Democratic Preferences and Representation in Cross-National Perspective

The report covers how my research on “The Conditions of Effective Policy Representation in Cross-National Perspective: Veto Players, Public Opinion and Government Responsiveness” integrates into the core theme of the ELECDEM project and my specific work package
“Democratic Preferences and Representation in cross-national Perspective” (work package 3). It summarises the main aim and objectives of my research and outlines the key findings.  In democracies, when one indicator of its quality is whether and how well governments
respond to citizens’ demands, continuing policy responsiveness is one key concern. Various models of responsiveness claim to explore the responsiveness of government towards citizens’ preferences, but come to inconsistent conclusions depending on the approach. These inconsistencies are particularly evident when looking at how context affects the linkage between public opinion and public policy outcomes. It is still largely unclear how context affects responsiveness.

My research contributes 1) a systematic evaluation of the commonly used (empirical) models to investigate the opinion-policy relationship, 2) a more distinct theory of context effects, which links the veto player theory with the clarity of responsibility hypothesis from the economic voting literature, 3) an empirical cross-validation of measurements of public’s issue preferences in responsiveness research, and 4) an empirical test of my theory of contextual effects looking at issue responsiveness and positional policy congruence.

The key findings of my research can be summarised alongside these four topics as well. The best way to examines the relationship between public opinion and public policy is to choose a dynamic model that explore effective government responsiveness in a comparative framework. Dynamic issue responsiveness models achieve this. However, in a rather static way positional policy congruence gives an insight to how ideology, as one foundation of effective policy making, performs. I test both models empirically and find that in general government represent to public preferences, but that the representation is more pronounced looking at positional congruence. How successful government is in fulfilling its representative function depends on context. In countries with many institutional and situational veto players government occurs to be less responsive than it is in a institutional setting that creates fewer institutional and situational veto players.

With regard to measurement of issue preferences my research lends some confidence in the use of salient opinion as an alternative measure to spending preferences depending on the issue domain. Both measure are related, thinking something is a problem means wanting to increase spending at least in the social domains.

Download the full report: WP03_Kathrin Thomas_ESR Final Report (PDF 20,073KB)

Further details of workpackage 3.

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