As democratic governments fail to adequately meet the expectations of their citizens, citizens have become increasingly disaffected and skeptical about the value of democracy. Current scholarship shows that this alienation is reflected in declining voter turnout, opinion polls showing reduced commitment to democratic institutions, increased admiration for authoritarian leaders, and growing vote shares for radical candidates and parties offering anti-democratic alternatives. In our research and teaching we focus on diverse threats to democracy faced by nations around the world, both, including countries considered ‘fully democratic’, as well as countries in the process of democratization. We concentrate on empirical-analytical research with a dual emphasis: investigating the role of political actors, such as political parties, in shaping political decision-making processes on one side, and exploring the political attitudes and behavior of citizens on the other.
Our primary focus revolves around two central challenges to democracy: social inequalities and political polarization. Structural inequalities are visible both in government institutions, in the in- and exclusion of groups from representation, but may also fuel perceptions of trust and overall political participation. Simultaneously, we see lines of conflict changing and amplifying over time. What causes this increasing politicization? How does increasing polarization, especially around science and climate change, challenge democratic representation and policy change?
Last, we not only aim to understand causes of discontent and polarization, but also efforts to counteract political alienation. Mainly we are interested in whether institutional reforms can improve the quality of established democracies, in particular participatory institutions such as citizens' assemblies.