Research projects

Ongoing projects:


Participation and Representation. A Comparative Study of Linkage Mechanisms between Citizens and the Political System in Contemporary Democracies (PartiRep-2)

Democratic governance requires mechanisms and actors that link citizens to the state. Citizens should be able to voice their demands and political outputs need to be congruent with these demands. It is precisely over the manner in which this desired match between citizens’ preferences and the state’s policies can be produced that discussions about the functioning of democracy in contemporary Europe voice concern. Traditional forms of participation and traditional partisan frames giving meaning to the democratic exchange appear to be under pressure. Both the institutional environment and the societal norms and values in which political actors have to make their choices have been evolving. The democratic dialogue has become more complex and more fragmented. Changing patterns of participation and representation was already the theme on which the PartiRep network has focused in the course of the past five years (2007-2011). As in the first phase, PartiRep-2 is large-scale collaborative project initiated and funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office Belspo for a five your period starting in 2012. All Belgian Departments of Political Science participate in the project whereas the University of Leiden and the MZES collaborate as partners. The network has set up a variety of projects on patterns of political participation, political trust, political protest, political parties, political deliberation and political representation. Starting point was the assumption that changing patterns of participation and representation were to be analysed and explained within a frame of decline and, therefore, increasing pressure on the good and legitimate functioning of democracy. The results of this research have however shown that this 'decline' angle is, at the least, very incomplete and probably quite biased. Research seem to point at a variety of strategies by which both citizens and politicians adapt to the changing context of participation and representation.

Data Sources: population surveys, surveys among representatives, content analyses
Geographic Space: Europe

Director: Jan van Deth
Researchers: Thomas Bräuninger, Thomas Däubler, Marc Debus, Thorsten Faas, Nathalie Giger, Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck
Funding: Belgian Science Policy Office/Uni Mannheim
Duration: 2012 to 2017
Status: ongoing

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Electoral Incentives and Legislative Behaviour

While the determinants of the success of legislative processes in parliamentary systems have been in the focus of an extensive literature, much less is known about the individual level strategies of the process, e.g. MP sponsoring of bills on a certain topic. There is an apparent discrepancy in the literatures on voting behavior and legislative politics with the former arguing that votes are taken on many reasons, notably candidate, party and issue characteristics, while legislative behavior of (assumingly vote-seeking) MPs is most often considered as being driven by party politics but nothing else. Without doubt, party discipline is an essential feature in parliamentary democracies leaving small leeway for MPs to create their own policy profile and/or represent interests of their geographical constituencies. Yet, parties are not the only factor generating motivation and restrictions for MPs. To understand legislative behavior of individual MPs, their links and ties to constituencies and colleagues within parliament have also to be taken into account. Hence, our research focuses on the connection of the legislative and the electoral arena. First, electoral systems and voter behavior provide MPs with distinct electoral incentives to pursue reelection via legislative behavior. Bill sponsorship, but also other activities like parliamentary questions could therefore be targeted at the electorate. Electoral incentives are expected to influence number and content of bills an MP sponsors or of questions an MP asks. Second, not exclusively following party directions doesn't mean that MPs act in isolation. In their legislative behavior they interact with colleagues of their own or other parties. Especially the legislative activity of introducing bills reveals information on both contexts: on individual legislative activity that possibly relates to the constituency as well as on ties between MPs who support bills together. The patterns of cooperation in bill (co)sponsorship can also be expected to be influenced by electoral incentives. The project will shed light on the following questions: In how far are legislative activities a means for gaining a personal vote? What are the electoral motivations for introducing bills or parliamentary questions? Is bill sponsorship about constituency interests? Or does the motivation rather lie in targeting some party faction or in building networks with similar minded MPs? In how far are (co)sponsorship networks affected by electoral incentives of the initiators?

Data Sources: official documents and legislative data bases, official statistics, biographic information of MPs
Geographic space: Belgium, France, Germany

Director: Thomas Bräuninger
Researcher: Michael Stoffel
Funding: MZES/Uni Mannheim
Duration: 2012 to 2015
Status: ongoing

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Reform Agendas and Intra-party Programmatic Position-taking

The project is focused on the interplay between the preferences of voters, parties and policy reform outcomes that are initiated by significant changes in the economic, societal and technological environment. We seek to study how issues enter the public agenda to become subjects of reform processes, how political parties change their programmatic profile in response to public reform pressure, and whether these reform processes result in significant changes in the status quo. The main contribution of this project is in bridging the hitherto separated literatures on public agenda-setting and electoral competition.
Read more about this project...

Directors: Thomas Bräuninger, Marc Debus
Researchers: Markus Baumann, Matthias Haber
Funding: DFG, SFB 884
Duration: 2010 to 2017
Status: ongoing

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Identity Constellations, Political Exclusion/Inclusion, and Internal Armed Conflicts

The goal of the project is to examine the relationship between identity constellations, the political exclusion or inclusion of identity groups, and internal armed conflicts in the form of civil wars and military coups. In a first step, the project develops a game theoretic model on the political exclusion/inclusion of identity groups and their violent behaviour. In a second step, the project tests the game theoretic model with global, quantitative data. European countries play an important role in developing the theoretical argument. While most European countries are characterized by the absence of violent conflicts, some countries, like Northern Ireland or the former Yugoslavia, experienced very severe identity conflicts. The results of the project will show whether this empirical variation in conflict occurrence can be explained by the specific identity constellations and political conditions in these countries.
Current stage: In 2011, the project focused on data preparation and the construction of independent variables which capture identity groups in a multidimensional space. Quantitative analyses that examine the influence of these independent variables on the onset of civil conflict were conducted, and first results were presented at the ISA Conference in Montréal, Canada, and at the PRIO CSCW workshop in Mannheim.

Data Sources: Macro data on the demography, political exclusion/inclusion and violent behavior of identity groups
Geographic space: Global

Director: Thomas Bräuninger
Researcher: Eva Bernauer
Funding: CDSS/MZES
Duration: 2009 to 2013
Status: ongoing

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Spatial Models of Party Competition Applied

The aim of this project is the construction of a common policy space describing the policy and ideological preferences of both voters and parties shortly before or after German Bundestag elections. From these spaces consequences will be derived concerning the development of the German party system. Input data are voters’ perceptions of policy and ideological positions of parties and the respective policy and ideological preferences of voters. The resulting policy and/or ideological space is relevant for voters allowing the at least partial prediction of their vote intentions by the distances of parties from their ideal points. This same space is also relevant for parties allowing them to communicate with voters provided that the voters agree about a verisimilar picture of the party configuration. To solve this problem, a scaling algorithm developed by Aldrich and McKelvey will be applied; its deficiencies in calculating the variance of the perceptions around the expected values shall be overcome by using Bayesian methods (Bräuninger and Giger 2011). In this project German election studies from 1980 to 2009 will be secondary analyzed. First analyzes show (Pappi, in print) that the perceived left-right positions of parties are relatively stable over time; parties, however, have room for strategic maneuvering concerning new issues though these also offer chances for new entrants into the party system capitalizing on their reputation as "issue owners". On the supply side, policy offers and valence or competence reputations of parties are the essential ingredients of party competition. For the single Bundestag elections the expected issue positions of the competing parties will be predicted as local Nash equilibria applying the valence model of Schofield and they will be compared with the empirically ascertained positions. In a further step, the equilibrium model will be used to investigate the dynamics of party competition over time. The aim is here to interpret the repositioning of parties over time as dynamic equilibria, so that the development of the German party system can be explained by the electorate’s demand for and the parties’ supply of policies and competence reputations.

Data Sources: German Bundestag election surveys since 1980
Geographic Space: Germany

Director: Franz Urban Pappi, Thomas Bräuninger
Researcher: Anna-Sophie Kurella
Funding: DFG
Duration: 2012 to 2014
Status: ongoing




Planned Projects





Finished projects:


The Political Economy of European Foreign Policy Instruments

Member states of the European Union (EU) have both common and conflicting foreign policy interests. For example, they have shared concerns in the realms of security, the promotion of democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Cooperation through the EU can help to divide costs and enhance credibility. On the other hand, EU countries are competitors in economic foreign policy matters and want to maintain some room to manoeuvre. As the EU is both a custom, economic and monetary union, member states cannot use monetary politics, employ different external tariffs against third countries, or sign trade agreements. However, national governments have discretion to use bilateral investment treaties, loans and aid both unilaterally and multilaterally. The project aims at studying the strategic choice of EU member states both in terms of economic foreign policy instruments and channels to pursue their foreign policy goals. Based on theoretical models of international cooperation we will formally model EU country’s strategic foreign policy choices. We then test our predictions empirically using dyadic time-series-cross-section data for all EU member states over twenty years.

Data Sources: databases on international macroeconomic indicators, datasets on European parties and governments, survey data
Geographic space: the EU and its members states, developing countries

Director: Thomas Bräuninger
Researcher: Susanne Michalik, Laura Seelkopf
Duration: 2012 to 2013
Status: discontinued

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Identity Constellations, Political Exclusion/Inclusion, and Internal Armed Conflicts

The goal of this project has been to determine the risk of internal armed conflict based on the multidimensional identity constellation of a society and the identity of its government.  Compared to previous studies, this project combines the idea of political favoritism with a multidimensional identity perspective. Additionally, it provides a formal backing to the question of which group will be the biggest violent challenger in a society. In a first step, the project has developed a formal model that predicts which potential challengers to the current government every individual of a society will support, if any. The choice is based on the individuals’ own identities, the promises that potential challengers make, and the probability of winning the political contest, the latter of which depends on all other individuals’ choices. Once the degree of support for all potential challengers is known, it is possible to assess the likely amount of violent conflict that a society will experience. A simple version of this model shows that individuals support the smallest of all identity groups to which they belong. A more elaborate version increases the success probability disproportionately with the size of the group so that extra gains accrue from inter-group cooperation. Here, the results are not easy to predict and crucially depend on a country’s unique population shares of the different identity groups and the government in place. In a second step, the project has prepared a macro dataset on the population shares of multidimensional identity groups and the identity of the current government for over 60 countries. First empirical tests strongly confirm the claim that the risk of internal armed conflict can be predicted based on the multidimensional identity constellation of a society and the government’s orientation.

Data Sources: Macro data on the demography, political exclusion/inclusion
Geographic space: Global

Director: Thomas Bräuninger
Researcher: Eva Bernauer
Funding: CDSS/MZES
Duration: 2009 to 2013
Status: finished

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Pork Barrel Politics in Germany

The aim of the project has been to assess the effects of mixed-member electoral systems on the behavior of MPs, especially regarding MPs’ effort to acquire public projects for their district. We argue that MPs in mixed-member systems have to decide whether to focus on representing their party or their district voters. Whereas existing studies of mixed-member systems have thus far paid attention to the past mode of election (district vs. list), the project has sought to provide a micro-foundation of the assumed causal relationship by explicitly modeling MPs’ stakes of re-election and their behavior. These stakes generate a more complex incentive scheme than the mere party-district dichotomy because of the specific characteristics of mixed-member systems (e.g. dual candidacy). The analysis of the resulting behavior has been conducted with regard to members of the German Bundestag and comprises three facets: (1) development of a formal model of MP behavior; (2) the analysis of empirical data on traffic infrastructure construction, MP communication about projects, and voter reactions to the construction of projects; (3) subsequent interviews with MPs about their strategic conduct to acquire projects in order to study the proposed micro-mechanism of the causal model. A key result of the formal model is that MPs in mixed-member systems focus on their district if, and only if, the district is competitive and the MP is not (sufficiently) secured by a safe list position (type 1). All other MPs primarily address the party (type 2). The empirical analysis provides solid evidence for this prediction. We also find that districts with a type 1 MP belonging to the governing majority receive significantly more construction projects. Moreover, having a member on the lead committee in parliament increases the level of spending to the district. An investigation of election results shows that voters indeed reward their MPs when the construction of a project is finished.

Data Sources: semi-structured interviews, public construction data, elections to the German Bundestag
Geographic space: Germany

Director: Thomas Bräuninger
Researcher: Michael Stoffel
Funding: Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes
Duration: 2010 to 2012
Status: finished

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Representation in Europe: Policy Congruence between Citizens and Elites (REPCONG)

This international collaborative project is premised on the notion that there should be a reasonable degree of congruence between the wishes of citizens and the priorities of those elected to represent them. The quality of this ‘substantial' representation is important, as it will affect citizens' perception of representation and their attitudes toward representative democracy, more generally. In real world representative democracy, however, policy congruence between citizens and elites is partial for various reasons: representatives may deviate from what they promised when electoral sanctioning is unlikely, parties have informational advantages, or the nature of party competition in mass elections distorts the multi-dimensional character of citizen and party preferences. Yet, very little is known about the actual extent, the determinants and consequences of policy congruence between citizens and elites in Europe, at the national or the European levels. The REPCONG project explores the determinants of policy congruence and the impact of political institutions and direct democracy, in particular. It is also investigated how policy congruence impacts on the perception of representation, and the satisfaction with democracy as well as the perception of specific representative institutions, such as national parliaments/governments and European institutions. The empirical analysis uses data from various sources: European Social Survey (ESS) and Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) for information on individual citizens' policy preferences and individual perceptions of representation and attitudes toward democracy; national party manifestos and Euro-manifestos supplemented with data from an online survey amongst MPs and MEPs to obtain information on policy preferences of both 'parties' and 'individuals' as representatives. Techniques from multi-level analysis are employed to reflect the multi-level nature of these data (individual, party and system level)

Data Sources: Combination of individual data (comparative mass surveys) and indicators of the political system and party characteristics. Furthermore, we collect party program to estimate party positions (computer aided).
Geographic space: Europe

For more information please visit the website of REPONG and Polidoc

Director: Thomas Bräuninger
Researcher: Nathalie Giger
Funding: DFG
Duration: 2009 to 2012
Status: finished

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Comparative Legislation (VERGES)

This project studies institutional and party political determinants of regulative and fiscal public policy in parliamentary democracies. Main questions of the project deal with institutional and political influences on legislation on the one hand and individual influences on the other hand. In parliamentary democracies governments are generally seen as the most important actors in shaping public policies. This project analyses the influences of formal and informal rules of agenda control and political constellations like the composition of government, the strength of opposition, or the programmatic distances between actors on the success and duration of legislation. Even though governments' crucial role in determining the legislative output is uncontested, there is a large number of (partly successful) bills from within parliament. Hence, it is also worthwhile to shift the focus to the (individual) parliamentary actors and their agenda setting behavior: The project also intends to answer the question whether and how legislative activity of MPs is influenced by idiosyncratic characteristics of the actor (like seniority, position in government or party group, or deviation of individual policy position from party line) and socio-economic factors with which an MP is confronted in his/her constituency. The question whether there is a constituency-connection is closely related to the question to what extend MPs are responsive to their voters. Within the scope of the project a unique data set has been created that encompasses information on all bills introduced between 1987 and 2002 in Belgium, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. This information is complemented by political, institutional, and individual data.

Data Sources official documents and legislative data bases, official statistics, biographic information of MPs
Geographic space: Belgium, France, Germany, United Kingdom

Director: Thomas Bräuninger
Researcher: Martin Brunner
Funding: DFG
Duration: 2005 to 2011
Status: finished

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The Choice of Decision-Making Rules in International Negotiation Systems

Whereas the choice within rules refers to the impact of institutional settings on outcomes the choice of rules considers actors' initial negotiation to establish or change institutional settings. Since institutions are more durable than policies and have uncertain long-term rather than foreseeable short-term consequences, the collective problem of institutional design, however, is to provide for institutions that are expected to be efficient, effective, or even fair in the long-run. The project is concerned with the broader topic of institutional design when investigating the question of how states in international negotiation systems decide on decision-making rules in order to constrain or enhance their future cooperation. The project aims both to derive general explanations for actors' collective choice of decision-making rules and apply the model to the study of the International Seabed Authority.

Data Sources: Documents, official statistics
Geographic space: World

Director: Franz Urban Pappi
Researcher: Thomas Bräuninger
Funding: Land Baden-Württemberg/MZES
Duration: 1997 to 1999
Status: finished