This project on party competition in Europe builds on the previous work of the two principal investigators, Robert Rohrschneider (Kansas University) and Stephen Whitefield (Oxford University) which culminated in a 2012 book published by Oxford University Press called The Strain of Representation: How Political Parties Represent Diverse Voters in Western and Eastern Europe. That book was grounded in data that we acquired from expert surveys conducted in 2007 and 2008 in 27 European countries. As the book’s title suggests, our findings indicated that parties in Europe overall do a good job of representing voters but that they face challenges in doing so when voters are more diverse in character, in particular when party dealignment means that voters are balanced between partisans and independents. In addition, we uncovered a ‘puzzle of equal congruence’, in which parties in West and East appear almost equally good at representing voters – which puzzle we explain by showing how representation is achieved via different mechanisms in East and West.
But concerns and questions about the nature and success of party representation are raised anew as Europe has been hit by major economic shocks. Many governments have been thrown out of office; political parties as organisations are volatile; the share of votes taken by parties has also gyrated wildly. So, we ask: Is party representation now failing because of the economic crisis? To address this issues we are therefore embarked on another round of expert surveys to again collect appropriate comparative evidence in 27 countries, which are a reliable, highly cost effective, and speedy means of obtaining appropriate data. These surveys will produce a major new data set as well as further academic publications.