ESRA 2019 Programme at a Glance

Public Opinion and Electoral Politics in an Era of Political Discontent 1

Session Organisers Dr Roula Nezi (GESIS-Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences)
Dr Theofanis Exadaktylos (University of Surrey)
TimeThursday 18th July, 16:00 - 17:30
Room D13

Over the past nine years the European Union has faced a series of social and political challenges that affected citizens’ political behaviour, political attitudes, and party systems. The European Union in particular, but also non-EU member states, confronted a series of events such as the economic crisis and the refugee crisis, which, coupled with the prominence of austerity politics, have given rise to unpredicted political and electoral outcomes such as the rise of populist parties - both from the right and the left of the ideological spectrum - the rise of authoritarian politics, the rise of political forces questioning the future of European integration as well as the overhaul of traditional parties.

These phenomena give rise to important questions for scholars working in the area of public opinion and elections. Can the existing theories of electoral choice explain the surprising electoral outcomes witnessed in many countries?  What is the role of emotions in political behaviour? Are the recent electoral shocks a result of a crisis of confidence and trust facing mainstream political parties and the rising disconnect of citizens? Is the growing support for populist parties rooted in austerity politics or is based on changes in peoples’ values and emotions?

This panel welcomes papers on a wide range of topics related to public opinion, elections, voting behaviour, and election forecasting such as:

voter turn out
political participation and pathways to engagement 
vote for populist parties
authoritarian attitudes and values
emotions and appraisals

We welcome papers using single case studies but we especially encourage comparative/longitudinal studies. Proposals should encourage the conference’s main theme “survey research in the changing data environment”. We also welcome papers that propose new theoretical approaches in the study of public opinion and elections and are empirically or methodologically innovative.

Keywords: public opinion, electoral politics, political participation, values, survey research

Deconsolidation in Western Democracies, 1990-2017

Dr Roberto Foa (University of Melbourne) - Presenting Author
Dr Christopher Claassen (University of Glasgow)
Dr Yascha Mounk (Harvard University)

Until recently, many political scientists had believed that the stability of democracy is
assured once certain threshold conditions – prosperity, democratic legitimacy, the development of a robust civil society – were attained. Democracy would then be consolidated,
and remain stable. In this article we show that levels of support for democratic governance are not stable over time, even among high-income democracies, and have declined
in recent years. Concurrent with a decline in democratic regime support, there has been
an increase in voting for populist, anti-system parties, and attitudes regarding democratic
governance predict the share of vote for such parties. We suggest that just as democracy
can come to be “the only game in town” through processes of democratic deepening and
the broad-based acceptance of democratic institutions, so too a process of democratic de-consolidation can take place as citizens sour on democratic institutions, become more open
to authoritarian alternatives, and increasingly vote for anti-system parties that challenge
basic democratic norms and rules.

Today is Worse Than 50 Years Ago: Does Priming 1968 Lead to an Attitude Change?

Dr Riccardo Ladini (University of Milan) - Presenting Author
Professor Cristiano Vezzoni (University of Milan)

In several countries a considerable amount of individuals think that life today is worse than 50 years ago (Pew Research Center 2017). Among the determinants of such a finding, the evaluation of the economic conditions plays a crucial role: the more negative is the perception of the economy, the higher is the nostalgia for past. Furthermore, anti-progress attitudes have proved to be associated with stronger support for populist parties. Italy, which is experiencing an unprecedented consensus for populist parties and slow economic recovery, has shown to be one of the most pessimistic countries: only less than one out of four individuals think that life is better today.
However, 50 years ago means 1968, a year characterized by protests of the student movement boosting a radical change in the habits and the lifestyles in various Western countries. 1968 is supposed to still represent the myth for the several leftist individuals, while it evokes negative feelings among the rightist ones. By employing a split-ballot experiment included in the UniMi-Italian National Election Study pre-electoral CAWI survey 2018, we aim at studying whether recalling 1968 makes change individuals' perception of today compared to 50 years ago. While a question concerning life in the present compared to the past was asked to all the individuals, a random half of the sample was primed by a recall of the 50th anniversary of 1968.
The aim of the paper is threefold. First, given the leftist connotation of 1968 events, we test whether the echo of 1968 modifies the perception of today compared to the past depending on left-right self-collocation. Second, we analyze whether priming 1968 makes more likely attitude changes among individuals politically socialized during that period. Third, we will examine differences in answers to sociotropic and egocentric questions on interpersonal judgement comparing the present and the past.

Explaining the Rise of Populist Attitudes: Evidence from Survey and Experimental Data

Ms Ekaterina Lytkina (Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS)) - Presenting Author

In the presentation, I address a relatively new phenomenon – the rise of populism – using different methods. Surveys give us evidence on how such phenomena as relative deprivation, emotions (or subjective feelings), political orientation and so on (e.g., Spruyt et al., 2016; Rico et al., 2016) are connected with populist attitudes or voting for populist parties and leaders. However, surveys are hardly informative for explaining why people may in a given context temporary sway to populism (for an exception, Urbanska & Guimond, 2018) and cannot be used to make a claim on causality. On the contrary, experiments can help us understand why individuals given the influence of situational conditions may become more or less populist. However, taking into account the challenges with experimental designs, the small effect sizes which require a large sample size, these studies are still very rare (for an exception, see Hameleers & Schmuck, 2017).
In my presentation, I propose a model with one of possible mechanisms explaining the increase of populist attitudes. I suggest that relative deprivation leads to an increase of populist attitudes, and that emotions serve as a mediator in this process. Therefore, emotions can either increase of the decrease the effect of perceptions of relative deprivation on populist attitudes. I compare the evidence from survey data and two experiments, using in the latter an attitudinal and a behavioural setting.