Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Representation, Public Opinion and Communication

This research cluster is a part of the Institute of Political Science’s research programme ‘Institutions, Decisions and Collective Behaviour’. Its members focus on the democratic role of citizens and the representative links between voters and politicians.

Contact
Petr Kopecky

At the beginning of the 21st century, the global proliferation of democracy seems to have stalled. Contemporary studies on ‘advanced’ Western democracies highlight a range of political predicaments, among which declining citizen participation, mounting frustration with traditional political parties, rising electoral support for populist challengers, and widespread disaffection with democratic procedures. In new democracies, analogous problems create concerns about democratic backsliding and a rise in so-called ‘hybrid’ regimes, operating somewhere in the grey zone between democracy and authoritarianism. Academics, politicians, and members of the broader public alike are baffled by the recent election of leaders who openly espouse illiberal values and antidemocratic rhetoric, such as Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro, and Narendra Modi. As such events demonstrate, understanding the attitudes, motivations, and values of citizens in democratic systems is now arguably more important than ever before.

Members of this research cluster focus on the democratic role of citizens and the representative links between voters and politicians. A first cohort of researchers in the cluster studies public opinion, predominantly employing survey research to expose and understand political attitudes at the mass level. These researchers also make fruitful use of the recent advances in ‘Big Data’, which offer unparalleled opportunities for studying and charting the behavior of citizens. A second group of researchers focuses on the dynamics of political communication, looking at the changing role of the mass media in spreading information to the public and influencing politicians and policies. While it is increasingly clear that popular online communication platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have the capacity to fundamentally influence democratic procedures and outcomes, for now their political effects also remain relatively little understood. Researchers employ a range of innovative research techniques to study the characteristics, dynamics, and effects of these new forms of online communication. A final group of researchers focuses on the representative links between citizens and politicians. As the legitimacy and societal roots of political parties attenuate and parties become more dependent on the state, an understanding of alternative linkage mechanisms – among which patron-client networks and grassroots networks – becomes increasingly important. By studying these mechanisms, researchers in this cluster seek to uncover how democracy functions in an increasingly non-partisan environment. While most researchers within this cluster work in the positivist tradition, they employ a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods, ranging from survey research and multilevel modeling to expert interviews and social network analysis. Most researchers in this cluster also work in the tradition of comparative politics and comparative analysis. Members of this cluster are also active in the multi-faculty East and Central European Studies Centre (CEES) and the Leiden University Centre for International Relations (LUCIR).

Members

Other research clusters within the ‘Institutions, Decisions and Collective Behaviour’ programme:

Connection with other research

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