Interview with Constantin Manuel Bosancianu on Party–Voter Ideological Congruence and Socioeconomic Biases in Representation

Constantin Manuel Bosancianu, of WZB Berlin Social Science Center, Germany, presented the paper, “Party–Voter Ideological Congruence and Socio-Economic Biases in Representation: OECD over the Past 5 Decades” at the Politics and Inequality conference held in Warsaw, Poland in December 2018.

Constantin Manuel Bosancianu is a postdoctoral researcher in the “Institutions and Political Inequality” unit at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). He focuses on the intersection of political economy and electoral behavior: how to measure political inequalities between citizens of both developed and developing countries, and what the linkages between political and economic inequalities are. Dr. Bosancianu received his PhD in 2007 from the Central European University, Budapest, with a dissertation on how the dynamics of party ideological shifts, economic inequality, and individual political participation unfold over time. He is interested in statistics, data visualization, and the history of Leftist parties. In the past, Dr. Bosancianu taught or assisted with teaching methods courses at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) Winter and Summer Methods Schools, University of Heidelberg or University of Gießen, with a focus on regression analysis, R, Bayesian analysis, and multilevel modelling.

We asked Constantin Manuel Bosancianu for an extended abstract of his Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about his research. We are thankful for his positive and detailed response.

Extended Abstract

Disparities in political representation between socio-economic groups, if perpetuated over time, can lead to growing disenchantment with the political process, dropout from political life, and even the appearance of new political movements that challenge representative institutions (Taggart, 2002). Starting with the early investigations of Gilens (2005, 2009, 2012) for the US context, a series of analyses have found disparities in political representation across a larger number of consolidated democracies (Elsässer, Hense, & Schäfer, 2018; Giger, Rosset, & Bernauer, 2012; Peters & Ensink, 2015; Rosset, Giger, & Bernauer, 2013; Rosset, 2013). Despite the consistent results, we continue to have very limited knowledge about the causes and mechanisms for these disparities.

This analysis probes into this issue. By relying on an original data set of merged voter studies in 30 OECD countries, going as far back in time as the 1960s and 70s, I compute a measure of ideological congruence between voters and political parties. Called the Earth Mover’s Distance (Lupu, Selios, & Warner, 2017), it is based on citizens’ self-placement on a standard Left-Right axis, as well as their placement of parties on the same scale (Powell Jr., 2009). By relying on voters’ perceptions of parties rather than legislator self-placements (Lupu & Warner, 2018), my data overcomes the potential flaw of different understandings of “Left” and “Right” between people and political elites. This measure of congruence is then used to ascertain: (1) if representation gaps between voters at the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum are found in my sample, and (2) whether the gaps in representation are associated with a demand-side characteristic (disparities in political participation between the same socio-economic groups) or a supply-side factor (party ideological changes over time).

Preliminary findings do little to dispel the mystery surrounding the causes of unequal representation for poorer citizens, though they conclusively establish that such a gap exists. They furthermore establish that overall quality of representation is associated with disparities in participation: contexts where turnout between income groups is more unequal have worse overall representation of income groups. However, even when relying on a measure of participation disparities generated from individual-level data, no clear association exists between disparities in political voice and gaps in representation between income groups. Neither do party-system dynamics appear to explain the disparity in ideological convergence between income groups. Though inconclusive, the findings confirm those of Lupu and Warner (2018) and will hopefully spur the focus on additional mechanisms to explain the relative disadvantage in representation that poorer citizens are faced with.

Interview with Constantin Manuel Bosancianu

The research you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on party–voter congruence. How did you get interested in this topic? And is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

The interest in political representation, for which party-voter ideological congruence is one proxy, came about through my focus on understanding how to measure the facets of political inequality between individuals and groups. For the past few years I have been interested in disparities in political voice between individuals and groups—aspects such as turnout, non-electoral participation, or political efficacy. These are shaped by individual resource endowments, which naturally generate inequalities in voice. This is only part of the story, though. Another part is how disparities in voice and political influence are shaped by systemic features pertaining to, say, the electoral system or party system configurations. Some of Orit Kedar’s work is an excellent example of this, as is that of Karen L. Jusko. My own attempts refer to another feature of the system: the distribution of parties along a Left–Right ideological dimension.

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The Political Voice of Xenophobes

This is a guest post by Irina Tomescu-Dubrow, Polish Academy of Sciences and Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, The Ohio State University

Xenophobes and those discriminated based on ethnicity have political voice

In an inclusive and tolerant society that values political equality, expression of political voice is supposed to be open to everyone.

Let’s consider those who feel discriminated for their ethnicity and those who espouse anti-immigrant attitudes, i.e. xenophobes – two groups at the heart of the socio-cultural cleavage common in European democracies.

Are they similar?

Definitions of Xenophobes and the Discriminated

We define the ethno-discriminated as people who feel they were discriminated against based on their culture, ethnicity, religion or language. We define xenophobes as individuals who express the views that immigrants damage the economic, cultural and social fabric of the receiving country.

Ethno-discriminated and xenophobes can be seen as extremes, and form, in principle, minorities in opposition to each other.

Yet, scholars have analyzed these groups’ political behaviors separately, that is, either for ethnic minorities, or for persons with anti-immigrant attitudes. Moreover, far more attention is given to ethnic minority participation.

Our Study of the Political Voice of Xenophobes and the Discriminated

We used the European Social Survey 2012 to examine how these groups engage with two complementary expressions of political voice: attitudes toward key democratic institutions, and political participation.

To understand how the ethno-discriminated and the xenophobes behave politically, we argued that marginalization theory and group conflict theory should be synthesized. We argued that the two groups are similar in some civic domains while quite different in others.

We found clear empirical support for these two hypotheses:

1. Trust in institutions matters

On trust in democratic institutions, the effect of belonging to either of these two groups is negative and relatively strong (net of other factors).

2. Those discriminated based on ethnicity participate in politics more than the xenophobes

On political participation, those who feel ethno-discriminated tend to participate more, while xenophobes tend to participate less (in comparison with the wider society).

Moreover, feeling discriminated based on ethnicity has a positive influence on working with political parties or other organizations. We also predicted that xenophobes would differ significantly from the ethno-discriminated, but not from the wider society. Yet, we found that, other things equal, xenophobes are engaged in this kind of activity significantly less than the society’s majority.

Future studies of the political participation of xenophobes should focus on national contexts

Other political contextual factors likely influence the democratic engagement of these groups. We suspect that a substantial presence of right-wing parties and the strength of the multicultural environment are key factors that would determine how the ethno-discriminated and the xenophobes participate.

In political campaign seasons, right-wing parties hold political rallies that attract the xenophobic and repel the ethno-discriminated. Once in government, right-wing parties use legitimate democratic platforms – parliamentary debates, for example – to publicly express their worldviews. Both situations attract media attention and thus right wing parties can use newspapers, television, radio and Internet to broadcast xenophobia. This environment would likely encourage expression of relatively unpopular, anti-immigrant policy preferences in either forums of public discourse – such as lawful demonstrations – or to work directly with the right-wing political organizations.

The extent to which this environment discourages the democratic engagement of the ethno-discriminated depends on the countervailing multiculturalist forces that already exist in the political environment (e.g. the strength of pro-immigrant left-wing parties and the country’s recent history in promoting multiculturalism and fighting xenophobia).

This article is based on the chapter, “Democratic Engagement of Xenophobes and the Ethno-Discriminated in Europe,” in Political Inequality in an Age of Democracy: Cross-national Perspectives, edited by Joshua K. Dubrow (Routledge 2015).

Irina Tomescu-Dubrow is a Professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Director of the Graduate School for Social Research.

Kazimierz M. Slomczynski is Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University.