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The construction of “surveyed public opinion” in France and Germany – CosPo

CosPo

The construction of “surveyed public opinion” in France and Germany

What role do citizens' preferences play in shaping public policy?

CosPo addresses this issue by studying how governments use opinion surveys. <br />A primary objective is to study the mechanisms that determine why an issue enters the polling agenda (of governments) at a particular moment in time, how it is taken up by policy makers (type of inquiry used, its framing, question wording), and who is responsible for putting it on the agenda. Do polls cover more of the issues that are important to the public? Or rather those that are important to those in power? Are there policy areas that are over-represented in polling questions? <br />A second important goal of the research is to analyze the ability of different subgroups of the population to inform the government of their needs and preferences (through survey opinion). Special attention is paid to the varying capacity of different underrepresented groups to effectively voice their preferences (via polls) and whether this differs according to their power and image in a given society. CosPo thereby addresses the debate on “unequal voices” by overcoming classical responsiveness studies which tend to treat the population as an organic whole. <br />The third and final objective of the project is to move beyond macro-level analyses to better identify the actual mechanisms that determine whether a government is responsive on a given policy issue. Qualitative expert interviews will deliver additional insight into the way policymakers access and use surveys as well as how this influences their activities. <br />Finally, CosPo will contribute to the creation of an expert network on the public opinion- policy link at the French and the international level. The project will also help to create a cross-project data corpus with the potential of enriching future research on various other research questions. <br />Overall, this ambitious project will provide a better understanding of how democracy works in France and Germany and, at the same time, contribute to overcoming important scientific challenges related to the study of the interaction between public opinion and public policy.

In order to study how governments take into account the preferences of citizens, CosPo has set up a research protocol based on a pluralistic methodology (qualitative and quantitative). As a first step, the scientific team built and analyzed a large corpus of data, composed of survey questions (not respondents' answers). The attribution of thematic codes to the survey questions using the Comparative Agendas Project coding scheme enables comparisons over time and with other political agendas. Additionally, it creates a completely new indicator mirroring key societal questions. The integration of polls commissioned by governments in combination with conventional survey data represents an innovative research strategy in the field of public opinion and political representation, as it provides direct information on what governments know and/or want to know about citizens’ preferences.
In a second step, interviews with experts and political elites will deliver additional insight into the way policy makers access and use such polls as well as how this influences their activities.

Ongoing research project

The CosPo project will continue to study the construction of public opinion by polls in France and Germany, keeping the focus on surveys commissioned directly by governments. France and Germany offer an intriguing case for comparison as they present common features (their exposure to Europeanization, economic crises etc.) as well as important differences (parliamentary systems (semi-presidential/parliamentary), electoral systems, centralist versus federal organization and other features such as the possibility of national referenda in France) which are likely to influence the place of polling public opinion in both countries.
The creation of a scientific network of French and international experts on the link between public opinion and public policy-making will allow us to extend this study to other political systems and other periods. Thus, in view of the groundbreaking empirical work of the CosPo project and the forthcoming theoretical contributions of its scientific team, the results of this project will feed into future scientific debates on the political responsiveness of representative democracies and unequal political representation.

Ongoing research project

The responsiveness of political actors to citizens’ preferences is a central concern for the understanding of parliamentary democracies. Is public opinion a key determinant of public policy? Are other actors such as political parties, lobbies etc. more powerful? Even though this question concerns a central pillar of modern democracies, contrasting answers coexist in the public debate as well as in the scientific literature. Studying the political agenda of surveyed public opinion CosPo provides a missing piece in the puzzle of research on the interaction between citizens’ preferences and policy making. We will examine the mechanisms that determine why a policy issue is taken up by surveys at a given moment in time, how it is taken up (type of inquiry used, its framing, question wording), who puts it on the agenda, the way policymakers contribute to the choice of survey items and how they access survey-based information. Special attention will be paid to the capacity of underrepresented groups to inform the government about their needs and preferences (via surveyed political opinion). CosPo will thereby address the debate on “unequal voices” by overcoming classical responsiveness studies which tend to treat the population as an organic whole. To this end, we will draw on five innovative strategies: 1) The combination of insights gleaned from the responsiveness literature, the literature on agenda-setting and the critical literature on surveyed public opinion will enable us to develop informed hypotheses about the mechanisms that determine why a policy issue is taken up at a given moment in time. 2) The integration of surveys commissioned by governments in combination with conventional survey data represents an innovative research strategy, as it provides direct information on what the government knows and wants to know about citizens’ preferences. 3) Tracing back the origins of the policy proposals will allow us to identify the factors that favor the uptake of a proposal by survey questions. The process of “constructing public opinion” goes beyond the choice of issues covered by polls; it also includes the way issues are presented through survey questions. By taking up concrete political proposals, survey questions frequently contribute to make certain ideas and political proposals known by the population. CosPo will notably analyse whether the capacity of different groups to introduce such proposals varies regarding to their power and image in the population. 4) Examining the role of political actors in this process will a) shed light on the conditions of the issue selection (Who decides which issues are covered by survey questions and following which criteria?) And b) provide preliminary insights into the intended use of surveyed public opinion by governments. 5) We will contribute to the creation of an interdisciplinary network and a cross-project body of data with the potential of enriching future research on various questions. These five strategies have guided the definition of a comparative, mixed-methods design. The attribution of thematic codes to the survey questions using the Agendas Project coding scheme will enable comparison over time and with other political agendas and will additionally create a completely new indicator mirroring key societal questions. Interviews with government advisors, employees of survey institutes etc. will deliver additional insight into the way policymakers access this information and how this influences their activities. France and Germany offer an intriguing case for comparison as they present common features (their exposure to Europeanization, economic crises etc.) as well as important differences (parliamentary systems (semi-presidential/parliamentary), election systems, centralist versus federal organization and other features such as the possibility of national referenda in France).

Project coordinator

Madame Tinette Schnatterer (CENTRE ÉMILE-DURKHEIM - SCIENCE POLITIQUE ET SOCIOLOGIE COMPARATIVES)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

CED CENTRE ÉMILE-DURKHEIM - SCIENCE POLITIQUE ET SOCIOLOGIE COMPARATIVES
CEE Centre d'études européennes et de politique comparée
CRJ - Grenoble Centre de Recherches Juridiques
PACTE Pacte - Laboratoire de sciences sociales

Help of the ANR 195,498 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2020 - 36 Months

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