New project funded by ANR and DFG!

With UNEQUALMAND, we study on group targeting in electoral pledges and policy, as well as citizens' responses.

Political equality is a core requirement and a key principle of democracy. However, research casts serious doubt on the realization of this ideal and points to “unequal responsiveness”. This project examines political (in)equalities in France and Germany through the lens of electoral mandates and their realization in the form of policies. We look at the supply and the demand-side of electoral competition. How do pledges and fulfilled policy appeal to groups with different characteristics? How and under what conditions do citizens respond to group targeting in electoral manifestos (prospective) and pledge fulfilment (retrospective)?

One main contention of this project is that political actors not only disproportionately appeal to certain groups when making pledges, but also that pledge fulfilment is not constant and varies depending on the characteristics of the social groups, i.e. their mobilization resources and social images. UNEQUALMAND further investigates how group targeting affects how citizens perceive and assess pledges, with a focus on the role of egocentric (belonging to a group) and sociotropic considerations (perceiving a group as deserving), as well as the level of ambiguity (broadness of the targeted group and preciseness of promised policy).

We draw on a mixed-method research design combining hypothesis-testing with more inductive approaches that are relevant to an emerging research agenda. For studying how political actors target groups, we gather macro-level quantitative data on promises and their realization, which we use to first to (inductively) generate a typology on groups and their characteristics, then to (deductively) test our hypotheses. The data on pledges will be used to design surveys and experiments on voters’ reactions to group-targeting. Qualitative process-tracing of cases of (non-)fulfilled pledges targeted at specific groups shed light on the mechanisms linking groups, pledges and fulfillment, and generate additional hypotheses.

The country selection represents a diverse cases design: France and Germany are comparable in many respects, but their institutions and party systems also crucially differ. This allows maximization of the external validity of the findings, and provides variance for the explorative, inductive part of the project.

By tracing (in)equal representation at different stages of the policymaking process (pledge making, pledge fulfilment), UNEQUALMAND makes an important contribution not only to unequal responsiveness literature, but also to the public policy, party competition and electoral pledge literature. More broadly, this project has major potential implications for understanding of (un)equal representation in representative democracy – from the perspective of political actors and voters.