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Digitalization and political conflict: parties, voters, and electoral alignment (DIGIPOL)

English title Digitalization and political conflict: parties, voters, and electoral alignment (DIGIPOL)
Applicant Trechsel Alexander
Number 200836
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Politikwissenschaftliches Seminar Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät Universität Luzern
Institution of higher education University of Lucerne - LU
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.10.2021 - 30.09.2025
Approved amount 880'744.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Political science

Keywords (9)

Political sociology; Digital inequality; Electoral behaviour; Digitalization; Party positions; Electoral alignment; Digital skills; Cleavage theory; Public opinion

Lay Summary (German)

DIGIPOL untersucht die politischen und sozialen Folgen der Digitalisierung. Gibt es in der Schweiz eine Spaltung zwischen "Gewinnern" und "Verlierern" der Digitalisierung? Und falls ja: spiegelt sich dieser neue Konflikt in der öffentlichen Meinung, dem politischen Verhalten und der Parteipolitik wider?
Lay summary

Inhalt und Ziel des Forschungsprojekts

DIGIPOL entwickelt einen theoretischen Beitrag zu der durch die digitale Revolution verursachte Spaltung der Gesellschaft zwischen "Gewinnern" und "Verlierern" der Digitalisierung. Empirisch untersucht das Projekt, ob diese neue Spaltung bei Schweizer Bürgerinnen und Bürgern tatsächlich auftritt. Um die politische Relevanz dieser Spaltung zu studieren, wird zudem untersucht, wie die politischen Einstellungen der Bürgerinnen und Bürgern in den jeweiligen Gruppen strukturiert sind. Die Studie analysiert auch die Entwicklung der politischen Debatte in der Schweiz zu Fragen der Digitalisierung, wobei der Fokus auf Unterschieden zwischen und innerhalb von Parteien liegt. Schließlich untersucht DIGIPOL anhand eines Experiments mit einer Online Wahlhilfe, wie die Wählerinnen und Wähler auf die Positionen der politischen Parteien zu Fragen der Digitalisierung reagieren.


Wissenschaftlicher und gesellschaftlicher Kontext

Das Projekt betritt theoretisches und empirisches Neuland in Bezug auf digitaltechnologieinduzierte politische Konflikte. Es verbindet Erkenntnisse aus der politischen Verhaltensforschung, der politischen Soziologie und der Soziologie der digitalen Spaltung um drängende Fragen von politischer und gesellschaftlicher Relevanz zu beantworten.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 22.05.2021

Lay Summary (English)

DIGIPOL investigates the social and political consequences of digitalization. It asks whether we can observe a division in Swiss society between “winners” and “losers” of digitalization, and if this new conflict is reflected in public opinion, political behavior and partisan politics.
Lay summary
Content and goal of the research project

DIGIPOL develops a theoretical contribution about a new division in society caused by the digital revolution, between “winners” and “losers” of digitalization. Empirically, the project studies whether this new divide can be observed among Swiss citizens. Moreover, to study the political relevance of this divide, it investigates how the political attitudes of citizens in these respective groups are structured. The study also analyses the development of the political debate in Switzerland on digitalization issues, focusing on differences between and within parties. Lastly, using an experiment with a voting advice application, DIGIPOL studies how voters react to political parties’ positions on digitalization issues.

Scientific and societal context

The project breaks new ground in terms of theory and empirics regarding digital technology-induced political conflict. It combines insights from political behaviour and political sociology with the sociology of the digital divide, to deal with pressing questions of political and social relevance.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 22.05.2021

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



What are the socio-political consequences of the digital revolution? As digitalization has profoundly impacted society, this study asks how this is reflected in public opinion, political behavior and partisan politics. The differential effects of the digital revolution - from which some individuals benefit, while others do not, aligning with or even amplifying existing inequalities - are expected to result in an emerging structural conflict between “winners and “losers” of digitalization. This study advances a theoretical contribution regarding the potential emergence of a new cleavage caused by the digital revolution. Traditionally, party systems have changed due to large processes, such as the industrial revolution or, more recently, globalization. We argue that digitalization constitutes a similarly profound technological change, affecting society and, consequentially, politics. Technological change induced by digitalization has already led to myriad regulations, legal frameworks and jurisprudence in just about every corner of the world and transnationally. Novel challenges and opportunities of digitalization increasingly enter the political arena. To what extent can the politicization of the digital revolution lead to the emergence of a new cleavage? Empirically, this project provides new insights into the socio-political consequences of digitalization. It analyses to what extent we can observe a conflict in society between the winners and losers of digitalization, juxtaposing objective and subjective attitudes and conditions. Furthermore, the project investigates to what extent this potential conflict materializes politically. These two examples display the salience of digitalization issues among the public: some citizens’ and groups’ strong reactions to 5G enrolment (e.g. by attacking masts), and to the tools applied in the Covid-19 crisis (e.g. refusal to make use of Corona apps). However, it is unknown how citizens’ attitudes on such issues are structured. Can we observe the alignment of citizens’ positions on digitalization issues along a new line of conflict between the “winners” and “losers” of digitalization? In the political arena, the increase of issues regarding the digital society on the political agenda have already created unexpected political alliances. How do political actors deal with these issues? Political parties are expected not to currently align along this new line of conflict, and to be internally divided over issues regarding digitalization, leaving room for parties to cater to the emerging divide. To investigate these expectations, this project implements a mixed-method empirical strategy in the Swiss context, conducting focus groups, designing and implementing an original 2-wave survey with an experimental component using a voting advice application, and quantitative analysis of parliamentary proceedings, roll-call votes, and political party manifestos. The study ultimately leads to answering to what extent we can speak of an emerging socio-political conflict, and whether it has the potential to develop into a new cleavage. The contribution of the study lies in the careful theorization of digital technology-induced political conflict through the lens of cleavage theory, as well as its empirical manifestations. Not only will this research help to better identify the societal challenges posed by continued digitalization, but also to provide new insights regarding citizens’ attitudes towards digitalization issues. Finally, it will attempt to answer the questions of how political actors and parties deal with such issues, and how voters react to the political offer regarding the latter. The proposed study therefore strives to break new ground both in terms of theory and empirics, regarding pressing questions of political and social relevance.