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SISP Conference 2021

Sections and Panels

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Section 9 - Elections and voting behaviour (Elections and voting behaviour)

Managers: Antonella Seddone (, Fulvio Venturino (

Read Section abstractContemporary democracies are under stress. The legitimacy of political elites and of political institutions has been undermined by growing popular distrust and dissatisfaction, questioning the very principle of political representation. Although public opinion criticisms tend to target all elites and institutions, political parties are framed as the main culprit and are blamed for their inability to meet citizens’ demands. Thus, they are no longer recognized as mediators in the relationship between citizens and politics and as instruments of political participation.
Comparative research has highlighted the predominance of the party in central office, and even more in public office, at the expense of the party on the ground. Party dis-intermediation has opened up a ‘representation vacuum’, boosting up new political actors promoting populist and antiparty claims. Moreover, the direct involvement of citizens in the decision-making processes is vocally requested. New digital media have provided novel means for citizens to express their demands, offering spaces for direct and continuous interaction between leaders and citizens.
Political leaders have also taken advantage of such opportunities, overtly exploiting new media. Yet, by prioritizing personalization dynamics, these processes could become detrimental to the collective dimension of political parties, increasingly perceived as obsolete and ineffective organizations, lacking authority in front of supranational economic-financial forces. The role played by the European Union has often reinforced this view.
Parties struggle both to aggregate societal demands and to enact effective policies when in government, with profound implications for political support and responsiveness. It would be misleading to interpret these phenomena merely as transient consequences driven by the globalization. Instead, they should be read as the result of a long-term process, whose effects (and causes) are more systemic and structural than it would appear.
We are witnessing a decrease in traditional loyalties and a growing electoral volatility, which seems to prompt the de-institutionalization of the party systems. This not only means that electoral outcomes are increasingly unpredictable, but also that patterns of government are uncertain and unstable.
Against this background, this section addresses issues related to electoral behaviour and public opinion from different perspectives.

The relationship between citizens and politics:
* Issue and leader voting, considering (a) the role of short-term factors in the vote choices, in contrast to (b) long-term factors such as social ties and political allegiances.
* The role of social media, understood as (a) communication arenas for parties and leaders; (b) new environments for interaction and construction of citizens’ opinions; (c) new arenas for political participation.
* The populist movements/parties and the citizens’ populist attitudes, clarifying (a) the systemic conditions that favour the success of populism; (b) the individual determinants of the support for populist parties; (c) citizens’ support for populist issues and dynamics of issue ownership.
* Euroscepticism and the changing attitudes of public opinion towards Europe, discussing (a) the role played by EU in defining domestic agenda; (b) parties’ and leaders’ strategies; (c) citizens opinions; (b) dynamics of politicization.
* The role of opinion polls in defining (a) parties’ and leaders’ strategies; (b) citizens’ voting behaviour, taking into account problems affecting the detection of citizens’ opinions; (c) new methods and tools for investigating citizens’ opinions.

Electoral rules, election campaigns and elections
* Election management, meant as the set of actions and practices related to the organization of elections (included procedural and logistic aspects).
* The politics of electoral system, identifying (a) the strategic incentives determining intra-party and inter-party competitive dynamics; (b) the candidates’ strategies; (c) the implications for the results of elections.
* The election campaigns, considering (a) the role played by new and mainstream media; (b) the visibility and tonality of leaders in media coverage and its potential impact on voting behaviour and leader evaluations.
* Methods of candidates’ and leaders’ selection and their consequences (a) at party level (intra-party conflict, personalization); (b) at parliamentary level (parliamentary cohesion, responsiveness); (c) on representation (characteristics of selected elites and potential renewal).
* Beyond voting behaviour, understanding the determinants of abstention.
* Voting dynamics and results of the regional and local elections.
* Economic voting, including (a) government approval and the electoral cycle; (b) the effects of the economic crisis on citizens’ electoral choice; (c) economically motivated parties’ reward and punishment.

Party organizations and their changes
* Party disintermediation and the organizational changes boosting a direct relationship between leaders and voters.
* Ideological change, by investigating (a) the relevance of left and right categories; (b) populism as a (thin) ideology; (c) policy mood.
* Reform of parties’ public funding and its impact on their organizations.
* Party membership and its changes in term of (a) multispeed membership; (b) intra-party democracy; (c) participation and activism.
* Party elites and the renewal of the political class.
* Personalization of politics and its consequences for party politics.

The suggested lines of research are merely indicative. Alternative proposals are equally welcomed. Comparative as well as single-case studies are also welcome, emphasizing that all proposals must be anchored to solid methodological and theoretical perspectives. Papers can be submitted in English or Italian.

Panel 9.1 The Left behind: crisis and challenges of the Left in contemporary democracies

Left-wing parties have been in decline almost everywhere in the western world in the last decade. Although the ebbs and tide of the electoral fortunes of left-wing parties have been often at the center of the stage in the academic debate, the time now seems to have come of a deep and structural crisis of the Left. The debate has thus revamped, spurring a renovated interest of political scientists who have been addressing the issue from a wide variety of viewpoints. Some scholars focused on demand-side explanations of the decline of the Left, pointing out how socio-economic transformations induced by de-industrialization and globalization have redefined both traditional social structures and voters’ identities in modern societies. Others have paid greater attention to the mutating strategies of political parties and their shifting from class-appealing positions towards issue positions which cross-cut the traditional class structure. Others instead have addressed the problem from the perspective of cleavage politics, insisting on the emergence of new societal and political cleavages displacing the traditional ones and redefining the space of political competition. Although these perspectives offer rich insights into the dynamics of the Left’s decline, they rarely communicate with one another.
This panel seeks to foster the academic debate on the electoral crisis of the Left, providing an intellectually stimulating environment to reflect extensively on its causes and political implications. The panel thus encourages original contributions focusing on the following (non-exclusive) list of topics related to the crisis and challenges of the Left in the XXI century:
1) The electoral fortunes of left-wing parties
2) The (demised or still resilient?) link between left-wing parties and class cleavage roots
3) The restructuration of the political space along new dimensions of competition and its implications for the Left
4) The transformation of the electoral base of left-wing parties
5) The ideological and programmatic positions of left-wing parties
6) Values and attitudes of left-wing voters
7) The transformation of left-wing parties’ organizational models beyond the mass party model
8) The decline of trade unions and collateral organizations
9) The legislative behavior of left-wing parties
10) The policy outcomes of the left in government

The panel encourages proposals addressing the challenges of the Left from a variety of scientific perspectives and employing different methodological tools, ranging from qualitative case studies or small-N analyses to large-N studies dealing with aggregate or individual-level quantitative data.

Chairs: Davide Angelucci, Vincenzo Emanuele


Panel 9.2 La selezione della leadership di partito: cause e conseguenze

L’indebolimento delle strutture organizzative dei partiti, l’esplosione dei mass media e, più recentemente, dei social media ha conferito alla leadership di partito un ruolo centrale. Il che, naturalmente, non significa che i leader non occupassero una posizione preminente anche nei tradizionali partiti di massa; tuttavia nei moderni partiti elettorali la leadership rappresenta (anche) un vero e proprio sostituto funzionale della struttura organizzativa.

In questo quadro ha iniziato ad assumere crescente rilevanza lo studio delle modalità attraverso le quali i partiti politici selezionano la propria leadership. In particolare, ciò è avvenuto nel momento in cui molte formazioni politiche hanno deciso di aprire le procedure interne di selezione, conferendo maggiore potere agli iscritti e, talvolta, anche ai simpatizzanti. In questo senso, studiare la selezione dei leader di partito significa indagare lo sviluppo dell’intraparty democracy (IPD). Si deve in ogni caso precisare che l’analisi delle cause e delle conseguenze della inclusività nella selezione della leadership costituisce una dimensione necessaria ma non sufficiente per lo studio della IDP.

Se i partiti sono “microsistemi politici”, allora la sola elezione diretta del leader (e dei candidati) potrebbe avere cause ed esiti opposti rispetto al nobile obiettivo della apertura e della (ri)connessione tra party in central office e party on the ground. Esattamente come accadrebbe in un sistema politico caratterizzato da una democrazia meramente elettorale, potrebbe verificarsi una ulteriore erosione delle strutture intermedie, generata da una crescente tendenza plebiscitaria. Si tratta di due esiti perfettamente plausibili, entrambi da verificare sul piano della ricerca empirica.

Il panel si pone l’obiettivo di raccogliere contributi di taglio empirico e teorico, con un focus specifico sul concreto funzionamento della selezione della leadership nei partiti, ponendo l’accento anche sulle cause e sulle conseguenze del passaggio da modalità selettive esclusive a procedure sempre più inclusive e aperte.

A titolo esemplificativo, ma non esaustivo, alcune tra le domande che dovrebbero guidare i contributi sono:

a) Date le numerose ipotesi proposte dalla letteratura circa le cause della crescente inclusività nella selezione dei candidati, quali sono quelle più rilevanti sotto il profilo empirico?
b) Esiste una relazione tra le modalità di selezione della leadership (più o meno inclusive) e la percezione del partito da parte della cittadinanza? In altre parole, l’inclusività ha rinnovato l’immagine dei partiti? Quali sono, sotto questo profilo, le affinità e le differenze tra i partiti in prospettiva comparata?
c) L’elezione diretta della leadership ha avuto effetti sul pluralismo interno ai partiti? Ne ha esacerbato o, viceversa, limitato il frazionismo?
d) Quali sono gli effetti della elezione diretta della leadership sulle strutture intermedie dei partiti?

Chairs: Stefano Rombi, Marco Valbruzzi


Panel 9.3 Covid-19, Populism and Conspiracy Theories: Dynamics and Challenges in Europe

Focusing on the recent Covid-19 pandemic, this panel aims to explore the conspiratorial positions in the European context.
In the contemporary health crisis, fears and threats have become a fertile ground for new and old imaginaries of conspiracies. Moreover, recent studies show a strong relationship between conspiratorial beliefs and populist attitudes, above all, regarding seeing the people as victims at elites’ hands. Indeed, the rapid growth of populist political parties around Europe in the last decades has coincided with the simultaneously expanded spread of conspiracy theories, showing how populists apply them to promote their policies and support for their parties.
Conspiracy represents a rising key role in the European political background. Such increase is also because the EU itself is often observed as a technocratic conspiracy. Most essential studies have focused on the relationship between conspiracy theories and misinformation, ideologies, populism and partisanship. Other research, however, has focused on relationships with individuals, such as the self-social image, social status, income, trust in politics, and biases against further or political alienation.
Furthermore, other approaches have highlighted the direct and indirect consequences of conspiracy on institutional trust and political participation.
More generally, this can produce an extremisation process within political contexts and high political polarisation, both as state and process eroding trust in the democratic system.
In this context, Europe is described in a dystopian image and blamed for creating crises, such as refugee issues, Greek debt, Brexit or the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the last years, political disciplines have increased attention worldwide on the relationship between populism and conspiracy, developing relevant empirical perspectives. Recent studies have improved methodological approach, basing most of the contemporary research on quantitative methodologies, such as analysis of opinion surveys or big data, but finding a new exciting application in the qualitative approach, such as interviews and participant observations.
This panel explores new perspectives to improve general knowledge of populism and conspiracy into the recent health crisis. For this reason, European comparative and single-case studies anchored to solid methodological and theoretical perspectives are welcome.

Chairs: Marino De Luca, Paul Taggart


Panel 9.4 Voters and parties during the Covid crisis

In a context already characterized by high levels of tension within established democracies, in which the legitimacy of the political elites and institutions has been questioned by growing levels of popular distrust and dissatisfaction, the year 2020 has represented the ultimate test for democratic political systems (and our ways to scientifically interpret it). In fact, the spread of the Covid pandemic has been an unprecedented and unique challenge to democratic political systems.
The panel is meant host a discussion among contributions addressing the effects on public opinion, voting behavior, and political parties brought about by the Covid pandemic. Thus, all section topics are included: namely, the relationship between citizens and politics, elections, and party organizations. The scientific purpose of the panel lies in selecting papers addressing the persistence of the explicative validity of classic theories in the new context (or proposing new theoretical frameworks to cope with it), through empirical tests employing data gathered during the Covid era, also relying on innovative methods and approaches.
Possible topics of interest are (namely, but not limited to) voter turnout and electoral behaviour in the Italian regional elections of September 2020, in the concurrent constitutional referendum, or in the municipal elections; the collapse of the Conte II cabinet and the instauration of the Draghi cabinet; the leadership crisis within the M5S and the PD; public opinion trends on the sanitary and economic management of the pandemic; public trust in political institutions and citizens’ evaluations of democracy; voters-parties-governments dynamics and (changing) political attitudes and values during the pandemic crisis.
As inferable from the aforementioned, indicative list of themes, the panel has a preferential focus on the dynamics of the Italian case. However, it also welcomes proposals dealing with comparative investigations or even investigating recent developments in foreign case-studies (e.g., the US 2020 presidential campaign and election, public opinion attitudes and general elections in other EU countries or in the whole of the EU).
Proposals (and then papers) can be submitted in both English and Italian.

Chairs: Nicola Maggini, Aldo Paparo


Panel 9.5 Uncertain times, uncertain voters, uncertain outcomes

Over the last decade, scholars have been discussing the rise of post-representative politics. The (alleged) crisis of representation and intermediate bodies, combined with the conditions characterizing the global scene, has made democratic outcomes increasingly uncertain. Uncertainty has become the standard framework in which citizens “live” and “act” politically. The covid-19 pandemic has even accelerated (and exacerbated) this process.

Studying elections in times of uncertainty means considering the impact on voters’ perspectives and electoral choice of the uncertainty factors that people experience in different areas of social life. It means identifying the elements of uncertainty that contribute to the final decision during the electoral campaign. It means examining the volatility of electoral results themselves. Finally, it means analyzing how all these dynamics affect the stability of political systems. These phenomena stimulate different areas of research, within which scholars can shed light on trends affecting the political realm: the effects of globalization and its consequences on turnout, voting behaviour and election results; the impact of economic and cultural dynamics on the voting choice; electoral volatility and political stability.

Studying democratic elections in the background of an already uncertain condition, typical of the globalized world, challenged by populist actors and the increasing spread of anti-political sentiments among citizens, constitutes a productive perspective that is made even more serious by the pandemic phase. This specific framework offers an observation point of special interest. This historical phase established democracies have been experiencing represents a useful analytical perspective for understanding the dynamics underway in the relationship between society and politics, and more precisely between voters and parties.

In order to discuss these topics, paper proposals which focus on the relationships between voters, electoral participation, voting choice in the wider frame of the era of uncertainty are very welcome. A comparative perspective or a multidisciplinary approach will be particularly appreciated; theoretical papers or empirical works, based on both qualitative/quantitative research methods, are welcome as well; at the same time, also single country or case studies will be considered.

Working language: Italian and/or English.

Chairs: Fabio Bordignon, Luigi Ceccarini, Fabio Turato