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Social Sciences

Providing an Infrastructure for Research on Electoral Democracy in the European Union (PIREDEU)

1 February 2008 - 31 January 2011

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Susan Banducci

Funding awarded: £ 101,588

Sponsor(s): European Commission

Project webpage(s)

Providing an Infrastructure for Research on Electoral Democracy in the European Union (PIREDEU)

About the research

The PIREDEU project aims at designing an infrastructure for research into citizenship, political participation, and electoral democracy in the European Union (EU). This infrastructure will provide a comprehensive empirical database regarding voters, candidates for election to the European Parliament (EP), media coverage of EP elections, party manifestos issued in connection with these elections, and contextual data relevant to these elections (such as the numerical outcomes of the elections in all EU member countries). The infrastructure also will comprise the technical and administrative procedures needed to create, develop and maintain such a database.

In the first instance this database will contain material collected at the time of the 2009 elections to the European Parliament, but in due course we hope to expand this database into one that will endow our user community with the most essential information required to conduct a regular ‘audit’ that would monitor/ scrutinise all relevant aspects of the electoral process in the European Union. The infrastructure will be developed and maintained by an organizational network able to co-ordinate different data collection activities. The database will be so designed as to be accessible not only to academic researchers but also to politicians, political parties, journalists, commercial interests, and members of civil society.

The design study will take three years and will improve on the model provided by the American National Election Study (ANES), a permanent infrastructure designed for the study of US elections which has, since 1948, collected and, since the middle 1960s, disseminated to the social science community survey data regarding voter opinions and choices made at the times of all Presidential and most mid-term Congressional elections.

The scientific and technical feasibility of a full infrastructure will be investigated by means of a pilot study conducted in the context of the 2009 elections to the European parliament that will collect all of the relevant types of data in all 27 EU member states, providing the initial content for a prototype database. If the feasibility study is successful, funds will be sought to expand the database in three directions: first by incorporating the data already provided by studies of past EP elections, secondly by linking these data to other studies (for example of Members of the European Parliament – MEPs), and thirdly by adding additional data collected at the time of future elections to the European Parliament. It is hoped that the final outcome of the PIREDEU design study will be a permanent European Election Study Infrastructure (EESI).

For members of the academic community, the EESI database (even in its initial prototype form) will create unprecedented opportunities for cross-national research on electoral representation and behaviour, the role of the media, the emergence and transformation of party systems, and democratisation. It will enhance the attractiveness of Europe as an object of study and as an environment for comparative social science research. For other stakeholders it will open a window onto processes of electoral democracy that have hitherto remained academic and obscure.

The precise scientific objectives of PIREDEU are organised around five data collection activities (as implied above, these are surveys of citizens, surveys of elites, contents of party manifestos, contents of news, and contextual data). Five teams of scholars are responsible for designing instruments for the collection of each of these types of data and for testing these instruments during the pilot study. Each team is composed of members from different institutions based in different countries and is responsible for one of the five data collection activities. The five teams have established expertise in investigating the behaviour of the relevant actors – political elites, political parties, mass media, and citizens. In addition to these teams of experienced researchers our design study gives a prominent role to members of the user community who would make use of the proposed infrastructure. Four young researchers with impressive track records of research on national and European elections are members of the Steering Committee and of the groups involved in data collection. Members of all the teams will also engage in joint activities across the consortium as a whole, including workshops, conferences, and the mutual exchange and cross-fertilisation of ideas, information, and data.

The PIREDEU consortium contributes to the creation of a European Research Area in the social sciences and humanities by creating a comprehensive empirical database, by deepening pre-existing networks between researchers and practitioners; and by providing for outreach to, and participation by, the wider research community.