The literature on political representation is split between research traditions that have remained largely separate: a philosophical normative strand, a behavioralist one focusing mainly on the roles held by representatives, and a third, more distinctly sociological one concerned primarily with issues of representativeness. These classical perspectives have been extended through the introduction of new dimensions into the analysis. The normative tradition has thus been able to formulate novel questions by considering, for instance, issues relating to the representation of nonhuman species or of future generations. Present-day writings on political representation also depart from accepted premises by integrating additional infra-institutional forms of representation. Similarly, a postmodern vein of thought has drawn increased attention to the fluidity of the processes involved and a rather hybrid literature has emerged that combines empirical and normative ambitions. Despite claims by some analysts to have renewed approaches on the topic, there are not so much major theoretical innovations as developments relating to the dynamics of political representation itself in the contemporary era. It is important to realize that much of the analysis of political representation has been couched in very general terms and that the field itself suffers from a lack of serious comparative work. In this respect, more inductive explorations are needed into the perceptions of representation (too often reduced to mere constructivist mechanisms), the concrete logics of accountability, and the “theatrical” dimension of the relationship—in all of which there has been underinvestment by political scientists.
Tom W. G. van der Meer
For decades, scholarly inquiry into political trust has been motivated by concerns about declining levels of public trust in politics. Because political trust is considered a necessary precondition for democratic rule, a decline in trust is thought to fundamentally challenge the quality of representative democracy.
Fundamentally, political trust can be understood as citizens’ support for political institutions such as government and parliament in the face of uncertainty about or vulnerability to the actions of these institutions. While political trust is conventionally treated as a pro-democratic value, its absence is not evidently detrimental to democracy. Rather, skepticism stimulates political engagement and signals a willingness to judge political institutions by their own merits.
In cross-national comparisons political trust is consistently highest in countries that are not considered liberal democracies. Within the set of liberal democracies, the Nordic countries tend to have the highest trust rates, while the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe have the lowest. Despite evidence that political trust declines in many longstanding democracies in the 1960s and 1970s, the last few decades are characterized by trendless fluctuations in most countries.
While scholars have made great headway in understanding the sources of political trust—most notably corruption, procedural fairness, (economic) performance, inclusive institutions, and socialization—this article argues that knowledge about its consequences has remained remarkably scarce.
Doh Chull Shin
How well do people around the world understand democracy? Do they support democracy with an informed understanding of what it is? To address these questions, which have largely been overlooked in the literature on democratization, the World Values Survey and three regional barometer surveys are analyzed according to a two-dimensional notion of democratic knowledge. Their analyses reveal that a vast majority of global citizenries especially in post-authoritarian and authoritarian countries are either uninformed or misinformed about the fundamental characteristics of democracy and its alternatives. These findings contradict the popular theses that democracy is emerging as a universal value and it is also becoming the universally preferred system of government. For much of the world today, democracy represents little more than an appealing political symbol that still retains authoritarian practices.
Sabine C. Carey and Neil J. Mitchell
Pro-government militias are a prominent feature of civil wars. Governments in Colombia, Syria, and Sudan recruit irregular forces in their armed struggle against insurgents. The United States collaborated with Awakening groups to counter the insurgency in Iraq, just as colonizers used local armed groups to fight rebellions in their colonies. An emerging cross-disciplinary literature on pro-government non-state armed groups generates a variety of research questions for scholars interested in conflict, political violence, and political stability: Does the presence of such groups indicate a new type of conflict? What are the dynamics that drive governments to align with informal armed groups and that make armed groups choose to side with the government? Given the risks entailed in surrendering a monopoly of violence, is there a turning point in a conflict when governments enlist these groups? How successful are these groups? Why do governments use these non-state armed actors to shape foreign conflicts whether as insurgents or counterinsurgents abroad? Are these non-state armed actors always useful to governments or perhaps even an indicator for state failure?
We examine the demand for and supply of pro-government armed groups and the legacies that shape their role in civil wars. The enduring pattern of collaboration between governments and these armed non-state actors challenges conventional theory and the idea of an evolutionary process of the modern state consolidating the means of violence. Research on these groups and their consequences began with case studies, and these continue to yield valuable insights. More recently, survey work and cross-national quantitative research contribute to our knowledge. This mix of methods is opening new lines of inquiry for research on insurgencies and the delivery of the core public good of effective security.
The field of protest and contentious action is massive. Numerous studies have focused on the determinants of such behavior, among which are grievances and deprivations, resources, political opportunities, and general contextual conditions. Others have examined the changes in political protest over time and across countries, or the consequences of contentious action. Moreover, research on protest politics is characterized by a multitude of methodological approaches, which are not easy to group according to the “qualitative–quantitative” divide. To navigate this literature, three units of analysis are examined: individuals; groups, organizations or social movements; and protest events. This perspective can guide researchers through the field, in particular through the main factors for protest studies cross-temporally and cross-nationally, about their effects, and through the various methodological approaches. This perspective also might suggest possible directions for future research to overcome some limitations of the current literature.
Christopher Wlezien and Stuart N. Soroka
The link between the public opinion and public policy is fundamental to political representation. The current empirical literature tests a general model in which policy is considered to be a function of public preferences. The mechanics by which preferences are converted to policy are considered along with extensions of the basic model - extensions through which the magnitude of opinion representation varies systematically acorss issues and political institutions. Thus, public opinion is an independent variable - an important driver of public policy change. With the consideration of 12/1 opinion as a dependent variable, specifically, its responsiveness to policy change - the ongoing existence of both policy representation and public responsiveness is critical to the functioning of representative democracy.
Toril Aalberg and Stephen Cushion
Public service broadcasters are a central part of national news media environments in most advanced democracies. Although their market positions can vary considerably between countries, they are generally seen to enhance democratic culture, pursuing a more serious and harder news agenda compared to commercial media . . . But to what extent is this perspective supported by empirical evidence? How far can we generalize that all public service news media equally pursue a harder news agenda than commercial broadcasters? And what impact does public service broadcasting have on public knowledge? Does exposure to public service broadcasting increase citizens’ knowledge of current affairs, or are they only regularly viewed by citizens with an above average interest in politics and hard news?
The overview of the evidence provided by empirical research suggests that citizens are more likely to be exposed to hard news, and be more knowledgeable about current affairs, when they watch public service news—or rather news in media systems where public service is well funded and widely watched. The research evidence also suggests there are considerable variations between public broadcasters, just as there are between more market-driven and commercial media. An important limitation of previous research is related to the question of causality. Therefore, a main challenge for future research is to determine not only if public service broadcasting is the preferred news provider of most knowledgeable citizens, but also whether it more widely improves and increases citizens’ knowledge about public affairs.
Whether as a consequence of colonialism or more recent international migration, ethnic diversity has become a prominent feature of many contemporary democracies. Given the importance of ethnicity in structuring people’s identities, scholars have sought to incorporate ethnicity in their models of people’s political behavior. Studies focusing on individual support for group interests among ethnic minority members find that higher socioeconomic status generally leads to a reduced emphasis on ethnicity in forming individual political opinions. However, this relationship is often considerably weaker among ethnic minorities with frequent experiences of discrimination, pessimistic assessments of equal opportunities in a country, and social pressures from group members to comply with group norms. Research also shows that, in comparison to majority populations, members of ethnic minorities are generally less active in politics, more likely to use contentious forms of political action, and support left-wing political parties that promote minority interests. Key explanations of differences between ethnic minorities and majorities in Western democracies focus on the importance of individual and group resources as well as political empowerment via representation in policymaking institutions, usually enabled by higher shares of minority populations within electoral districts.
The linkage between voters and political parties is to some degree based on stable social cleavages. Such cleavages express important and lasting societal divisions, allow parties and voters to establish long-term ties, and provide incumbents with clear representative and policy-making tasks against which they can be evaluated. Most research on cleavages has been based on the classic cleavages that were outlined in the Lipset-Rokkan model for social cleavages in industrial societies. These are:
(1) the center–periphery cleavage, which is anchored in geographical regions and related to different ethnic and linguistic groups as well as religious minorities; (2) the religious conflict between the Church and the State, which pitted the secular state against the historical privileges of the churches; this cleavage has more recently polarized the religious section against the secular section of the population; (3) the class conflict in the labor market, which involved owners and employers versus tenants, laborers, and workers; and (4) the conflict in the commodity market between buyers and sellers of agricultural products, or more generally, between the urban and the rural population.
Other social cleavages, such as gender, educational differences, and new divisions within the large new middle class, have been focused upon during the last decades. The new divisions within the new middle class are “horizontal” conflicts and can be conceptualized as a basic conflict between public and private employees, and as an alternative way of conceptualization, between those who work within technical, organizational, or interpersonal service environments.
Some of the cleavages have declined in importance over time, while others have increased. Some cleavages have changed character such as the class cleavage where part of the new middle class has voted for the New Left and part of the working class has voted for the New Right in the last decades. Changes in the impact and character of different cleavages have resulted in strategic reconsideration of important policies and changing location of the parties in the political space.
Kevin Arceneaux and Martin Johnson
Students of public opinion tend to focus on how exposure to political media, such as news coverage and political advertisements, influences the political choices that people make. However, the expansion of news and entertainment choices on television and via the Internet makes the decisions that people make about what to consume from various media outlets a political choice in its own right. While the current day hyperchoice media landscape opens new avenues of research, it also complicates how we should approach, conduct, and interpret this research. More choices means greater ability to choose media content based on one’s political preferences, exacerbating the severity of selection bias and endogeneity inherent in observational studies. Traditional randomized experiments offer compelling ways to obviate these challenges to making valid causal inferences, but at the cost of minimizing the role that agency plays in how people make media choices.
Resent research modifies the traditional experimental design for studying media effects in ways that incorporate agency over media content. These modifications require researchers to consider different trade-offs when choosing among different design features, creating both advantages and disadvantages. Nonetheless, this emerging line of research offers a fresh perspective on how people’s media choices shapes their reaction to media content and political decisions.