Conditional Responsiveness in France and Germany


The basic premise of democratic governance is that government represents citizen wishes. In its simplest form, governments assess citizen wishes based on electoral outcomes and publicly expressed problems and respond to these demands by enacting laws. Citizens inturn readjust their priorities as policies change. This project examines if and when governments respond to citizen demands. Our main contention is that government responsiveness is not constant and not a given; instead it is conditioned on the electoral pressure placed on government. We conceptualize electoral pressure in two ways: proximity to the election and government approval ratings. Governments are most responsive shortly before elections and when their electoral fortunes are threatened. We focus on polls on government popularity as an indicator of government approval between elections; electoral polls are used as an indicator of closeness. The proposal acknowledges previous work that explores how the linkage between citizens and government is modified by political institutions, such as electoral system, the type of government, and federalism. In addition to offering a more nuanced understanding of political responsiveness, the project delivers an innovative research design. Our investigation leverages empirical insights from two sources. First, we conduct a quantitative analysis of political activities using comparative policy agendas data. Second, we test the micro-level mechanisms at the government and citizen level using a survey. In short, this project delivers an important contribution to the understanding of when governments listen to public demands and provides evidence for the conditionality of responsiveness in Western democracies.

  • Department of Politics and Public Administration
    Bailer, Stefanie; Breunig, Christian; Giger, Nathalie; Wüst, Andreas M. (2022): The Diminishing Value of Representing the Disadvantaged : Between Group Representation and Individual Career Paths British Journal of Political Science. Cambridge University Press. 2022, 52(2), pp. 535-552. ISSN 0007-1234. eISSN 1469-2112. Available under: doi: 10.1017/S0007123420000642

The Diminishing Value of Representing the Disadvantaged : Between Group Representation and Individual Career Paths


Does enhanced descriptive representation lead to substantive representation? Legislators who share descriptive features with disadvantaged groups do not necessarily represent their group interests. Instead, Members of Parliament (MPs) strategically choose when to engage with the policy topic of their corresponding groups. MPs represent their respective group at the beginning of their career because it confers credibility when they have no legislative track record and few opportunities to demonstrate expertise. These group-specific efforts are replaced by other legislative activities at later stages of their careers. The authors apply this theoretical expectation across four disadvantaged groups – women, migrants, low social class and the young – and thereby offer a broad perspective on descriptive representation. Their sample consists of a unique data base that combines biographical information on German MPs with topic-coded parliamentary questions for the period 1998 to 2013. The study demonstrates the diminishing value of representing the disadvantaged across different types of MPs.

Origin (projects)

    Traber, Denise; Hänni, Miriam; Giger, Nathalie; Breunig, Christian (2022): Social status, political priorities and unequal representation European Journal of Political Research. Wiley. 2022, 61(2), pp. 351-373. ISSN 0304-4130. eISSN 1475-6765. Available under: doi: 10.1111/1475-6765.12456

Social status, political priorities and unequal representation


Researchers on inequalities in representation debate about whether governments represent the preferences of the rich better than those of less affluent citizens. We argue that problems of high‐ and low‐status citizens are treated differently already at the agenda‐setting stage. If affluent and less affluent citizens have different priorities about which issues should be tackled by government, then these divergent group priorities explain why government favors high‐ over low‐status citizens. Due to different levels of visibility, resources and social ties, governments pay more attention to what high‐status citizens consider important in their legislative agenda and pay less attention to the issues of low‐status citizens. We combined three types of data for our research design. First, we extracted the policy priorities (most important issues) for all status groups from Eurobarometer data between 2002 and 2016 for 10 European countries and match this information with data on policy outcomes from the Comparative Agendas Project. We then strengthen our results using a focused comparison of three single country studies over longer time series. We show that a priority gap exists and has representational consequences. Our analysis has important implications for the understanding of the unequal representation of status groups as it sheds light on an important, yet so far unexplored, aspect of the political process. Since the misrepresentation of political agendas occurs at the very beginning of the policy‐making process, the consequences are potentially even more severe than for the unequal treatment of preferences.

Origin (projects)

Funding sources
Name Finanzierungstyp Kategorie Project no.
Sachbeihilfe/Normalverfahren third-party funds research funding program 414/16
Further information
Period: 01.03.2016 – 28.02.2019