: Elena Semenova, Free University of Berlin, Germany and Csaba Nikolenyi, Concordia University, Canada
The panel deals with the phenomenon of party switching in developing and developed countries. The existing studies have identified many reasons for the occurrence of party switching. Some studies argue that weakly institutionalized party systems and low level of party identification of the general population provide a fruitful ground for party switching among parliamentarians. Other studies stress that party switching may be a reasonable strategy for those parliamentarians who are not able (because of various reasons) to realize their policy goals in their party, and they, therefore, search for a new party, which offers such opportunities. Finally, some studies highlight that party switching is just a strategy motivated by personal ambitions of parliamentarians, who search for parties that provide more prestigious positions to occupy.
In this panel, we invite papers that cover various aspects of party switching and its consequences on policymaking, representation, political careers, and institutional change. We invite both theoretical and empirical papers. Comparative papers and papers employing mixed-method design are particularly welcome.
• Panel 5: “Elites and experiments”
Chair: Patrick Dumont, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
This panel on 'Elites and Experiments' brings together scholars who use experiments to study the attitudes and behaviour of political elites. Besides their methodology (field and survey experiments), the papers included in the panel will share a theoretical focus on how elected politicians process information coming from society and how they represent the public. In an era where the relationship between politicians and voters is under pressure—and where voters are increasingly dissatisfied with how they are represented by parties and politicians—questions about how political elites deal with information coming from these voters become very relevant. Experiments have proven to be valuable tools in this respect: they allow to test causal effects of voter information on politicians, and to unravel the mechanisms underlying politicians' informational and representational choices. On the other hand they raise additional feasibility and ethical considerations that need to be addressed and discussed.
• Panel 6: “Elites and leadership in civil society”
Chair: Håkan Johansson, University of Lund, Sweden
This panel explores civil society as a key sector for the manifestations of power in contemporary societies. Civil society organizations are central political actors in most societies and many governments raise expectations on them to act as partners in solving societal challenges. They have strengthened their status positions and control of valuable resources, such as information, expertise and knowledge or ability to mobilize extensive numbers of people to push for policy change.
While we find extensive debates on NGOization, professionalization and marketization of civil society, this has not resulted in investigations into those at the top of large and resource rich organizations and movements. This is even more surprising given the changing power relations and increased prevalence of populism in many European countries, and beyond. Strong criticism of political and civil society leaders for being corrupt and alienated have been voiced by political challengers and civil society actors, mobilizing the masses in many countries.
Despite these developments elite and civil society research come short of thorough investigations into civil society leaders as a potential elite group alongside other elite groups in society. While elite studies have not recognized civil society leaders as possessing the kind of formal positions and excessive resources associated with elite status, civil society scholars have seen social movements, advocacy groups or NGOs as anti-elitist per se. This dual academic neglect has implied that we lack empirical investigations into what forms status and prestige in civil society, which civil society actors control disproportionate amounts of resources, and why, and what positions in civil society that allows for extensive power and influence.
This panel invites theoretical and empirical papers that address civil society leaders as forming a potential elite group. We particularly invite papers that discuss whether classic elite concepts and understandings of power have resonance for current conceptualizations of civil society. We furthermore encourage papers that take stock on classic themes in elite research, e.g. linked to the ‘composition’, ‘reproduction’ and ‘integration’ of civil society elites as well as how and on what grounds civil society leaders are being challenged.
• Panel 7: “Celebrity, fame and infamy among leaders and elites”
Chair: Luca Verzichelli, Università degli studi di Siena, Italy
Often discussed in the media as a phenomenon gaining ground (from the very actual Donald Trump to the Oprah Winfrey hypothesis in the US to Jón Gnarr, Peppe Grillo, and more recently Weah or Zelensky), celebrity politics has rarely been studied in a systematic way. Social scientists could refer to celebrities using their popularity to weigh in in politics by supporting some candidates in elections or some cause/policy, triggering a renewed interest in questions such as ‘who has power’, whereas others would restrict their focus on celebrities who decide to use their notoriousness to run for election themselves, raising meritocracy and legitimacy issues – just like a new line of systematic research on ‘dynasties’ allows to address – about our political personnel.
In an era where new media not only generates new celebrities but also provides quick and wide coverage for celebrities’ and politicians’ communications alike, this panel aims at taking stock, clarifying and enriching the field. We thus welcome papers aiming at conceptual clarifications, systematic data collections on the presence and success of celebrities in electoral campaigns, as well as how those candidates differ from non-celebrity politicians in their background, ideology, style, and eventual political career.
• Panel 8: “Gender parity: causes and consequences”
Chair: Marija Taflaga, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
By 2020, the number of countries that have adopted legislation aimed at gender equality at the elite level of politics, provides an opportunity for political scientists to draw robust conclusions about a) the factors that lead governments to pass such legislation, b) the kinds of gender parity instruments (electoral system, cabinet composition etc.) that are conducive to the varying levels of compliance; and 3) the unintended consequences of their adoption. This panel welcomes comparative analyses as well intensive case studies aimed at teasing out the causal effects and mechanisms through which gender parity in politics can be achieved.
• Panel 9: “Advanced methods for elites and leadership research”
Chair: Matthew Kerby, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia
As the study of leaders and elites expands so too do the methods used to examine these political actors and their actions and behaviours. This panel welcomes papers that employ cutting edge/on-the-edge qualitative and quantitative methods to study elites, leaders as well as their behaviours, outcomes and the institutions. Papers that employ text as data, novel visualization techniques, and data management tools are especially welcome.
• Panel 10: “Norms and expectations of leaders and elites”
Chair: Eoin O’Malley, Dublin City University, Ireland
Brexit, President Trump’s impeachment, coronavirus, bushfires in Australia: each of these events highlights an opportunity for leaders and elites to take action, or inaction as the case may be. Whether addressing the quotidian or a state of crisis, leaders are forced to navigate the changing landscape of expectation, opportunity and potential peril while satisfying their supporters and deflecting criticism. This panel welcomes papers that examine the strategies that leaders and executives employ to finesse the expectations of their electorates and transform the roles and responsibilities of their office.