Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
How Democracy Works

How Democracy Works: Political Representation and Policy Congruence in Modern Societies

Martin Rosema
Bas Denters
Kees Aarts
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 293
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    How Democracy Works
    Book Description:

    In this book, a group of leading scholars analyzes the functioning of modern democracies by focusing on two basic principles: political representation and policy congruence. Drawing on recent survey data from a variety of national and international research projects, they demonstrate how political representation works and mostly leads to a fair degree of policy congruence between citizens and their representatives. They also present new insights on the sources of satisfaction with democracy and the impact of the economy on elections and political trust.

    This book is published on the occasion of the retirement of Jacques Thomassen as distinguished professor of political science at the University of Twente. The contributors include Russell Dalton, Hans‐Dieter Klingemann, Pippa Norris, Ola Listhaug, Hanne Marthe Narud, Jan van Deth, Peter Mair, Cees van der Eijk, Hermann Schmitt, Sören Holmberg and Rudy Andeweg.

    Martin Rosema, Bas Denters and Kees Aarts are affiliated with the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) and the Institute for Innovation and Governance Studies (IGS) at the University of Twente.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1336-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Preface
    (pp. 7-8)
    Martin Rosema, Bas Denters and Kees Aarts
  4. 1 How Democracy Works: An Introduction
    (pp. 9-18)
    Martin Rosema, Kees Aarts and Bas Denters

    One of the stories that jacques thomassen is known to have related more than once, and which is therefore probably of some significance, is about how his 1976 dissertationKiezers en gekozenen in een representatieve demokratiewas received. The dissertation reported on the first true representation study conducted in the Netherlands, consisting of surveys among the members of parliament as well as among a sample from the Dutch electorate. It was part of a larger, international research effort that involved researchers from the United States, Germany, Sweden, France, Italy and the Netherlands. Many of these count among the top political...


    • 2 The Dynamics of Political Representation
      (pp. 21-38)
      Russell J. Dalton, David M. Farrell and Ian McAllister

      The development of representative government created the potential for modern mass democracy. Instead of directly participating in political decision making as in the Greek polis or the Swiss canton, the public selects legislators to represent them in government deliberations. Citizen control over government thus occurs through periodic, competitive elections to select these elites. Elections should ensure that government officials are responsive and accountable to the public. By accepting this electoral process, the public gives its consent to be governed by the elites selected. The democratic process thus depends on an effective and responsive relationship between the representative and the represented....

    • 3 Approaching Perfect Policy Congruence: Measurement, Development, and Relevance for Political Representation
      (pp. 39-52)
      Rudy B. Andeweg

      In most studies of political representation, the primary touchstone for ‘good representation’ is that elected politicians act in accordance with the preferences of their electorate. In cross-sectional studies this criterion is usually called ‘policy (or issue- or ideological-) congruence’ and the main debate is whether majoritarian electoral systems or proportional representation (pr) systems produce higher congruence (e.g. Huber and Powell 1994; Miller et al. 1999; Blais and Bodet 2006; Powell 2009). In longitudinal studies it is often called ‘policy responsiveness’, with studies debating whether some representative institutions adapt to changes in public opinion more quickly (Stimson et al. 1995), and...

    • 4 Dynamic Representation from Above
      (pp. 53-76)
      Sören Holmberg

      Theories of representative democracy are relational, focusing on connections between voters and elected representatives. Naturally, representation has to do with relationships between what economists call principals (voters) and agents (elected representatives). Agents are supposed to act on behalf of the principals, like decide on the laws regulating the working of society or set tax levels. Principals have one essential job – electing the agents. Eventually principals also give agents instructions/mandates and try to ensure that agents do their job by retrospectively holding them accountable.

      Representational relationships can be studied statically emphasizing differences between levels, between principals and agents. Hanna Pitkin...

    • 5 Is Governing Becoming more Contentious?
      (pp. 77-86)
      Peter Mair

      For a variety of reasons, some more complex than others, and some of which have also been explored in Mair and Thomassen (2010; see also Mair 2009), political parties in European democracies are now more likely to be judged on how they govern rather than on the substantive policy programmes that they advocate. In other words, and to paraphrase Hibbing and Theiss-Morse (2002), voters are increasingly likely to be concerned with the process of governing rather than with substantive issues, and hence are more likely to evaluate parties in terms of how they perform rather than on what they promise....


    • 6 Democratic Congruence Re-Established: The Perspective of ʹSubstantiveʹ Democracy
      (pp. 89-114)
      Christian Welzel and Hans-Dieter Klingemann

      Some 2,400 years ago, aristotle (1995 [350 b.c.]) reasoned in Book iv ofPoliticsthat democracy emerges in middle-class communities in which the citizens share an egalitarian participatory orientation. Since then theorists claimed repeatedly that the question of which political regime emerges and survives depends on the orientations that prevail among the people. Very explicit on this point, Montesquieu (1989 [1748]: 106) argued inDe L’Esprit des Loisthat the laws by which a society is governed reflect the people’s dominant mentality: whether a nation is constituted as a tyranny, monarchy or democracy depends, respectively, on the prevalence of anxious,...

    • 7 Does Democratic Satisfaction Reflect Regime Performance?
      (pp. 115-136)
      Pippa Norris

      The literature seeking to explain the political legitimacy of democratic governance has expanded in scope and sophistication in recent years, including both cultural and institutional approaches (see, for example, Thomassen 1999; Aarts and Thomassen 2008; Thomassen 2009b; Thomassen and Van der Kolk 2009). Evaluations of the regime have long been regarded as central to ideas of political legitimacy and Eastonian conceptions of system support. As Thomassen emphasizes, the legitimacy of liberal democracy is derived from public evaluations of the performance of government, as well as from issues of identity, representation and accountability (Thomassen 2009c). The idea that regime performance matters,...

    • 8 Citizensʹ Views about Good Local Governance
      (pp. 137-158)
      Bas Denters, Oscar Gabriel and Lawrence E. Rose

      Good governance is an increasingly popular term in political discourse. Since the 1990s various international organizations, like the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the World Bank, have employed this concept as the basis for evaluating the effects of development aid programs in Third World Countries (see, for example, Kaufmann et al. 2008). But the term has also been adopted for use in the context of states in the Western world. In 2002, for example, the influential German Bertelsmann Stiftung, together with municipalities from various Western countries, developed a set of criteria for assessing the quality of local governance...

    • 9 Patterns of Party Evaluations
      (pp. 159-180)
      Kees Aarts and Bernt Aardal

      In their competition for votes, political parties are confronted with two contradictory forces. On the one hand, signaling moderation and centrism in their ideological position usually helps in securing votes from the moderate and centrist voters, who typically form a large part of the electorate. On the other hand, signaling commitment to a clear ideological stance enhances the party’s credibility and helps building up a strong party image (Hinich and Munger 1994).

      How to deal with the tension between moderation and commitment is one of the recurring questions for political parties all over the world. Should they take moderate, centrist...


    • 10 The Electoral Consequences of Low Turnout in European Parliament Elections
      (pp. 183-198)
      Cees van der Eijk, Hermann Schmitt and Eliyahu V. Sapir

      Since their first occurrence in 1979 the direct elections of the European Parliament (ep) have been characterized by low turnout, and 2009 reaffirmed this pattern. The lowest levels of turnout in 2009, 20 percent or less, were registered in Slovakia and Lithuania. In other countries turnout reached higher levels, with rates of over 90 percent in Belgium and Luxembourg (where voting is compulsory), and (for non-compulsory voting countries) highest rates of 79 percent in Malta and 65 percent in Italy. But, irrespective of the actual levels, in all countries – including those with compulsory voting – turnout was lower, and...

    • 11 Assessing the Quality of European Democracy: Are Voters Voting Correctly?
      (pp. 199-220)
      Martin Rosema and Catherine E. de Vries

      During the last two decades the process of european integration has undergone important changes. Whereas until the early 1990s the integration process was widely seen as an elite-driven project in which public opinion was largely irrelevant, today there is increasing evidence to suggest that issues relating to European integration are shifting from the realm of elite politics to that of mass politics. Major European initiatives, such as the creation of the common currency, influence the everyday lives of citizens throughout Europe. In addition, many of the major treaties sparked off popular interest through contentious referendum campaigns – to date only...


    • 12 The Impact of the Economic Crisis in Europe: ʺIʹm doing fineʺ
      (pp. 223-238)
      Jan W. van Deth

      Although the economic skies already darkened in 2007 even the most cheerful soul must have realized that something was wrong by the end of 2008 and that very difficult times lay ahead. After the burst of the real estate bubbles in the US and Britain in 2007 a meltdown of the international financial markets slowly took shape. Initially, banks and institutes highly involved in mortgage credits collapsed and had to be taken over by competitors. Consequently, the crisis spread to banks and insurance companies very rapidly. On 15 September 2008, investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection and the...

    • 13 The Changing Macro Context of Norwegian Voters: From Center-Periphery Cleavages to Oil Wealth
      (pp. 239-256)
      Ola Listhaug and Hanne Marthe Narud

      Electoral politics in Norway has changed. In the heyday of the Rokkan-Valen model of electoral behavior Norway was pictured as a country of cleavage-based politics and strong parties building on these cleavages (e.g. Rokkan and Valen 1964). In contrast to Sweden, which was dominated by class politics and left-right conflicts, cleavages in Norway were more varied and included class, religion, language, attitudes toward alcohol, and geography. In the latter category Stein Rokkan and Henry Valen (Rokkan 1970; Valen 1981) included both the main regions of Norway and center-periphery, often conceptualized as geographical distance to the capital and the dominant urban...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 257-260)
  10. Appendix: Publications by Jacques Thomassen
    (pp. 261-268)
  11. References
    (pp. 269-294)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)