#5PAPERS – Week 1 Day 3

by Nivek K Thompson

  1. Reference to the Article 

De Marco S, Fernández E.G, Ortín D.S. CITIZENS AND REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY: a problematic relationship? Disaffection and Political Distrust in Europe.European Consortium for Political Research General Conference; 26 – 29 August 2015; Université de Montréal, Montreal 2015. p. 1-32.

  1. What attracted me to this Article?

I’m interested to get a feel for the range of perspectives on how citizens and political elites view and interact in representative democracies. This is a backdrop to my research looking at how democratic innovations impact on representative democracy from the perspective of political elites.

  1. What is it about? (Problem / Purpose / Research Questions)

Addressing well-recognised issue of ‘alienation of citizens from representative institutions’ p1 and looking at what is behind this and what is its impact. In particular they intend to demonstrate that political disaffection isn’t evidence that people don’t support the current form of representative democracy.

  1. Where does this come from? (Literature / Theoretical Framework)

There is lots of literature about political disaffection (in particular declining trust in institutions), its causes and consequences.

In common with Dalton (#5Papers – day 2) they identify not a reduction in political involvement but rather a move towards non-institutional forms of political participation. They also identify two approaches in the literature to citizen disaffection: direct democracy ie replacement of representative democracy or democratisation of representative democracy. Another approach they identify is whether people are dissatisfied with the institutions or the people within those institutions.

Their aim is to support the second theoretical approach ie democratisation.

  1. What did they do? (Methodology & Method)

Analysed data from the European Social Survey, looking at data from 14/18 countries over 5 time periods, supplemented by 7 focus groups conducted in Italy in 2012.

They identified 5 hypothesis: the first 4 are tested via the European Social Survey data and the 5th via the focus group data.

They undertake time series analyses based on ANOVA, multi-level and path analyses to develop complex indicators. Focus groups conducted in Italy which they consider to be good example of technocratic govt and hence a test for stealth democracy hypothesis.

  1. What did they learn? (Results / Discussion)

ESS analyses confirmed their hypotheses that ‘political disaffection reflects discontent with public policies’ and‘disaffection showed… no effect over importance given to democratic principle’ p28. Focus groups support hypothesis that people don’t want to replace representatiave democracy with direct democracy rather they want to democratise democracy p28.

  1. What did I learn?

These authors use data to demonstrate what surveys in Australia already show i.e. that people don’t trust their government but they do support (in principle) the concept of representative democracy – so not really anything new.

I wonder how this fits with the findings from some other research (which I’ll have to re-find) which shows that people are happy with their own representative but think representatives generally aren’t all that good and the same in regards to their school, their hospital etc etc.