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Social Status and the Transformation of Electoral Behavior in Western Europe

English title Social Status and the Transformation of Electoral Behavior in Western Europe
Applicant Abou-Chadi Tarik
Number 185204
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut für Politikwissenschaft Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.08.2019 - 31.07.2023
Approved amount 707'484.00
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Keywords (4)

Electoral Behavior; Radical Right; Challenger Parties; Social Status

Lay Summary (German)

Lead
Die europäische Politik hat sich in den letzten Jahrzehnten fundamental verändert. Der Erfolg neuer bspw. rechtspopulistischer Parteien hat dazu beigetragen nationale Parteienlandschaften grundlegend zu transformieren. Eine zentrale Frage hierbei, ist welche Faktoren dazu führen, dass die Wählerschaft diese Parteien unterstützt.
Lay summary

Unser Projekt untersucht, wie sich sozialer Status auf das Wahlverhalten auswirkt. Es legt einen besonderen Fokus darauf, wie sich abnehmende ökonomische Sicherheit, aber auch geringere gesellschaftliche Anerkennung auswirken und wie diese dazu führen können, dass sich Individuen von etablierten Parteien abwenden und bspw. rechtspopulistischen Parteien zuwenden. Die sozialen Transformationen der letzten Jahrzehnte haben in vielen Gebieten zu mehr Gleichberechtigung bspw. von Frauen geführt. Gleichzeitig bedingt diese Gleichstellung eine Abnahme von Privilegien, die vormals dominante Gruppen als selbstverständlich betrachtet haben. Es ist diese Veränderung sozialer Hierarchien in ihrer Wechselwirkung mit ökonomischen Risiken, die wir in unserem Projekt untersuchen. Wir erwarten, dass ein relativer Abstieg in der sozialen Hierarchie dazu führen kann, dass Parteien, die das bisherige System und den Status Quo in Frage stellen, Zulauf bekommen.

Unser Projekt trägt damit zu einem besseren Verständnis bei, wie und in welchen Gruppen der Gesellschaft populistische Parteien Unterstützung finden. Ein besseres Verständnis des Zusammenhangs zwischen subjektiver Wahrnehmung sich verändernder sozialer Hierarchien und Parteiwahl ist eine zentrale Voraussetzung um der Erosion liberaler Demokratie entgegenzuwirken, die mit dem Erfolg dieser Parteien verbunden ist.  

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 10.05.2019

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Abstract

This research project asks to what extent changes in social status explain the dramatic shift in political landscapes across Western Europe during the past two decades. In this period, mainstream parties have lost large shares of their electorate to new challenger parties, which focus on neglected political issues and combine this strategy with an anti-establishment appeal. We explore the role of loss of social status in explaining the demand for such challenger parties.We study changing social hierarchies with a theoretical concept that emphasizes (a) that social status is derived not only from material resources but interacts with various non-economic sources of recognition and (b) that social status is an essentially relational concept with individuals collating their current situation to salient reference points. A core contribution of this project is the identification of context conditions that affect non-economic perceptions of social status. We argue that changing non-economic resources moderate the link between economic determinants of social status and political behavior. The existing research on the rise of challenger parties --- especially of the radical right --- is characterized by a vivid debate between proponents of economic versus cultural explanations. Our project aims to overcome this antagonistic debate by applying the concept of social status, which we understand as the interaction between economic and non-economic resources. Such a multidimensional understanding of societal decline that also incorporates non-economic perceptions of losing out, addresses one of the core puzzles of our time: why would those in dire economic circumstances vote for parties that do not (decidedly) offer platforms of social security? We focus on two domains that have undergone fundamental transformation in recent years and decades: gender relations and ethnic/race relations. We differentiate between three different sources of influence: (1) political representation, (2) legislation, and (3) issue salience. The guiding hypothesis is that a relative increase in societal and political power for underrepresented groups like women or ethnic minorities at the cost of once predominant parts of society, primarily men and white ethnic nationals, will reinforce the effect of economic disadvantage on voting for challenger parties. When voters’ social status is threatened both in economic and non-economic domains, mainstream parties’ offer of incremental improvements is of increasingly limited appeal - much in contrast to the more radical change promised by challenger parties. The project exploits within- and between-country variance in relative economic and non-economic components of social status. We test our hypotheses in a comparative setting including 17 Western European countries. The analyses draw on (a) existing observational data on economic conditions and voting behavior, (b) newly collected and harmonized data on the changing role of women and ethnic minorities, and (c) a specifically designed experimental study on candidate selection to capture subjective perceptions and validate underlying causal mechanisms. We provide a systematic comparative assessment of social status as a predictor of vote choice - one that crucially moves beyond attitudinal and subjective measures of this concept.
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