Representation in Europe : Policy Congruence between Citizens and Elites (REPCONG)
Representative democracy is premised on the notion that there should be a reasonable degree of congruence between the priorities of citizens and elites. The quality of representation is important as it affects citizens’ perception of representation and their attitudes toward representative democracy. In most representative democracies, policy congruence is partial for various reasons : representatives may deviate from what they promised when electoral sanctioning is unlikely, parties have informational advantages, or the nature of party competition in mass elections distorts the multi-dimensional character of citizen and party preferences. Yet, we know very little about the actual extent, the determinants and consequences of policy congruence in Europe.
The REPCONG project therefore addresses these issues :
- First, we explore the determinants of policy congruence and the impact of political institutions and direct democracy.
- Second, we investigate how policy congruence impacts on the perception of representation, the satisfaction with democracy and with specific representative institutions.
The project is carried out in four European countries (Austria, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland) and is supported by the European Science Foundation (ESF) as part of the Eurocores and HumVIB program.
In the Swiss part of this project, which is financed by the SNSF, our research focus lies on direct democracies. We study whether policy congruence is higher in a framework providing for direct democratic procedures as opposed to a pure representative framework. In recent years debates on direct democracy have gained in relevance given the global decline in election turnout, growing mistrust in established representative institutions as well as the downward trend in party attachment. The use of these instruments has increased substantially in Western democracies in the past decade, where referenda have repeatedly been called regarding accession to the EU and/or the ratification of EU treaties.
Going beyond previous studies we shift our attention from policy outcomes to consequences of direct democracy on elite-voter congruence in general, and on certain policy dimensions in particular. We study the potential and real impact of direct democracy on levels of policy congruence. In other words, we are interested in how political behaviour of elites is filtered by different institutional frameworks, in our case : with or without referenda.
For more information on the other three national projects or current REPCONG activities, please see here.