Tuesday Seminar – 16 March

Vox Populi, Vox Dei? Alienation, Mobilisation and Models of Democracy

Miriam Sorace (University of Kent)
Diane Bolet (Policy Institute, King’s College London)

Attitudes towards democracy are gaining salience, as recent populist parties’ successes, and the rise of anti-system behaviours attest. This study innovatively adjudicates between cognitive mobilisation and political alienation explanations of preferences towards elitist, representative, and participatory models of democracy. We run a large survey experiment in France where we manipulated, via vignettes: (a) the ideological congruence of hypothetical MPs with the entire nation (vs. with the individual respondent); (b) the salience of technocracy; (c) the policy issue. We can test whether preferences for elite, representative and participatory democracy are moved by sociotropic consideration on the system-level health of political representation, or by self-centered considerations. We find that preferences for popular involvement in decision-making raise when system-level failures are primed, while the political alienation of the individual is responsible for shifts away from representative and elite democracy. The findings explain why the existing literature on satisfaction with democracy and/or preferences for direct or stealth democracy could not disentangle between alienation and mobilisation explanations: both factors matter but for different democratic dimensions. The findings also have strong implications for the characterisation of process preference change as benign and justified, and for the institutional reforms that are required to ensure that liberal representative democracy does not fall out of favour. 

Contact Semih Çakır if you would like to participate in the seminar.

This content has been updated on 20 March 2021 at 17 h 55 min.