Politics and International Relations at Leicester


How do Democratic Governments Respond to Different Expressions of Public Opinion?

Principal Investigator: Dr. Laura Morales, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester, UK

Project brief

To what extent are democratic governments responsive to citizens’ demands and preferences between elections? Are governments more likely to be responsive to the interpretation of public opinion through surveys or to collective and publicly expressed opinion - generally in the form of protests? When does one or the other type of expression prevail as a mechanism to foster governmental responsiveness? What happens when both forms of expression of the public mood are in clear contradiction? Are certain institutional and political configurations more likely to make governments more responsive to citizens’ views between elections? And are certain political configurations more conducive to governments paying attention to opinion polls while others make them more receptive to collective action claims-making?

This project will aim to answer these questions by developing a comparative study of governmental responsiveness in established democracies between 1980 and 2010. To this purpose, we will discuss the relevant definitions of ‘governmental responsiveness’ and ‘public opinion’, and analyse data from various sources:

  • public opinion surveys,
  • datasets with information on protest events,
  • news reports on public moods, collective action, and governmental activity and decision-making, and
  • comparative indicators on institutional attributes of democratic systems.

Research strategy

In terms of the research strategy, the project will combine the analysis of a large number of cases (20 established democracies) with a more detailed study of a set of up to 7 cases. The following countries will be considered: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. With this design, the project aims at providing substantial insight into the relative performance of different democratic institutions and configurations. This study will provide a highly innovative approach to the representative link between citizens and governments by comparing the dynamics of democratic representation in decision-making junctures in the periods between elections for which governments cannot invoke an electoral mandate, with the dynamics that emerge in ‘normal’ policy-making situations.

This innovative perspective allows to better ascertain the dynamics of responsiveness, while limiting the normative objections that can be raised around the desirability of governmental responsiveness between elections in representative democracies. The project lies at the intersection of various fields of political science and sociology and will be of interest to analysts and scholars of democratic theory, public opinion, citizen politics, social movements, political sociology, political institutions, and comparative politics.

More information will appear on our external website which will be regularly updated.

If you have any questions, please contact the responsivegov project team.

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