Geschwister Scholl Institute of Political Science

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DFG-Project - European elections and political structuring. A comparative analysis


The project analyzes the relationship between the electoral connection of citizens and parties and the structuring of political conflict in European elections. It aims at examining whether European elections have an independent structuring effect on political conflict and whether this effect has intensified in line with the increasing competencies of the European Parliament. The project assumes that European elections only have a mobilizing and legitimizing power the programmatic offers of political parties, the public debate over political conflicts in election campaigns, and voter preferences are tightly connected and linked to salient European issues. This presupposes that elections can structure political conflicts and channel them into the political system of the EU.

The project is based on a dynamic concept of political conflict structuring. This concept conceptualizes the relationship between citizens preferences and the programmatic offers by political parties as strategic interaction. The concept emphasizes the role of political organizations, political parties in particular, which articulate and mobilize political conflicts, the strategies these parties utilize, and the electoral contexts, in which they operate.

The project includes an extensive quantitative empirical research program consisting of three separate steps of analysis. First, the project examines the electoral connection in elections to the European Parliament, i.e. the relationship between the programmatic offers of political parties in their manifestos for European elections, the public controversies over European issues in European election campaigns, and the voter preferences as articulated in public opinion polls. Second, the structuring of political conflict in European elections and the relationship between the electoral connection of citizens and parties and the structuring of political conflict will be analyzed. Third, key factors responsible for the intensity of political conflict structuring (such as: intra-party conflict, public opinion and the strength of new eurosceptic challengers) will be investigated.
The project will use four sets of empirical data: (a) new data on European election campaigns collected by a core sentence based quantitative content analysis of daily newspapers; (b) existing data from previous projects on national election campaigns and integration debates; (c) data from the Euromanifesto project on European election manifestos; (d) survey data on voter preferences and public opinion. The study will be based on a comparative analysis of five EU member states: Germany, France, UK, Austria, and Sweden; and it will cover a period from 1994 to 2014 including five elections to the European Parliament (1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014).

The project is financed by the German Research Council (DFG).

In May 2018 our first project workshop took place at WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Link: Workshop Agenda; detailed project description