Here you can find an overview of current research activities of the chair of comparative political behavior.

Funding body: Swiss National Science Foundation

Project Summary: Can democratic politics incorporate citizen demands for independent expertise in ways that boost legitimacy and trust in politics? Democratic governments worldwide face the dilemma of how to deal with an ever-increasing call for technocratic expertise needed to govern effectively while remaining responsive to and representative of the citizens who elected them. In the past decade, the economic crisis brought this tension to the forefront of democratic politics, with multiple appointments of technocratic ministers and governments across democratic states and a simultaneous populist backlash against an apparent “out-of-touch” political establishment. More recently, the climate crisis and the global COVID19 pandemic highlighted the role of independent scientific expertise in guiding political decisions, but also the crucial role that citizens’ attitudes play in shaping policy effectiveness and trust in politics. Despite the pressing and complex issues that governments need to address, it is uncertain how democratic politics can include more independent expertise in a way that increases public support for political processes and decisions. From the perspective of citizens, we are currently presented with the following empirical puzzle: on the one hand, citizen surveys show growing demands for independent experts over politicians in political decision-making and a recognition that complex global problems require experts to solve them. On the other hand, we observe mounting public skepticism towards technical knowledge and scientific expertise, paired with soaring anti-elite rhetoric stoked by populist actors across established democracies. How can we reconcile these conflicting observable phenomena and what solutions can we offer for reinforcing support for democratic politics? The ‘Varieties of Expertise’ project addresses this puzzle through three key research questions:

(I) What constitutes ‘politically legitimate’ use of expertise and who is considered an “independent expert” in the eyes of citizens?

(II) Why do citizens demand more political power in the hands of independent experts?

(III) How and where do citizens want to see political power in the hands of independent experts?

Overall, the ‘Varieties of Expertise’ project will contribute to efforts to ameliorate public responses to political decisions, decrease political polarization and re-build political trust between citizens and political actors across established democracies. Insights will be highly relevant for scholars and political practitioners concerned with the design of political arrangements that can boost public acceptance of policies in contested areas, such as health, environmental, economic and immigration politics.

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Talk at the Institute For Futures Studies

October 2023, Stockholm, Sweden

Project Summary: Our team is part of a global Many Labs project lead by Dr. Viktoria Cologna (Harvard University) and Dr. Niels G. Mede (University of Zurich).. This Many Labs study seeks to analyze the factors that affect trust in science, as well as the prevalence and correlates of science-related populist attitudes across countries. Specifically, we are interested in a) public opinion on the role of science in society and policymaking, b) the perceived goals and benefits of science, c) the ways individuals across the globe inform themselves and communicate about science, and d) climate change attitudes. 

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Project Summary: Public support for a democratic system of government is thought to be one of the main bulwarks against democratic backsliding. Yet much of what we know about support for democracy is based on survey questions about “democracy,” a term that varies in meaning across countries and likely prompts socially desirable responses. Instead, we propose a new approach to measuring support for democracy: using a battery of 17 survey questions, we ask respondents from 19 national samples to evaluate the more granular rights and institutions that collectively constitute liberal democracy. We find considerable heterogeneity across countries in how our items cohere, but any disjunctures typically reveal faultlines in political cultures that might be exploited by authoritarian actors. We further identify a core set of seven items that provide a reliable and valid measure of public support for liberal democracy across our different samples. 

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Project Summary: Losers’ consent is widely considered a key resource for the perceived legitimacy and stability of democratic political systems. However, recent concerns around democratic backsliding and elite attempts to undermine democratic processes demand a shift in focus to the responsibility of political winners: They are expected to recognize and reject procedural violations, even when they receive favourable outcomes. Existing studies suggest that citizens are quite permissive of undemocratic behavior as long as it serves their own preferences. But are there limits to what citizens, particularly political winners, will tolerate? In this paper we argue that “winners restraint” – the flipside of losers’ consent – is an essential resource in established and newer democracies. We test the existence and limits of winners restraint for accumulating procedural violations in the context of policy decisions. Using a survey and two experimental studies in the UK, we investigated how many violations citizens were willing to tolerate before dissenting. Respondents exhibit double standards, with support for the winning side as the main predictor of how individuals perceive the legitimacy of political decisions. However, a majority of these winners demonstrate ‘winners’ restraint’ by revising their perceptions of fairness and legitimacy when violations accumulate.

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Winter Retreat 2023, Team Event