Coping with Complexity: How Voters Adapt to Unstable Parties

The 2017 GESIS Klingemann Prize for the Best Scholarship using CSES data was awarded to Dani Marinova of the Autonomous University of Barcelona for her book "Coping with Complexity: How Voters Adapt to Unstable Parties" that was published by ECPR Press in 2016.

The author received the prize and presented her work during a reception at the 7th Annual General Conference of the European Political Science Association (EPSA) in Milan, Italy. She kindly contributed the following synopsis of her work.

Coping with Complexity: How Voters Adapt to Unstable Parties
Dani Marinova

Nearly five decades ago Carl Friedrich remarked: “Party development is more highly dynamic than any other sphere of political life; there is no final rest, no ultimate pattern… Rather, there is constant change in one direction or another” (1968, p. 452). With new parties emerging across the continent and existing ones reshuffling, Friedrich’s remarks are as true today as ever.  In Coping with Complexity I investigate how party changes — when parties emerge, fuse, split and die off — shape voter decision-making at the ballot box.

The gist of my argument is that parties are central to structuring and communicating electoral information. They organize messy information about ideology, policy goals and governing competences into a coherent set of electoral alternatives. Thanks to the informational cues that parties offer, voters are able to access information at a low cognitive cost. When parties undergo abrupt organisational changes, however, they profoundly alter the supply of electoral information. The electoral alternatives on the ballot are no longer fixed but need to be actively sought out. Voters need to do more of the work in acquiring, attributing and processing electoral information. Continue reading “Coping with Complexity: How Voters Adapt to Unstable Parties”

Explaining the Trump Victory: Populist Sentiments and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Explaining the Trump Victory:
Populist Sentiments and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Deirdre Tinney and Stephen Quinlan

As the world peers into the crystal ball era of Brexit and President Trump, it has become clear that we need to talk about populism. These days, parties and politicians articulating what are regarded as populist views are to be found in established democracies globally. A vexing question however is do so-called populist sentiments shape vote choice? The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) has responded with Module 5, which examines ‘citizens’ attitudes towards political elites, majority rule and out-groups in representative democracy’ as a priority. It runs from 2016 to 2021 inclusive and will be fielded in more than 40 countries. Data from countries that have fielded Module 5 are slowly becoming available. Using the CSES Module 5 component included in the Irish National Election Study (Marsh et al. 2016), we showed that some populist attitudes did motivate vote choice in the 2016 general election in Ireland. Here, we take advantage of the American National Election Study’s (ANES) 2016 data that included CSES Module 5, to focus on what impact populist sentiments had on Donald Trump’s victory.

Populism is ‘an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups…[and that] politics should be an expression of the volonté générale of the people’ (Mudde 2004). Arguments that the political elite is incompetent and/or corrupt; that a ‘great leader’ is needed to sweep all the problems aside; and that immigrants should ‘go home’ and leave the ‘worthy’ people to enjoy their existence in peace, are typical of what is referred to as populism. However, ‘chameleon-like’ variation exists across countries, and some question whether populism constitutes an ideology at all (Aslanidis 2016).

Donald Trump’s campaign ticked many so-called ‘populist’ boxes.  His descent by escalator in Trump Tower, New York, at his campaign launch in 2015, was accompanied by the pulse of a powerful rock anthem, with lyrics reaching out to the marginalized.[1]  The themes of his campaign were clear. Other countries dumped their problems on America. Career politicians were the incompetent puppets of wily lobbyists. A wall must be built to stop immigrant Mexicans, who were mostly ‘criminals’ and ‘rapists’. As the campaign progressed, these themes were extended. Republican opponent Jeb Bush was rebuked for campaigning in Spanish instead of insisting that immigrants should speak English.  Muslims came in for ire. Calls to drain the swamp’, and slurs about ‘crooked Hillary’ showed great sticking power. The message was crystal clear: America was broken, needed to be made Great Again, and Mr. Trump cast himself as the saviour-in-waiting of the people. The question is whether such sentiments influenced American voters to support Donald Trump? Continue reading “Explaining the Trump Victory: Populist Sentiments and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election”

New CSES Country Spotlight: Argentina

In the New CSES Country Spotlight series, collaborators from an election study including CSES for the first time discuss its electoral context and the significance of running CSES in the country.

New CSES Country Spotlight: Argentina
Noam Lupu, Virginia Oliveros and Luis Schiumerini

Most of what we know about voting behavior is informed by the experience of advanced democracies. The electoral context in developing democracies, however, is significantly different. Civil society is often weak, poverty and inequality high, political parties ephemeral and attachments to them weak, corruption rampant, and clientelism widespread. We cannot hope to understand how politics in these consolidating democracies unfolds without understanding how voters determine who governs. And we cannot assume that what we know about voters in advanced democracies applies universally to developing ones. Rather, we should take our assumptions and expectations to data.

In order to do just that, we fielded the 2015 Argentine Panel Election Study (APES) that includes The Comparative Study of Electoral Studies (CSES) Module 4. Our study incorporates Argentina into the CSES for the first time, becoming the sixth Latin American democracy in the sample. APES is both the first academic panel survey and the first academic election study ever conducted in Argentina. And it joins Brazil and Mexico as the only countries in Latin America where academic panel surveys have been fielded.

The APES consists of two face-to-face waves of interviews, the first between June 24, 2015 and August 7, 2015, and the second between November 21, 2015 and December 30, 2015. The first wave was based on a nationally representative sample of Argentine voters living in cities of 10,000 inhabitants and more, while the second wave consisted of a panel sample of those wave 1 respondents that agreed to participate again, plus a refresh sample. The first wave of the APES relied on a national household sample of 1,149 Argentine citizens aged 18 years and over. The general design was a stratified multistage cluster sample. The panel design implied that we attempted to re-contact all respondents from wave 1. Our success rate was 68% (780 out of 1,149 original respondents). To compensate for sample attrition, we drew a refresh sample of 626 respondents, selected according to the same procedures described above for wave 1. The wave 2 sample therefore has a sample size of 1,406. Continue reading “New CSES Country Spotlight: Argentina”

Getting to Know Masahiro Yamada from the Japanese Election Study


In our Collaborator Introduction series, CSES collaborators discuss their research agenda and how they became involved with CSES.


The Japanese Election Study
Masahiro Yamada

My first involvement with The Comparative Study of Electoral Studies (CSES) began in 2006. Ken’ichi Ikeda, who served on the planning committee for CSES Modules 3 and 4, invited me to join his team for CSES data collection for the Japanese Election Study, and I accepted with great pleasure. His team had collected data for these modules in Japan with support from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. After the expiration of his term, I joined the planning committee, whose members are from various countries. It’s truly wonderful to have the opportunity to discuss agenda items within the committee and chat over dinner. Both experiences are very informative and worthwhile.

When Ken’ichi and I began our collaboration, Jun’ichiro Koizumi was the prime minister of Japan. His political style was regarded as populist by some political analysts in the country (e.g. Otake 2006). In January 2008, lawyer Toru Hashimoto was elected governor of Osaka Prefecture and remained a major political figure until his retirement as mayor of Osaka City in December 2015. His influence was not limited to local politics. In 2012, Hashimoto became leader of the Japan Restoration Party (Nihon Ishin no Kai), which had seats in the Lower House and Upper House. His political style is also identified as populist (Kobori 2013). Continue reading “Getting to Know Masahiro Yamada from the Japanese Election Study”

Party-switching Between Elections is Influenced by Polarization, not the Number of Parties

Party-switching Between Elections is Influenced by Polarization,           not the Number of Parties
Yves Dejaeghere and Ruth Dassonneville

In 1979 Mogens Pedersen published a seminal paper in which he analyzed the impact of party-system variables on inter-electoral volatility. By means of an analysis of aggregate data from over 100 elections, he concluded that the number of parties increases volatility. Although Pedersen tested his hypothesis with the best data available at the time, they were actually not ideal to do so, as he indicated himself that his hypotheses implied ‘a test on the basis of individual level data’ (Pedersen, 1979: 16).

Switching parties between two elections is clearly something that needs to be investigated at the individual level. Using raw election results does not allow the researcher to know how many people actually switched from one party to another or from abstention to voting. As a result, the ideal data to investigate what party-system variables drive party-switching (and not turnout or the vote choice of new voters) are comparative individual-level survey data.

Only recently, such data have become available, as a recall question asking the respondents their previous electoral choice was added to the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) questionnaire as of the second wave. Even though we have to take into account the limitations of recall data, they allow operationalizing vote switching at an individual level. Making use of such an operationalization, we can investigate what elements of the party-system influence the probability that individual voters switch parties between elections? We investigate this by means of an analysis of almost 30,000 voters in 33 elections. Continue reading “Party-switching Between Elections is Influenced by Polarization, not the Number of Parties”

Post-election Survey 2016 in Slovakia: Manifolds Challenges to Voters’ Memory

Postcard from the Field

Post-election Survey 2016 in Slovakia:
Manifolds Challenges to Voters’ Memory
Olga Gyarfasova

This is the first of our Postcards from the Field series. CSES collaborators provide an update and commentary on election studies recently in the field.

In general, election results are getting more and more unexpected. It is due to growing voters’ volatility, increasing portion of late-deciders, or changes on the political scene (e.g. due to the formation of new parties). High electoral volatility is further catalyzed by social media channels that have proven to be extremely effective in generating quick though often short-lived voter mobilization. All in all – predicting election results has become a very tough job. But the same is true for recalling the vote choice once the interviewer asks you: who did vote for? Especially if this happens some weeks or even months after the election day.

High electoral volatility is a global phenomenon; however, the post-communist countries are affected even more. In newer democracies the alignments between political parties and their electorates do not share historically-grown roots as they do in more mature democracies. The fluctuation of party sympathizers is in addition supported by the unstable political scene (and vice versa – the voters’ demands reinforce the supply of candidates from new parties).

In March 2016 Slovakia held its 9th democratic general elections after the Communist regime collapsed in 1989. Many analysts labeled this election as an “earthquake,” “shock,” or “hurricane”. In any case, an unpredictable phenomenon indeed. Continue reading “Post-election Survey 2016 in Slovakia: Manifolds Challenges to Voters’ Memory”

The Tough Decision to Remove Political Knowledge from the CSES Module 5

The Tough Decision to Remove Political Knowledge from the CSES Module 5
By Elisabeth Gidengil and Elizabeth Zechmeister

Political information questions will be absent from the CSES core module for the first time with the 5th installment of the CSES module. The CSES Planning Committee’s Political Knowledge Subcommittee[1] reached this decision despite shared agreement that political knowledge is a venerated workhorse in the field of voter choice. Differences exist among those high and low in political knowledge in numerous domains, such as economic voting behavior and the use of heuristic aids in voting decisions (though exceptions exist). Given the significance of this concept to scholars of political behavior, voting, and elections, we have some explaining to do.

Evaluation of Past CSES Political Knowledge Batteries

The first task of the Political Knowledge Subcommittee was to evaluate the effectiveness of past political knowledge modules as comparative indicators of political sophistication in the CSES project. We first considered the degree to which previous modules had resulted in sufficient variation in scores within countries to allow for meaningful analysis. Delli Carpini and Keeter (1993) recommend that the level of difficulty vary between 30% and 70% correct answers on the items to be included in a political knowledge index in order to achieve sufficient differentiation.

The first three CSES modules sought to achieve adequate variation by instructing local investigators to select one question that two thirds would answer correctly, one question that half would answer correctly and one question that only one third would answer correctly. This approach was deemed a failure (Elff 2009). In module 2, for example, only seven countries achieved the desired distribution of correct answers. Continue reading “The Tough Decision to Remove Political Knowledge from the CSES Module 5”

Does Space Matter? Explaining Abstention because of Indifference and Alienation

Does Space Matter?
Explaining Abstention because of Indifference and Alienation

Toni Rodon

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA). The presentation, “Does Space Matter? Explaining Abstention because of Indifference and Alienation”, was part of a session dedicated to research using Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) data. The session, “Comparative Perspectives on Political Behaviour: Novel insights using the CSES”, was on September 4, 2016.

The concept of the ‘centre’ is overwhelmingly present in current political discourse. Labelling a candidate or party as left, right or centre is crucial to attracting voters, and highlighting this identifying factor is often employed during political debates to emphasise differences between candidates. This distinction is often raised by emerging political movements and constantly emphasised as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for parties seeking to win an election. Discussion about the centre in political science research has not been an exception. Since Downs’ (1957) seminal work on ideology in political decision-making, the effects of convergence towards the centre, and similarly polarization, constitute a cornerstone in political science research.

Following the Downsian approach, the effect of this ideological distance has been employed multiple times in order to explain voting behaviour. Notwithstanding this popularity, a surprising gap remains: the impact of ideological distance on abstention. While the effect of ideological distance on voting for a particular party has been a popular tool, its effect on abstention has largely been ignored. This is despite the fact that in previous work Downs himself, as well as Enelow and Hinich (1984), have suggested that individuals may abstain from voting when a party’s priorities or values do not represent voters, otherwise known as “abstention because of alienation”. Voters may also abstain because of indifference between political alternatives that offer the same ideological package. Continue reading “Does Space Matter? Explaining Abstention because of Indifference and Alienation”

Announcing CSES Module 5

Announcing CSES Module 5:
Democracy Divided? People, Politicians and the Politics of Populism
Post prepared by John Aldrich, David Howell, and Stephen Quinlan

The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) project is delighted to announce the launch of its fifth module, designed on the theme of Democracy Divided? People, Politicians and the Politics of Populism.  The CSES Module 5 questionnaire will be included in national post-election surveys around the world during the years 2016 through 2021.

CSES Module 5 was discussed, revised, and approved during a Plenary Session of CSES collaborators which was held in August 2016 in Philadelphia, United States, just before the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.  The Plenary Session was attended by 44 persons representing 36 different national election studies and included a number of presentations followed by intensive discussion. Each subcommittee of the Planning Committee presented their work, and these are noted below. The Plenary included presentations on a CSES bibliography and on pretesting of the proposed (and subsequently approved) new module, each of which were conducted by the CSES Secretariat.

Group Photo from Plenary Session
Group Photo from 2016 Plenary Session (Philadelphia, United States)

Continue reading “Announcing CSES Module 5”

When do the Rich Vote Less than the Poor and Why? Explaining Turnout Inequality Across the World

The 2016 GESIS Klingemann Prize for the Best Scholarship using CSES data was awarded to Kimuli Kasara of Columbia University and Pavithra Suryanarayan of Johns Hopkins University for their paper "When do the rich vote less than the poor and why? Explaining turnout inequality across the world" that was published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015.

The authors received the prize and presented their work during a reception at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Philadelphia, USA on September 2, 2016.  They kindly contributed the following synopsis of their work.


When do the Rich Vote Less than the Poor and Why?
Explaining Turnout Inequality Across the World
Kimuli Kasara and Pavithra Suryanarayan

Arendht Liphart observed that “voter turnout is an excellent indicator of democratic quality” in part because he believed that the poor and socially marginal were less likely to vote (Lijphart 1999).  Lower rates of electoral participation by the economically disadvantaged, while being normatively undesirable in a democracy, also have implications for the types of parties that win elections and the policies politicians will implement once in office. For these reasons, turnout inequality has been central to the study of both political behavior and political economy. For instance, the idea that the poor participate less has been used to explain why we might not observe an expansion in redistribution after democratization as canonical political economy models predict.

Most early research on socio-economic status (SES) and voting focused on voting behavior in advanced industrialized countries where it is often the case that the wealthy vote at higher rates than the poor. Our research began with the observation that income and turnout are often negatively correlated in the contexts we study – South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This “inverse” relationship between SES and voting has been documented in isolated studies in both regions as well as in Eastern Europe. Our paper,  “When Do the Rich Vote Less Than the Poor and Why?: Explaining Turnout Inequality across the World  (American Journal of Political Science, 2015), is the first to systematically document that “inverse” turnout inequality is not rare using data on 76 countries from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) and other survey sources.  This figure from our paper, which maps the ratio of turnout rates of the wealthiest 20% in a country to turnout of the poorest 20%, shows variation in the relationship between wealth and turnout. Continue reading “When do the Rich Vote Less than the Poor and Why? Explaining Turnout Inequality Across the World”