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ESRA 2023 Preliminary Glance Program

All time references are in CEST

Political polarization, voting and turnout: insights from survey research

Session Organiser Dr Simone Marsilio (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele)
TimeWednesday 19 July, 11:00 - 12:30
Room U6-09

Survey research is crucial for political science, providing empirical data to understand public opinion, political behavior, and institutions. This panel reports evidence from different surveys held in Italy, Georgia, Germany, Switzerland, and France concerning polarization, voting behavior, and political participation. In Italy, an online survey tested alternative voting methods during the 2022 elections. The final ranking of parties did not differ much compared to the official one, revealing new insights into party categorization. In Georgia, an analysis of longitudinal social survey data measured the rally-around-the-flag effect during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian war through the level of public trust toward institutions and partisan polarization. The study aimed to identify how these crises invoked the effect and how it varied across different societal groups. In Germany, a vignette survey explored the acceptance of the adaptation of the right to vote in relation to varying citizenship forms, lengths of stay, and political interests. Its goal was to provide insights for politicians on public support for extending the right to vote. In Switzerland, an analysis of total turnout bias was conducted through political and social survey data. The study investigated variations in nonresponse bias in different survey companies. In France, a two-wave panel survey examined the relationship between satisfaction with democracy and radical parties during the 2022 presidential election. The study tested whether the institutional inclusion of marginalized political groups exacerbated dissatisfaction. Overall, these papers offer new insights into key political phenomena, highlighting the importance of survey research in understanding our societies.

Keywords: Political polarization, voting, electoral turnout

Nonresponse-induced turnout bias in Swiss political and social surveys

Ms Nursel Alkoç (University of Lausanne) - Presenting Author

Political scientists often draw conclusions about political behaviour based on a single survey, usually a postelection survey. It has been known for decades now that postelection surveys systematically overestimate voter turnout. Vote overreporting by non-voters (i.e., measurement error) was previously thought to explain much of the total turnout bias, but more recent studies have emphasised the self-selection of politically engaged citizens that leads then to the overrepresentation of voters among survey respondents (i.e., nonresponse bias). Turnout bias exists not only in postelection surveys, but also in social surveys that include measures of electoral participation. However, our understanding of the size and scope of turnout bias in social surveys is rather limited. The present study offers an examination of nonresponse-induced turnout bias across political and social surveys conducted in Switzerland, drawing upon a rich data set combining all the waves of Selects, ESS, and MOSAiCH as of 2003 Swiss national elections. Our findings suggest that politically engaged individuals are more likely to participate in Selects than ESS, leading the former to significantly overestimate self-reported vote. We did not observe a similar significant effect when comparing Selects and MOSAiCH, however. We discuss the extent to which we can generalise these results under the umbrella of political and social surveys and whether social surveys can be an alternative data source with lower turnout bias for political scientists interested in studying electoral participation.

Italian elections and alternative voting methods: Results and parties under new lenses

Dr Simone Marsilio (Università Vita-Salute San Raffaele) - Presenting Author
Dr Théo Delemazure (Université Paris Dauphine)

During the days preceding the 2022 Italian elections, an online survey has been held to test alternative voting methods for the first time in Italy, on a representative sample (n=1000) of Italian voters. Beyond having to select one preferred party, the participants were given the possibility of approving, ranking, or evaluating as many parties as they wanted. When voters provide more political information, some consequences in terms of election results can be found in the literature such as penalizing polarizing candidates and favoring candidate types like consensual, centrist, small, or similarly oriented. Contrary to the expectations, our findings show that the final ranking of Italian parties – especially the first three positions – do not differ much under alternative voting methods compared to the official ones. First, the far-right party Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) is not polarizing as it wins under every rule. Second, the loss of votes by Lega is mostly due to the fact that it acts as a clone of FdI. Third, there does not seem to be a party – either consensual, centrist, or small – that is clearly favored by alternative rules, with potentially the exception of Impegno Civico. Fourth, based on the matrix of parties that were approved together under approval voting, the center-right coalition could be said to be more cohesive than the center-left one, with many Partito Democratico (PD) supporters not co-approving other parties from their coalition. Fifth, based on t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding, the maximum relative distance can be found between Movimento 5 Stelle and FdI, instead of FdI and PD, whose electoral campaign was focused against the former. In conclusion, these results show that the study of alternative voting methods could be extremely insightful when applied to real elections, in relation to both parties’ categorization and voters' behavior.

The right to vote: Is there acceptance in Germany to adaptation?

Ms Madeleine Siegel (DeZIM-Institute) - Presenting Author

The right to vote is one of the most important forms of political participation. It represents an essential means to communicate interests within the population to the political system which otherwise would not or rarely been taken into account in political decisions. In Germany, this political right is directly intertwined with German citizenship. As a result, about 8 million inhabitants with foreign citizenship are not obliged to vote in federal elections.
German citizenship is automatically given to people with German descendancy, partly to those born in Germany and can otherwise only be obtained via a lengthy application process. Just recently, the topic has reappeared in the public debate and been put on the agenda by the current interior minister aiming at facilitating access to German citizenship, and simultaneously permitting more people to use their right to vote.
I would like to approach the topic from a different point of perspective by raising the question whether the adaptation of the right to vote would be accepted by the German population, which would mean a sounder foundation for politicians to decide on that matter. For that, a self developed vignette study with different scenarios - by combining varying citizenship forms, intensity of political interest, lengths of stay and other characteristics – is applied to a randomly drawn sample of German inhabitants (DeZIM.panel). Additionally, after each scenario the respondents are asked whether they think voting in federal elections would be justified. On the basis of the DeZIM.panel – an online access panel of the German residential population oversampling migrants – the vignette analyses shall answer the question whether the German population agreed if the right to vote would be adapted, in general, and in what form(s), in particular.

Social consolidation in times of crisis: the effect of partisan polarization

Mr Giorgi Babunashvili (CRRC-Georgia) - Presenting Author
Ms Anano Kipiani (CRRC-Georgia)

The rally-around-the-flag effect explains the societal phenomenon, when citizens tend to consolidate around the government or leaders in case if they face a major existential crisis, such as war, pandemic or terrorist threat (Mueller, 1970). The observed effect is usually short-term and affects various social groups in different ways (Johansson et al. 2021). It is interesting to discuss this phenomenon under recent events of global/regional importance.

The proposed research aims to identify the rally-around-the-flag effect in the post-soviet country of Georgia. We will focus on 2019-2022 years marked by two global and regional crises: COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in almost 17,000 casualties in the country (NCDC Georgia, 2022) and placed a significant strain on the national healthcare system; and the Russo-Ukrainian war, another major crisis affecting Georgian societal agenda, which brought back the brutal memories of the Russian invasion in Georgia in 2008 and raised security concerns in the Georgian public.

The paper will analyze how the above mentioned critical threats invoked the rally-around-the-flag effect among Georgian citizens. The effect will be measured by the level of public trust towards the state institutions and partisan polarization. Another focus of the research is identifying the variance of the consolidation effect across different societal groups, based on political ideology, the level of civic integration and socio-economic status. The research will analyze longitudinal nationally representative social survey data from Georgia using the genetic matching technique for tracking the social dynamics.

Why does Radical Party Entry Reduce Satisfaction with Democracy? The Role of Affective Polarization

Mr Alvaro Canalejo-Molero (University of Lucerne) - Presenting Author
Mrs Morgan Le Corre Juratic (Aarhus University)

One of the most consistent patterns in political science is that elections boost satisfaction with democracy (SWD). However, unless in government, voters of radical and populist parties are more dissatisfied after elections. These two findings are hardly compatible with the prevailing in-group logic that takes changes in SWD only as a function of the own party results. Instead, this paper proposes that adding an out-group logic is crucial to understanding changes in SWD among affectively polarized voters such as those of radical parties. In this scenario, we argue that changes in SWD would be heterogeneously affected by the radical party (in-group) and the mainstream party (out-group) results. When facing a defeat, a negative affective response to the out-group win will outweigh the positive impact of the relative in-group success. To test this argument, we leverage the electoral uncertainty between the first and second rounds of the 2022 French presidential election with a survey experiment embedded in a two-wave panel survey. We recruited voters of the new radical candidate Éric Zemmour through Facebook targeted ads and primed them with either their party's electoral benefits or their primary opponent's victory (Emmanuel Macron). Consistently with our expectations, priming Zemmour's voters with Macron's potential victory is associated with a negative change in SWD. Instead, none of the pro-in-group treatment conditions has any significant effect. Finally, a qualitative analysis of an open-ended question following the intervention lends support to the affective mechanism. These findings shed light on the overlooked relationship between SWD and affective polarization. Contrary to theories of representation, the institutional inclusion of marginalized political groups may only exacerbate dissatisfaction in highly polarized electoral contexts.