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Challenges to Democratic Representation

Challenges to Democratic Representation

Challenges to Democratic Representation

The research program Challenges to Democracy studies the consequences of current political developments and their historical roots for democratic governance. How do democratic regimes maintain political stability? To what extent can they deliver political equality, legitimacy and prevent societal polarization? We address these and other fundamental questions both theoretically and empirically.

Five developments are particularly relevant for our research agenda. The first is ‘democratic backsliding’, particularly in countries like Turkey, Hungary and Venezuela where elected leaders redesign institutional checks and balances to consolidate their power and insulate it from popular control. The role of courts, opposition parties, as well as the media are more and more limited, and elections become increasingly unfair. Second, traditional mainstream parties, particularly social democratic and Christian democratic parties, are losing ground to new challengers. Populist parties at both ends of the ideological spectrum have become new key players in several countries. While such shifts are part and parcel of electoral democracy, it does pose challenges to stable governance. Third,  as a result of individualisation, group representation is becoming more complex than before. Fourth, the weakening of sovereign powers of national states. Fifth, mass migration changes the ethnic makeup of populations leading to a variety of tensions between groups of citizens and parties.

Challenges is a diverse group of around 20 faculty members and about as many postdocs and PhD students. The group is highly pluralist in terms of its methodological and paradigmatic approaches. Research is centered around, but not limited to, three broad themes:

  • Inequalities

    Political equality is the cornerstone of a democracy. Yet, structural inequalities are omnipresent in democratic institutions and processes. Such inequalities foster the political power of some groups and individuals, while excluding others. How do positions such as gender, social class, race, ethnicity, citizenship and sexuality influence access to political power? How are structural political inequalities addressed by political parties and politicians on the one hand and by extra parliamentary actors on the other? How do inequalities influence political trust and participation? 

  • Legitimacy

    The promise of liberal democracy rests on the idea of legitimating power by expressing the will or reflecting the values of citizens in an egalitarian way, while at the same time limiting the power of elected representatives to avoid power abuse. Alternative models of democracy have been proposed. Populism offers a radical alternative to the liberal model of democracy, arguing that it is more responsive to the will of the majority. Deliberative democracy is supposed to increase the legitimacy of and support for policy decisions. We study the normative commitments and institutional designs that supposedly strengthen democratic responsiveness, as well as the empirical consequences of different institutional designs.

  • Polarization

    Polarization is a pressing problem in modern-day democracies. In recent decades parties with extreme ideologies and rhetoric have scored remarkable electoral victories. Citizens seem to be more divided than before over policy and report deeper resentment against outgroups. Differences between people of different political, social, religious and ethnic backgrounds and even age cohorts have become increasingly politicized. What explains these divisions? And what is the social, cognitive or emotional nature of these divisions? Why are parties with extreme ideologies and rhetoric more successful now than in the past? And does their success influence mainstream parties? In sum, how sustainable is democracy as we know it under the growing pressures of societal polarization?

Programme Group Leaders

prof. dr. W. (Wouter) van der Brug

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

prof. E.S. (Eric) Schliesser

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

Programme Group Staff

Our Projects 

  • INTEGRIM

    INTEGRIM has been created and developed under the Seventh Framework Programme/People based on a longstanding cooperation of the eight partners involved UDeusto (ES), CEDEM (BE), SCMR (UK), IGOT (PT), IMES (NL), MiReKoc (TR), CEU (HU) and MIGRINTER (FR). These are fully committed to establish a joint research and training programme on public policies and processes related with migration and the integration of immigrants.

    The network will apply a qualification framework with a compatible set of qualifications/knowledge/skills across the national systems for graduates of the INTEGRIM programme. Besides, the INTEGRIM research training programme will address the integration challenges that migration flows pose to policy makers, civil society and industrial partners in Europe

    Main objectives 

    The main features of the proposed research training programme can be described as follows:

    1. Provide high quality research training on integration policies and processes in the European Union and neighbouring countries. It aims to enhance the quality of the existing knowledge of scholars, policy makers, practitioners, economic actors and civil society dealing with integration.
    2. Contribute to the creation of an international inter-sectoral and multidisciplinary critical mass on the politics of integration and more specifically on cultural and identity management, citizenship and political participation, labour and social integration and urban integration, residential patterns and mobility.
    3. Enrich the political and social debate through a transnational multidisciplinary analysis on the causes and conditions leading to migrant integration and economic, social and territorial cohesion. The network aims to bring together key actors with proven experience and knowledge of integration policies and processes from academic, enterprise, civil society and public backgrounds.
    4. Provide EU policy makers and practitioners with qualitative and quantitative scientific tools to inform their decision making and implementation processes on the four indicated integration policy areas. The proposed programme aims to contribute to the EU’s integration agenda on the basis of the coherent approach to integration pursued at EU level and fostered by the European Commission.
    dr. F.F. (Floris) Vermeulen

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • The boundaries of solidarity: multi-level governance and redistribution

    The boundaries of solidarity: multi-level governance and redistribution seeks to understand people’s readiness to redistribute locally, nationally or supranationally, by analyzing how collective identities, generalized trust, national frames and decentralization influence preferences for redistribution at the local, national and European level.

    The increasing complexity and heterogeneity of contemporary societies represent a major challenge to European nation-states. Their boundaries of social rights, political participation and ethnic belonging used to be highly congruent. In the past few decades, however, globalization, European integration and mass immigration have eroded this congruence. These transformations of the state have unsettled our understanding of where taxes are paid, how they are spend, and who ultimately benefits from them.

    This project therefore seeks to understand people’s readiness to redistribute locally, nationally or supranationally, by analyzing how collective identities, generalized trust, national frames and decentralization influence preferences for redistribution at the local, national and European level. 

    • Funding: NWO (VENI)
    • Period: 01/02/2014 until 31/01/2018

     

    dr. T. (Theresa) Kuhn

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • The Democratic Challenge: Shifting Responsibility and Electoral Volatility

    Over the past two decades, Western societies have witnessed two major transformations that have significant consequences for the role of parties in representative democracies. The first is the substantial diminishment of the role of national governments: various jurisdictions and responsibilities that once belonged to governments have been shifted to other arenas. The second transformation concerns the increased volatility of electoral support for political parties.

    Parties with governing potential have lost support to populist or radical parties of the left and right, or to protest parties without an ideological profile, such as Pirate Parties and Beppe Grillo’s movement in Italy. Electoral volatility is not only indicated by the successful rise of new political parties or movements but also by the erosion of the traditional electoral basis of the existing parties. This means that voters are now more likely to switch between the mainstream parties. The electoral risks for government parties are high, while turnout is decreasing.

    Whilst electoral volatility increases the need for political parties to find large and stable electoral support for their policies, the possibilities of distinguishing oneself from electoral rivals are undermined by the erosion of power of national governments resulting from trans-nationalization, decentralization or privatization. And while elected politicians thus have increasingly less influence, they are increasingly held accountable by the electorate.

    Objectives

    Very little is known about the ways in which shifting responsibility and increasing volatility affect support for the democratic regime, its core institutions (such as governments, parliaments and political parties), and the actors in these institutions. The purpose of this research project is thus to study these relationships empirically, as well as normatively. The research programme consists of 4 PhD projects, two studies focusing on the empirical relations between on the one hand increasing volatility and shifting responsibilities and on the other hand specific and diffuse support. The two theoretical projects conduct a normative analysis of these relations, evaluating the nature of the changes that we are confronted with and the demands that are placed on political elites and citizens as a consequence.

    • Funding : NWO TOP Grants 
    • Project duration: 2014-2019
    prof. dr. W. (Wouter) van der Brug

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • Reassessing the ‘control gap’ debate. The making of family migration policies in France, Germany and the Netherlands, 1955-1985

    For more than fifteen years, there has been a lively debate among migration scholars in Europe and North-America about how to explain the paradox that large-scale settlement has taken place in Western States over the last fifty years, even though governments and publics alike considered such immigration unwanted.

    This project assesses existent hypotheses, based on a comparative analysis of the making of family migration policies in France, the Federal Republic of Germany, and the Netherlands from the 1950s until the 1980s. In contrast to previous contributions to the ‘control gap’ debate which were mostly based on broad overviews of policy developments, this project consists of a detailed reconstruction of policy making processes both at administrative and political levels, taking into account the internal plurality of states and the different positions adopted by different state actors. It focuses on a specific policy field that is a prototypical example of the paradox of migration in liberal states, but has thus far enjoyed very little scholarly attention, namely family migration.

    Hypotheses 

    The following three main hypotheses have been distilled from existent research to explain ‘why liberal states accept unwanted migration’. First, national policy makers are said to have lost power over migration policies, either to the courts or to supranational actors, and to have therefore been unable to steer their preferred restrictive policy course. Second, it is argued that concentrated group interests have outweighed the diffuse collective interest in decision-making processes, mostly because small well-organised groups such as employers developed close ties with policy makers and succeeded in shifting policies their way. Finally, policy making in restricted institutional settings outside of public view, such as courts and administrations, is stated to have facilitated the allocation of rights to migrants, thereby weakening the possibility for governments to control their entry and stay.

    This project builds on previous work, in which the making of Dutch family migration policies since the 1950s were mapped out. Tracing the history of French and German family migration policy – histories which have not yet been written – allow this research to evaluate whether the conclusions  drawn from the Dutch case apply more broadly. 

    Academic relevance

    This project will yield new insights into whether or not there are limits to states’ capacities to regulate migration, and if so to which extent and of what nature. Furthermore, it will contribute to our understanding of the dynamics of the making of the policies that have allowed for the large-scale immigration flows in Europe since the 1950s, flows that have fundamentally altered the face of Western-European societies. 

    • Funding: NWO Veni 
    dr. S.A. (Saskia) Bonjour

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • Misrepresenting Diversity? Identity in politics

    Ideal democracies should accommodate the citizenry’s full diversity. This especially matters for structurally underrepresented persons, such as ethnic minorities with a migration background. But how do minority politicians and citizens themselves believe personal identities should be represented in politics? Do their expectations and assessments of representation diverge or overlap?

    • NWO Vidi
    dr. L.M. (Liza) Mügge

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • Muslim Politics and Governance of Islam: Interactions of Structure and Culture in Multireligious Europe

    The societal backdrop for this project is the post-war influx of non-Western migrants to countries in Western Europe, and the increasing cultural heterogeneity that followed. Since the 1990s, and even more following 9/11, phenomena connected to immigration and integration have increasingly come to be framed as being about Islam or Muslims. Correspondingly, public policy geared towards immigrants or immigrant incorporation has in many countries become more concerned with religion or religious accommodation.

    The societal backdrop for this project is the post-war influx of non-Western migrants to countries in Western Europe, and the increasing cultural heterogeneity that followed. Since the 1990s, and even more following 9/11, phenomena connected to immigration and integration have increasingly come to be framed as being about Islam or Muslims. Correspondingly, public policy geared towards immigrants or immigrant incorporation has in many countries become more concerned with religion or religious accommodation.

    Building on this area of increased public interest, this project focuses on the political and attitudinal integration of migrants of Muslim background into secular democracies in Europe. More specifically, it addresses the manner in which Muslim political thought in Europe is affected by societal structures, and, conversely, how the development of societal structures in Europe is affected by Muslim politics and/or Muslim activism.

    Research topics

    This project undertakes a historically oriented, multidisciplinary and comparative case study of three countries: France, England and Norway. In each country, the study focuses on the development of two fields. On the one hand: Muslim political thinking on the elite level, concerning how religious elites envision the integration of Islam and Muslims into secular democracies. On the other: the development of national models for governance of Islam and Muslims. The aim is to come to an understanding of the interaction between the two fields: How is Muslim political thought affected by different modes of national governance? Are the regimes for governance of Islam in these countries influenced by Muslim political action or Muslim initiatives in the civil sphere?

    Relevance and aim

    The aim in this project is to explore in detail the interaction of culture and structure that often has been absent in previous studies. The two proposed fields of study – the impact of governance of Islam on Muslim political thought, and the impact of Muslim action and initiatives on governance of Islam – influence one another, such that it is fruitful to study them in conjunction. The complexity of the field calls for an interdisciplinary approach, and the team of researchers therefore has a diverse academic background – ranging from sociology and political science to theology, philosophy and law.

    Rather than looking into statistical correlations or the impact of specific variables, a method of comparative, historically oriented process tracing will be employed that aims to identify as many as possible causal links in a social process. To this aim, the following methods will be employed: qualitative interviewing of political and religious elites, analysis of historical documents and media content, and process tracing methods. In addition, the study will contain a non-empirical and normative/philosophical work package, in which the topics that arise in the empirical modules are assessed through ethical and normative theorizing.

    • Financed by FAFO (Norway)
    • Duration: 2015-2018
    dr. M.J.M. (Marcel) Maussen

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • Legitimacy Beyond Consent: Confronting Transnational and Supranational Power Structures
  • Crisis of trust, crisis of democracy? The consequences of low and declining political trust on the quality of representative democracy

    Low and declining political trust have been a prime concern of scholars, politicians, and opinion leaders across the globe for more than four decades. As high levels of political trust are widely assumed to be a necessary precondition for democratic rule, a decline is argued to fundamentally challenge the quality of representative democracy.

    Decreasing political trust has been associated theoretically with increasing electoral volatility, the rise of challenger parties, political stagnation, the breakdown and reform of political institutions, and ultimately with undermining the stability of democratic rule itself. Despite vast popular and scholarly attention to low and declining political trust, and despite widespread assumptions about its fundamental consequences, systematic empirical knowledge about these consequences is strikingly absent. Fundamentally, the question whether low and declining political trust affect representative democracy remained unanswered.

    This research project aims to subject assumptions on the effects of low and declining political trust to systematic empirical tests, and to identify the relevant actors and mechanisms that bring about these effects. It meets these aims through three linked sub-projects about

    1. the macro-level effects on the regime’s institutions,
    2. the meso-level effects on the political and societal elites that propose policy, affect public opinion, and mobilize voters, and
    3. the micro-level effects on citizens’ law compliance and support for democratic reform.

    To test causal relationships and clarify mechanisms, all sub-projects employ a mixture of state-of-the-art qualitative and quantitative data-analysis techniques, including time series analysis, discourse and content analysis, elite interviews, and survey experiments.

    This project pioneers academic understanding of the democratic implications of political trust by providing an integrated theoretical framework and employing decisive empirical tests. The outcomes will stimulate informed professional and public debate on political trust, and offer valuable information to policy makers and opinion leaders for their political and journalistic priorities and (communication) strategies.

    • NWO Vidi grant
    • Project duration: October 2016 - October 2021
    prof. dr. T.W.G. (Tom) van der Meer

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • Generational differences in determinants of party choice

    We investigate generational differences in determinants of party choice. We expect that 'new political issues', such as migration and global warming, have the greatest impact on vote choices of young generations. Among other things, this explains why young people are overrepresented among the supporters of Green and Radical right parties.

    • NWO Open Competition grant
    prof. dr. W. (Wouter) van der Brug

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • A New Normative Framework for Financial Debt

    Society is drowning in financial debts. But it is unclear how to deal with debt morally when it cannot be repaid or causes harmful side effects. This project develops practical, normative guidelines that help policymakers, creditors, and debtors to regulate and manage debt.

    • NWO Open Competition Grant
    prof. E.S. (Eric) Schliesser

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation

  • ‘Strange’ families reunified? 

    Which families belong in Europe? The right to family migration is highly contested for families which deviate from the norm, such as same-sex or polygamous families. Saskia Bonjour’s project will analyse how migration law and politics deal with different kinds of families asking to be allowed to live together in Europe.  

    • NWO Vidi
    dr. S.A. (Saskia) Bonjour

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Challenges to Democratic Representation