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How do voters want to be represented? An investigation in how parties can strengthen democracy

Annika Werner, Australian National University

Tue 13 August 2019

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


The diagnosis that large parts of democratic publics are disenchanted with political parties is wide spread. Also, that this is a problem for democracy is undeniable, given the crucial role parties play in the representative system. However, what parties can do about this is still much less clear.  How should parties make representative democracy work to give it more legitimacy? Dominant democracy models assume that voters want parties to fulfil the promises of their election campaigns and that this is especially true for the party a voter supports. The congruence between voters’ policy preferences, party programs, and party behavior is argued to ensure policy responsiveness and the meaningfulness of elections.  Whether voters agree with these assumptions, however, remains largely unclear. Thus, we actually have little robust knowledge about the yardstick against which political elites are judged. This article is one of the first empirical studies to investigate voter preferences regarding party behavior. It pits three ideal-type party representative styles against each other: promise-keeping, focus on public opinion, and seeking the common good. Furthermore, it tests whether voters prefer their party – over other parties – to keep their promises. Using innovative conjoint survey experiments in a most-different design – comparing Austria and Australia – this study finds that, generally, voters care least about parties keeping their promises and their preferences are unaffected by their party support. These results challenge common theoretical assumptions about the party behavior that might make democracy seem legitimate in the eyes of the people.

About the speaker

Dr Annika Werner is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University. Her research focuses on party behaviour, representation and public attitudes in the democracies of Europe and Oceania and has been published in journals such as the Journal of European Public Policy, Democratization, Party Politics, International Political Science Review, Representation, and Australian Journal of Political Science. Her book “International Populism: The Radical Right in the European Parliament”, co-authored with Duncan McDonnell, is forthcoming with Hurst/Oxford University Press. Annika is Steering Group member of the Manifesto Project (MARPOR, former CMP) and Co-Editor of the Australian Journal of Political Science.

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