Rune Slothuus leads the research group "PARTYOPINION - The Informational Role of Political Parties in Citizens’ Opinion Formation," funded by an ERC Consolidator Grant 2020-2025.
Citizens’ opinions about public policy lies at the heart of democracy. A long-standing, but little researched, claim in political science is that political parties provide a vital informational basis that citizens can use to inform their policy opinions. However, current literature shows the opposite: Parties distort citizens’ decision-making and make them dogmatic defenders of their party without caring about policy substance. Therefore, we lack a theory of how – or even if – parties can provide policy information citizens use to inform their opinions.
This project advances a new research agenda to examine the informational role of political parties in citizens’ opinion formation. The project is not only pioneering in developing a novel theoretical model of when and how citizens use parties to inform their opinions; it also breaks new ground methodologically by combining experiments with a cross-national design. The project is unique in that it integrates macro-level party characteristics with micro-level opinion formation, helping scholars ask new questions and seek novel answers to how parties affect citizens’ opinions.
As key empirical contribution, the project will develop a new survey instrument to offer the first mapping of how citizens view parties’ “policy reputations”; develop and use new measures of citizens’ policy reasoning; conduct a series of innovative survey experiments across party systems to obtain generalizable causal estimates of when and how parties inform opinions across individuals, parties and countries in Western Europe; and implement a panel survey to track how parties inform opinions during a real-world debate.
The project will significantly improve our understanding the relationship between citizens and political parties. Timely and innovative, the project will answer how current transformations of party systems affect citizens’ ability to participate meaningfully in democracy, and if parties still play a role in that process.