Eric Guntermann is currently a post-doctoral researcher at the Canada Research Chair in Electoral Democracy. Eric has been awarded an FRQSC post-doctoral fellowship and will be moving to the University of California, Berkeley in July 2018. He will be working on issue voting and policy representation with Gabriel Lenz.
Here is a summary of Eric’s postdoctoral research project:
Voting Behaviour and Policy Representation: Is Democracy Really in Crisis? The rise of populism in numerous democracies seems to indicate that there is a crisis of democracy. Populist leaders assert that governments and established parties are poor representatives of citizens’ preferences. Two recent influential books (Achen and Bartels, 2016; Lenz, 2012) argue that there is a democratic deficit but that citizens’ voting behaviour is the cause. Rather than voting on the basis of their policy preferences, citizens vote on the basis of irrelevant considerations. These authors assert that, because of citizens’ deficient behaviour, parties and governments fail to adequately represent citizens’ preferences. However, no study has analyzed the link between voting behaviour and government policy or parties’ positions. I propose to clarify the link between between behaviour and party positions. In the influential model of democracy developed by Downs (1957), citizens vote for the party whose positions are closest to theirs. In turn, parties move their positions closer to citizens’ preferences in order to maximize their vote. This model is problematic because citizens rarely vote on the basis of their policy opinions. I propose to study voting behaviour and to determine the issues on which policy preferences influence vote choice. When they do, parties should have an incentive to adjust their positions to citizens’ preferences. I will use an approach I developed while at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) to measure the extent to which issue preferences influence vote choice. I will then test whether parties adjust their positions to citizens’ preferences more when issues have more influence on voting behaviour. I will focus on six democracies with varied institutions: Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This variation will allow me to test the mechanism that I propose. I suggest that large parties ascertain the importance of issue preferences for voters by observing changes in votes for small parties with clear positions on issues. Germany and Sweden have proportional electoral systems allowing small parties to flourish. France has a two-round system that also allows small parties to be successful. Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States have non-proportional systems that make it difficult for small parties to be successful. To measure party positions, I will use three different measures in order to show that my conclusions do not depend on a particular source of data. I will use the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (Polk et al., 2017), data from the Manifesto Project (Volkens et al., 2017) and the automated analysis of political programs using the program Wordfish (Slapin and Proksch, 2008). In short, I am going to consider whether parties move their positions in the direction of public opinion when opinions influence vote choice.
This content has been updated on 7 May 2018 at 10 h 28 min.