Universiteit Leiden

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What is the role of parties in local politics?

Political scientist Simon Otjes (Leiden University) receives a grant from The Dutch Research Council (NWO). The grant is part of the SGW Open Competition XS, which aims to stimulate innovative scientific research within the Social Sciences and Humanities domain. Otjes receives the grant for his research on the extent to which local parties respond to social issues in a municipality: ‘We hardly know what role parties play in local politics.’

Congratulations on this scholarship. What are you going to research?

'Recently, the Dutch government transferred tasks in the field of elderly care and work and income to the municipalities. The assumption is that policy choices should reflect the local context. Municipalities know better what is going on in their municipality and can respond to it.

This suggests an assumption about local politics: namely that parties address the specific problems in their municipality. Surprisingly, we know very little about this: neither specifically for the Netherlands nor comparatively. In fact, in the Netherlands we hardly know what role parties play in local politics. What do they write in their programmes? What problems do they want to address? And does that translate into their behaviour in the city council?

The core of my research is to see whether parties focus their programmes on the major problems in their municipalities. For example, if a relatively large number of people are unemployed at home in a municipality, will the parties pay more attention to the theme of 'work'? And are the parties also paying more attention to that theme in the city council?'

What kind of results do you expect?

‘There is quite a bit of research on this topic at the national level. We call this issue competition. Parties emphasize certain themes in their programme. This partly reflects a country's social and economic circumstances, but also partly reflects political strategy.

There are good reasons to expect that these patterns will and will not repeat themselves at the local level. In the first place, this concerns politicians who seem sensitive to this logic at the national level. But on the other hand, decentralisation has put a lot of pressure on municipal finances. The parties are mainly concerned with making the necessary budget cuts. Then there is little room left to see what the needs of the municipalities are or to pursue the priorities from your programme.'

How will you approach your research?

‘We will look at the responsiveness of parties at the local level within four themes of the social domain: first, (1) housing, which has long been a municipal theme. Are parties responding to the housing shortage? Second, (2) education, about which municipalities actually have little say. Do parties write about that if that theme is popular among voters? Finally, the themes (3) 'work and income' and (4) care for the elderly, which have recently been decentralised. Will the parties pay more attention to these themes if more people live in their municipalities and ask for help and care?'

Political scientist Simon Otjes (Leiden University)

About the NWO SGW Open Competition

‘The Dutch Research Council (NWO) ensures quality and innovation in science and is one of the most important science funders in the Netherlands. They organise various competitions within different domains, of which the SGW Open Competition XS is for smaller research projects. This concerns scholarships of up to 50,000 euros. This can be used, for example, for the appointment of new staff or for expenses related to research.'

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