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Fractures in the Fabric of Democracy?: Change and Continuity in Public Opinion in Contemporary Europe
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Government.
2023 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Description
Abstract [en]

Is representative democracy in Europe becoming undermined by developments in public opinion? This dissertation addresses this overarching question, by studying the development over time of (i) ideological polarization; (ii) the degree to which vote choices are structured by political attitudes; and (iii) the degree to which parties are internally congruent in political opinion across levels. Public opinion is understood as the metaphorical ‘fabric’ of representative democracy, where conjectures to the fact of a fracturing dynamic are plausible and recurrent in academic and public debate. Thus, this thesis contributes with studies in three particular areas, regarding the interaction between political attitudes and the political system. The studies show that there have not been dramatic ruptures in these aspects of political opinion. Neither polarization, disintegration, nor incongruence are the most appropriate words to characterize developments in general. Some changes are taking place, in particular as attitudes on immigration are becoming more important in all aspects considered.

Paper I studies political polarization in a qualified sense, focusing on ideological views among the electorates of European democracies. The paper presents a conceptualization and measurement of ideological polarization that is partly novel, and proceeds to investigate patterns across countries and time. 

Paper II studies the degree to which vote choices in contemporary European democracies are connected to political views, in particular left-right placements, among electorates in Europe. This degree is gradually declining in most cases, and attitudes on secondary dimensions are generally rising in importance. In particular, the left-right scale is subsuming more issues than before, while issue attitudes are becoming gradually more important for explaining vote choices independently as well.

Paper III studies intra-party ideological congruence, focusing on the case of Sweden. Here, the framework of May’s Law is utilized to formulate hypotheses of the structure of intra-party opinion. The study finds that May’s Law is supported in the Swedish case, with some qualifications, in contrast to recent studies. Additionally, there is not a sharp decline in opinion representation in the Swedish parties. Amidst declining levels of engagement in the parties, they still manage to represent the political opinions of their electorates relatively well over time.

The general conclusion from the studies in the dissertation is that what we are seeing is not a wholesale transformation of representative democracy in these aspects, rather, there are signs of gradual change amid a general pattern of stability.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2023. , p. 73
Series
Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Social Sciences, ISSN 1652-9030 ; 220
Keywords [en]
Public Opinion, Representative Democracy, Political Polarization, Political Attitudes, Intra-Party Opinion
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalisation Studies)
Research subject
Political Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-517433ISBN: 978-91-513-1989-6 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-517433DiVA, id: diva2:1817955
Public defence
2024-02-02, Brusewitzsalen, Östra Ågatan 19, Uppsala, 13:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2024-01-12 Created: 2023-12-07 Last updated: 2024-01-12
List of papers
1. Are the Europeans Polarized?: Levels and Trends of Ideological Polarization in the 21st Century
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Are the Europeans Polarized?: Levels and Trends of Ideological Polarization in the 21st Century
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalisation Studies)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-517431 (URN)
Available from: 2023-12-07 Created: 2023-12-07 Last updated: 2023-12-07
2. Does the Left-Right Scale Still Matter?: Evidence from Contemporary Europe
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Does the Left-Right Scale Still Matter?: Evidence from Contemporary Europe
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalisation Studies)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-517432 (URN)
Available from: 2023-12-07 Created: 2023-12-07 Last updated: 2023-12-07
3. May's law may prevail: Evidence from Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>May's law may prevail: Evidence from Sweden
2021 (English)In: Party Politics, ISSN 1354-0688, E-ISSN 1460-3683, Vol. 28, no 4, p. 680-690Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Are party members more radical than voters and party elites? This is the expectation according to May’s Law, which has faced significant challenges from recent scholarship. Utilizing several survey sources covering four levels of all Swedish parliamentary parties between 1985 and 2018, this paper shows that the Swedish case follows May’s propositions with some qualifications. The parties organized along the left-right dimension follow the pattern of the mid-level being more radical in this respect, while on a secondary GAL-TAN dimension the parties that organize along this dimension rather exhibit a pattern of elite polarization. Additionally, the relative order of groups within parties is stable over the considered time period, when party membership is sharply declining. This suggests that party members are not becoming less ideologically representative over time, while they are consistently more radical than respective parties’ voters and elites.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sage Publications, 2021
Keywords
May’s law, opinion structure, party members, Sweden
National Category
Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalisation Studies)
Research subject
Political Science
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-437645 (URN)10.1177/1354068821997398 (DOI)000626229900001 ()
Available from: 2021-03-12 Created: 2021-03-12 Last updated: 2023-12-07Bibliographically approved

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