ECPR General Conference 2020- Contemporary Challenges to Representative Democracy: Unequal Representation in Europe and the European Union

1. If you are interested in joining a panel, please contact the relevant panel chairs asap.
2. We have been provisionally given space for 8 panels – so if you are interested in organizing an additional panel within this section, please contact Zoe Lefkofridi at asap.
Contemporary Challenges to Representative Democracy:Unequal Representation in Europe and the European Union
Modern representative democracy rests upon citizens’ participation and representation, as well as the responsiveness of government policy to citizens. Citizens should have equal chances and opportunities to have a say in the decisions that affect them (Dahl 2006). While political systems are generally successful in transforming collective preferences into public policies, political elites often tend to represent some social groups better than others. This presents a challenge for contemporary democracies, especially when an increasing number of citizens becomes critical of their institutions, their functioning and their outcomes.
This section examines the causes and consequences of unequal representation in Europe and the European Union (EU) by analyzing both the supply side and the demand side of the representation process. We are interested in theoretical, methodological and empirical works that study the relationship between candidates/representatives and citizens/voters, as well as on the role of those institutions that are supposed to influence the relation between the actors from the perspective of (in-) equality.
Proposed panels:
1. Free and (Un)fair Elections: How Electoral Procedures Affect Representation
Chairs: Jan Rosset (Université de Genève) / Carolien Van Ham (Radboud University of Nijmegen
Responsiveness does not depend solely on the good will of policy makers. Institutional arrangements ensuring popular control and connecting citizens to governments are also necessary, e.g. effective electoral procedures that induce representatives to ‘anticipate (citizens’) reactions’. Even in presence of regular and competitive elections, democratic governments often deviate from public opinion in the policy-making stage of representation. While at the theoretical level the beneficial effect of electoral competition and accountability on responsiveness has been recognized, the empirical evidence is still limited. This Panel invites papers that investigate the effect of different declinations and dimensions of electoral competition and accountability on government responsiveness in a comparative perspective.   

2. Determinants of Representatives’ Perceptions of Public Opinion
Chairs: Andrea Fumarola (University of Bergen) / Stefaan Walgrave (University of Antwerp)
Miller and Stokes (1963) outline how the interaction between public opinion, representatives’ opinion, and their perceptions of public opinion might result in a more or less accurate match between citizens’ preferences and legislators’ behavior. Though representatives’ perceptions of constituency’s opinion are important in determining legislative behavior, they were not entirely accurate. However, only a small number of studies focus on how political elites perceive public opinion. Though representatives want to be congruent with their voters/ constituents, information bias leads them to form inaccurate opinions about them. This Panel invites papers that examine unequal representation from the perspective of the representatives, looking at how accurate are elites at perceiving citizens’ opinions and what factors, such as their channels of information, might lead to better assessment of specific groups rather than others.

3.    The Politics of Unequal Group Representation
Chairs: Stefanie Reher (University of Strathclyde, UK) / Armen Hahkverdian (University of Amsterdam)
Two dimensions dominate the study of the opinion-policy link:  ‘responsiveness’ and ‘congruence’ between representatives and citizens’ opinions on specific issues. High levels of congruence between elites and voters turn out to be dramatically important for democratic representation and a necessary step for responsiveness. However, governments  often fail to achieve this ideal. This Panel asks: Why do elected representatives represent the preferences of specific social groups disproportionately more than others? What are the causes behind unequal representation of citizens based on individual level characteristics (e.g. gender, income, education or race)?

4.    Parties, Party Systems and Unequal Representation
Chairs: Raimondas Ibenskas (University of Bergen) / Pedro Riera (University Carlos III of Madrid)
Different configurations of the party system might limit representation of specific groups in the institutions, and party strategies behind the process of agenda setting might end up marginalizing specific social groups. Yet the party system and the dynamics of party competition have been understudied with regard to public responsiveness and policy representation. This Panel invites contributions analyzing the effect of party system’s static and dynamic dimensions: the conditional effect of the systemic characteristics, e.g. fragmentation, polarization, innovation/volatility, as well as  attributes related to party competition and organization.

5.    Congruence and Political Inequality: (New) Concepts and Measurements
Chairs: Nathalie Giger (Université de Genève)/ Jan Rosset (Université de Genève)
Conceptualizing and measuring unequal representation as congruence in a reliably and valid manner is a notoriously difficult task. This Panel invites contributions that tackle two important questions: How can we clearly conceptualize and operationalize congruence? How can we overcome the methodological challenges encountered by scholars in measuring this concept?

6.    Unequal representation institutionalized: citizens versus collectives in contemporary Europe
Chair: John Erik Fossum (ARENA, University of Oslo)
Democratic theorists generally focus on equal representation as an intrastate matter, a concern that can be confined to relations within states. The implicit assumption is that individual states can still usefully be considered as the main addressees for citizens’ concerns. In today’s globalized context, with supranational rights-granting bodies, a supranational European constitutional order and states tightly interwoven vertical and horizontal dynamics militate against a simple delineation of national – international. The question that such multilevel dynamics bring forth is: whose equality? If this question must be relativized so that citizens’ equality must contend with that of collectives, which collectives and under what circumstances can these two forms of equality be reconciled? The panel invites contributions that discuss this, possibly drawing on federal, demoicratic, transnational and cosmopolitan sources.
7.    Making Normative Judgements about Representation after the Constructivist Turn
Chair: Lasse Thomassen (Queen Mary University of London/University of Copenhagen)
The so-called constructivist turn in political representation takes representation to be constitutive of interests, groups, constituencies, and so on. That is, interests and identities do not exist independently of their representation by political activists, parties and institutions. However, this creates a challenge for anyone who wishes to normatively judge representative claims: how is it possible to judge representative claims if there are no interests and identities independent of the representative claims and vis-á-vis which we can judge the claims? This panel examines the possibility of making normative judgements about equality, freedom and justice after the constructivist turn in political representation.
Democracy, Europe (Central and Eastern), European Union, Gender, Government, Political Competition, Political Theory, Representation


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