WP 1: Substantive Representation

Coordination : Universiteit Antwerpen

Political representation is at the core of democratic politics (Przeworski, Stokes, and Manin, 1999). Representation is the key mechanism by which citizens' preferences enter the processes of decision making. While descriptive representation refers to the ascribed characteristics of voters and representatives, substantive representation refers to the congruence between the substantive positions of voters and representatives. There are good reasons to assume that the representation process is changing. Political parties traditionally are the key actors in that representative process (Strøm, Müller, and Bergman, 2003). But the intermediate role of parties in producing substantive representation has come under stress. The main reason is the loss of relevance of traditional cleavages, turning voting behavior and all types of political participation in more individualistic and flexible acts, and rendering citizens' messages difficult to decipher. Electoral behavior has become volatile, floating on the waves of short-term factors (Enyedi and Deegan-Krause, 2010). Against this broad background of structural changes, the projects in this work package set out to tackle empirically how and to what extent the opinions of voters and political elites—candidates, MPs, ministers, and party leaders—match. In doing so it goes back to the basics of democratic representation and to the key question of the congruence between citizens' preferences and political outputs. This congruence has been achieved by the partisan mandate and the mobilization of voters aligned along cleavages that reflect meaningful differences in society. Whether this model still holds, or whether it is being replaced by other frames and other channels of representation and communication, is the key question to be answered.

There are four projects under this heading. The first examines the relation between media coverage and the political and policy agenda. It analyzes how issues picked up by the media affect the way in which decision makers 'read' the demands of society. The second project also looks at agenda setting, and focuses more in particular on the way in which protest movements are able to influence it. The third project looks explicitly at congruence between citizens, parties, individual candidates and members of parliament. A fourth and final project analyzes how exactly substantive representation comes about, among others by introducing a more bottom-up (citizen) perspective and by using innovative qualitative methods.


  • Project 1.1. Media coverage: signalling the importance of issues
  • Project 1.2. The political agenda setting power of protest
  • Project 1.3. Mass-elite political congruence and responsiveness
  • Project 1.4. The substantive representation of social groups: being and feeling represented