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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Dynamics

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Department of Social Sciences | Dynamics | Research Agenda | Pillar 1: Demography and Democratic Processes

Pillar 1: Demography and Democratic Processes

In this pillar, we investigate how demographic changes affect democratic processes, most notably preference formation, voting behaviour and government responsiveness and how political institutions and electoral competition moderate these effects.



First,  the effect of recent demographic changes on preference formation has not received much attention. While recent research addresses issues of changing patterns of risk exposure and the impact risk exposure has on policy preferences and individual political behaviour (e.g. Häusermann, Kurer & Schwander 2015, 2016; Iversen & Soskice 2001; Marx 2016; Rehm 2009; Rovny & Rovny 2017; Walter 2017), the analysis is still focused on skill distributions and occupation. We therefore know very little about how demographic factors affect the composition of new social risks groups and the preference formation process. Relatedly, the decline of traditional societal cleavages and associated segments of societies, such as the shrinkage of the traditional working class or the decreasing importance of religious affiliations has resulted in the break-up of long established patterns of partisan affiliations which crucially challenges established parties in Western democracies (Dalton & Wattenberg 2000). In this pillar, projects will therefore investigate how demographic changes affect preference and attitude formation as well as partisan affiliations.

Second, another major question that we will address in this research pillar is how demographic changes affect the voting behaviour of citizens. For instance, while there is a lot of research on the gender gap in voting behaviour in particular in the US (e.g. Shapiro & Mahajan 1986; Chaney, Alvarez & Nagler 1998), there is very little research that systematically examines how the changing role of women in the labour market and the more equalized division of labour in the household that has taken place in the past decades has influenced voting behaviour (e.g. Iversen & Rosenbluth 2006; Giger 2009). Similarly, population ageing has dramatically changed the setup of Western societies. Most Western democracies have declining birth rates while life expectancy is growing which results in populations that are ageing significantly. An important question that arises is to what extent population aging affects voting behaviour. Finally, the impact of increasing levels of migration in recent years on voting behaviour is also considerably under-researched. To what extent does migration change the voting patterns of citizens in the receiving countries, what explains voting behaviour of migrants and how is the rise of radical right-wing parties related to migration?

Third, this research pillar will study the impact of demographic changes on party competition and government responsiveness. Given that the role of women in many Western societies has changed significantly, it is an important question how political parties and governments respond to this change. Have political parties systematically altered their policy profile to win the support of female voters? At the same time, since gender-traditional values persist especially among lower class and lower educated voters, does this lead to an overall polarization in attitudes and preferences for gender-egalitarian policies? Given that voters in most Western democracies become increasingly older, it is moreover important to understand how parties and governments respond to the changing age composition of the electorate. Do parties increasingly cater to the demands of older voters when deciding how to position themselves in the policy space? Are public policy reforms increasingly the result of government responsiveness to older voters at the expense of investments of future generations? Finally, while recent research has shed much light on the strategies of populist and extremist parties on the right focusing amongst others on how increasing migration has been taken up as a major campaigning issue by these parties, it is largely unclear how other parties have reacted to migration and the aggressive discourse put forward by right-wing parties. Building on recent work on niche and challenger parties (Meguid 2005, 2008; Spoon & Klüver 2015; Abou-Chadi 2016; Hobolt & Tilley 2016), PhD projects will amongst others address how  moderate parties respond to these developments and what this means for the development of party systems.

The impact of demographic changes on preference formation, voting behaviour and party competition as well as government responsiveness will be investigated in this research pillar with a particular focus on the mediating impact of political institutions and electoral competition. Although early work on policy responsiveness ignored the impact of institutions on responsiveness and assumed a relatively seamless translation of public opinion into policies (Stimson, MacKuen & Erikson 1995; Wlezien 1995) research on policy responsiveness has now begun to model the mediating impact of political institutions and electoral competition (Wlezien & Soroka 2012; Abou-Chadi & Immergut 2014; Kayser & Lindstädt 2015; Abou-Chadi & Orlowski 2016; Spoon & Klüver 2017).  Dissertation projects in this pillar will amongst others explore the impact of political institutions and electoral competition on policy responsiveness in a number of key policy areas (see also Hobolt & Klemmensen 2005, 2008; Klüver & Spoon 2016; Munzert & Bauer 2013; Spoon & Klüver 2015; Klüver forthcoming), thus going far beyond merely studying policy positions on the left-right dimension or government expenditures to assess party and government responsiveness to voters (Adams et al. 2004; Adams et al. 2006; Wlezien 1995; Wlezien & Soroka 2012).


Thus, PhD projects in this research pillar will address three key aspects of democratic processes:


  1. How do demographic changes affect preference formation, partisan affiliation and voting behaviour?
  2. How do demographic changes affect party competition and government responsiveness?
  3. How do electoral competition and political institutions moderate the responsiveness of politicians to these changing policy and partisan preferences in times of demographic change?


Potential Dissertation Advisors