ASTK15640U New approaches to Elections and Public Opinion: A crisis of centre parties or a crisis of democracy?

Volume 2015/2016

Elective in the specialization "Political behaviour and applied quantitative methodology"


Modern representative democracies are party democracies. Some would go as far as Schattschneider (1942), who argued that “Political parties created modern democracy and modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of parties”. Yet, there are good reasons to think that contemporary party democracy is facing a crisis. Over the past two decades, parties with governing potential have lost support to populist or extremist parties of the left and right, or to protest parties without an ideological profile, such as Pirate Parties, or Beppe Grillo’s movement. We have seen these developments in almost all established democracies, except for a country like the US, where the electoral system prevents the rise of new parties, but where a radical opposition movement organised itself within one of the mainstream parties. Other empirically observable indicators of the crisis of electoral democracy are decreasing turnout and low levels of trust in political parties. On top of this, we are witnessing an economic crisis, which makes is highly unlikely that the mainstream parties will be able to restore citizens’ confidence in their problem solving capacities.


For a long time, party democracy worked well, because, in the words of Peter Mair (2007) it provided the synthesis between popular democracy and constitutional democracy. Yet, centre parties are facing some fundamental challenges. The first challenge is that their capacity to influence policies have been reduced by the rise of supranational organisations and by the constraints of an increasingly globalised economy. Secondly,  processes of individualisation and emancipation of voters have made electorates increasingly volatile and parties more uncertain. Third, media fragmentation makes communication with voters increasingly difficult. As a consequence of all these developments, we may be witnessing a growing gap in modern party democracy between highly responsive outsider parties on the one hand and increasingly unresponsive and responsible parties of government on the other, as argued by Mair. He suggested that if parties are failing, and if modern democracy cannot exist without parties, we may soon see the end of democracy as we know it. Others are more optimistic.


In this seminar we will discuss recent theoretical contributions and empirical studies dealing with various aspects of the functioning of electoral democracy. The course has a strong focus on the relationships between voters and political parties and on challenges that parties face in contemporary representative democracies. The main themes are:

  • The crisis of parties, social democracy and or Christian-democracy?

  • Realignment or de-alignment in Western Europe?

  • Realignment in Central and Eastern Europe?

  • Realignment in the US and the rise of the Tea Party

  • Realignment in the Nordic Countries?

  • Cost of governing and the impact of the economic crisis


Learning Outcome


  1. Obtaining in-depth specialized knowledge of the state of the art literatures on electoral change and particularly the challenges faced by mainstream parties

  2. Obtaining the ability to critically evaluate theoretical arguments made in this literature

  3. Obtaining the ability to critically evaluate the results of empirical research

  4. Improving writing skills

  5. Improving the capacity to apply in-depth knowledge of and experience in employing advanced research methods and techniques relevant to a specific research project, in answer to state-of-the-art research problems.

  6. Improving the ability to independently present social science research findings both orally and in writing in English to the required scholarly standard, making use of theoretical insights relevant to the particular research problem under study


van der Eijk, C. &  M. Franklin (2009), ‘Elections and Voters’. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bengtsson, Å., Hansen, K.M., Harðarson, O. Narud H.M. & Oscarsson, H. (2014) ‘The Nordic Voter: Myths of Exceptionalism’. ECPR-Press: Colchester.

Journal articles etc.

Abramowitz, A.I. (2011), ’Partisan Polarization and the rise of the Tea Party Movement’, Paper presented at APSA 2011 in Seatle.

Aslan-Akman, C. (2012), ‘The 2011 Parliamentary elections in Turkey and challenges ahead for democratic reform under a dominant party system’, Mediterranean Politics 17(1):77-95.

Bale, T. (2003), ‘Cinderella and her ugly sisters: the mainstream and extreme right in Europe’s bipolarising party systems’, West European Politics 26(3): 67-90.

Brug, W van der & J. van Spanje, (2009). Immigration, Europe and the new cultural dimension. European Journal of Political Research, 48, 309-334.

Carkoglu, A. (2012), ‘Economic evaluations vs. ideology: Diagnosing the sources of electoral change in Turkey 2002-2011’, Electoral Studies 31: 513-521.

Carkoglu, A. (2012), ‘Political preferences of the Turkish electorate: Reflections of an Alevi-Sunni cleavage’, Turkish Studies 6(2): 273-292.

Clarke, H.D. and G. Whitten (2013), ‘Hard choices in hard times: Valence voting in Germany’, Electoral Studies 32(3): 445-451.

Duncan, F. (2006), ‘A decade of Christian Democratic decline: The dilemmas of the CDU, ÖVP and CDA in the 1990s’, Government and Opposition 41(4)469-490.

Duncan, F. (forthcoming), ‘Preaching to the converted? Christian Democratic voting in six west European countries., Party Politics, published online first.

Ellis, C. and J.A. Stimson (2009)’Symbolic ideology in the American electorate’, Electoral Studies 28: 388-402.

Hale, W. (2005), ‘Christian Democracy and the AKP: Parallels and Contrasts’, Turkish Studies 6(2): 293-310.

Jacoby, W.G. (2010), ‘Policy attitudes, ideology and voting behaviour in the 2008 election’, Electoral Studies 29: 557-568.

Kalyvas, S.N. and K. van Kersbergen (2010), ‘Christian Democracy’,  Annual Review of Political Science 13:183-209.

Karácsony, G. and D. Róna (2011), ‘The secret of Jobbik. Reasons behind the rise of the Hungarian radical right’, Journal of East European and Asian Studies 2(1): 61-92.

Keman, H. (2011), ‘Third ways and social democracy: The right way to go?, British Journal of Political Science 41(3): 671-680.

Kriesi, H., E. Grande, R. Lachat, M. Dolezal, S. Bornschier, & T. Frey, (2006). Globalization and the transformation of the national political space: Six European countries compared. European Journal of Political Research, 45(6), 921-956.

LeDuc, L. and J.H. Pammett (2013), ‘The fate of government parties in times of crisis’, Electoral Studies 32(3): 494-499.

Lewis Beck, M. and G. Whitten (2013), ‘Editorial. Economics and Elections: Effects deep and wide’, Electoral Studies 32(3): 393-395.

Magalhaes, P.C. (2014), Introduction – Financial Crisis, Austerity and Electoral Politics. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 24(2): 125–133.

Magalhaes, P.C. (2014), The elections and the great recession in Portugal: Performance voting under a blurred responsibility for the economy. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 24(2): 180–202.

Mair, P. (2008), ‘The Challenge to party government’, West European Politics 31: 211-234.

Mair, P. and J. Thomassen (2010), ‘Political representation and government in the European Union’, Journal of European Public Policy 17(1):20-35.

Marsh, M. & S. Mikhaylov (2014), A Conservative Revolution: The Electoral Response to Economic Crisis in Ireland. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 24(2): 160–179.

Rohrschneider, R. and S. Whitefield (2009), ‘Understanding cleavages in party systems: issue position and issue salience in 13 post-communist democracies’, Comparative Political Studies 42: 280-313.

Schumacher, G. (forthcoming), ‘When does the left do the right thing? A study of party position change on welfare policies’, Party Politics, published online first.

Singer, M.M. (2013), ‘The Global Economic Crisis and Domestic Political Agendas’, Electoral Studies 32(3): 404-410.

Tavits, M. and N. Letki (2009), ‘When left is right: ideology and policy in post-communist Europe’, The American Political Science Review 103(4): 555-569.

Teperoglou, E. & E. Tsatsanis  (2014), Dealignment, De-legitimation and the Implosion of the Two-party system in Greece: The Earthquake Election of 6 May 2012. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 24(2): 222–242.

Webb, P. (2005), ‘Political parties and democracy: the ambiguous crisis’, Democratization 12(5): 633-650.

Weisberg, H.F. (2010), ‘Preface: the transformative election of 2008’, Electoral Studies 29: 543-544.

Weishaupt, J.T. (2010), ‘Germany after a decade of social democrats in government: The end of the Continental Model?’, German Politics 19(2)105-122.


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Seminar meetings, starting with student presentations, followed by group discussions. By means of group discussions the analytical skills will be trained, as well as the ability to judge the validity of conclusions derived from empirical research. The teaching is grouped into larger slots:

Teaching Friday 30 Oct 2 pm to 5 pm = 3 hrs.
Teaching Monday 2 Nov. 9 am to 12 noon= 3 hrs.
Teaching Monday 2 Nov. 2 pm to 5pm = 3 hrs.
Teaching Tuesday 3 Nov 10 am to 1 pm = 3 hrs.

Teaching Friday 13 Nov 9 am to 12 noon = 3 hrs.
Teaching Friday 13 Nov 2 pm to 5 pm = 3 hrs.
Teaching Monday 16 Nov. 9 am to 12 noon = 3 hrs.
Teaching Monday 16 Nov. 2 pm to 5 pm = 3 hrs.
Teaching Tuesday 17 Nov 10 am to 2 pm = 4 hrs.

This active learning seminar requires Preparation, Participation, and Positive attitude. Preparation means that all texts need to be read in advance. The seminar takes the form of Active Learning involving continuous assessment. Seminar assignments are compulsory and are continuously assessed. Seminar assignments must be written individually. Participation means that in order to pass the seminar, students must actively participate through a minimum of 90%. Positive attitude means that students will constructively participate in a number of group learning activities which form the core of the seminar.
  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 28
  • Total
  • 28
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
Individuel written assignment
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assesment
  • Grade 12 is given for an outstanding performance: the student lives up to the course’s goal description in an independent and convincing manner with no or few and minor shortcomings 
  • Grade 7 given for a good performance: the student is confidently able to live up to the goal description, albeit with several shortcomings 
  • Grade 02 is given for an adequate performance: the minimum acceptable performance in which the student is only able to live up to the goal description in an insecure and incomplete manner