The PartiRep Project

Democratic governance requires mechanisms and actors that link citizens to the state. Citizens should be able to voice their demands and political outputs need to be congruent with these demands. It is precisely over the manner in which this desired match between citizens' preferences and the state's policies can be produced that discussions about the functioning of democracy in contemporary Europe voice concern. Traditional forms of participation and traditional partisan frames giving meaning to the democratic exchange appear to be under pressure. Both the institutional environment and the societal norms and values in which political actors have to make their choices have been evolving. The democratic dialogue has become more complex and more fragmented.

Changing patterns of participation and representation was already the theme on which the PARTIREP network has focused during the first five years (2007-2011). The network has set up a variety of projects on patterns of political participation, political trust, political protest, political parties, political deliberation and political representation. Our starting point was the assumption that changing patterns of participation and representation were to be analyzed and explained within a frame of decline and, therefore, increasing pressure on the good and legitimate functioning of democracy. The results of our research have however made us aware of the fact that this 'decline' angle is, at the least, very incomplete and probably quite biased. Results of our research seem to point at a variety of strategies by which both citizens and politicians adapt to the changing context of participation and representation.

In this second phase (2012-2016) we will investigate these ideas by focusing on three broad research themes or work packages: substantive representation, personalization and democratic innovation.

Partisan and electoral political representation is at the core of democratic politics. It is the key mechanism by which citizens' preferences enter the processes of decision making and by which policy outputs can be made to match citizens' preferences. Whether this model still holds, and whether and to what extent it is being replaced by other frames and other channels of representation and communication is a key question to be answered. Under this first work package four research projects will be conducted:

  • Media coverage: signaling the importance of issues
  • The political agenda setting power of protest
  • Mass-elite political congruence and responsiveness
  • The substantive representation of social groups: being and feeling represented

One of the frames that is often cited as offering a possible alternative to the partisan and ideological linkage is the personalization of politics. The underlying idea is that individual politicians are becoming more important in politics at the expense of traditional social and political groups. The state of our knowledge in this respect is clearly not satisfactory for the moment. In this work package we will attempt to gain a better insight into the scope and types of personalization of democratic politics:

  • The personalization of electoral systems
  • The geography of personal campaigning
  • Representational claims and personalization
  • Candidate selection in political parties

During the past decade, various political systems have implemented reforms aimed at democratic innovation. More open consulting procedures are being tried out; deliberative assemblies are invited to discuss about major decisions; more referenda aim at involving more citizens into the decision-making process. Political parties have also been trying to reorganize themselves in a way that might restore or strengthen the linkage with voters and with activists. A crucial question is however the extent to which these democratic innovations do indeed have an effect on participation, on trust and legitimacy and - coming back to the question of policy congruence - on the degree to which citizens' demands and policy outputs match. Here also four research projects will be carried out:

  • Primaries in political parties
  • The role of activists in political campaigning
  • Democratic innovation and political trust
  • The effectiveness of emerging political participation repertoires

 

Methodology Assistance & Support Team (MAST)

 

The MAST contributes to the coherence, scientific excellence and innovativeness of the PARTIREP project as a whole, by facilitating exchanges of experiences and 'good practices' between the different teams and in particular the PhD students, by making triangulation and Mixed Methods Designs possible for the parts of the project for which they are useful, and by providing access to the most appropriate cutting-edge methodologies for each work package and individual PhD project, in the view of producing strong and original findings.

The MAST consolidates the PARTIREP project in three core phases: (a) during the launching phase (kick-off and preparatory steps), by providing help in strengthening the overall complementarity of the work packages and individual PhD projects in terms of research design; (b) during the data collection phase, in the view of connecting the different data collection efforts so as to ensure cost-efficient strategies as well as cumulativeness of the data; (c) during the data analysis phase, by providing assistance in selecting and implementing the most appropriate and up-to-date analysis tools, also in the view of enabling triangulation of research results.

The MAST is coordinated by Benoït Rihoux (UCL) and Dimokritos Kavadias (VUB).