Oskar Hultin Bäckersten defends his thesis on 2 February

2023-11-16

Oskar Hultin Bäckersten defends his thesis Fractures in the Fabric of Democracy?: Change and Continuity in Public Opinion in Contemporary Europe.

The public defence takes place on 2 February at 13:15 in Brusewitzsalen and via Zoom. Login: https://uu-se.zoom.us/j/2606625486.

Oskar Hultin Bäckersten

The external reviewer is Professor Jonathan Polk, Department of Political Science, Lund University.

The members of the examining committee are Professor Li Bennich-Björkman, Department of Government, Uppsala University, Associate Professor Niklas Bolin, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Mid Sweden University and Professor Hanna Fjelde, Department of Peace and Conflict Research, Uppsala University. 

Fractures in the Fabric of Democracy?: Change and Continuity in Public Opinion in Contemporary 

Abstract:
Is representative democracy in Europe becoming undermined by developments in public opinion? This dissertation addresses this overarching question, by studying the development over time of (i) ideological polarization; (ii) the degree to which vote choices are structured by political attitudes; and (iii) the degree to which parties are internally congruent in political opinion across levels. Public opinion is understood as the metaphorical ‘fabric’ of representative democracy, where conjectures to the fact of a fracturing dynamic are plausible and recurrent in academic and public debate. Thus, this thesis contributes with studies in three particular areas, regarding the interaction between political attitudes and the political system. The studies show that there have not been dramatic ruptures in these aspects of political opinion. Neither polarization, disintegration, nor incongruence are the most appropriate words to characterize developments in general. Some changes are taking place, in particular as attitudes on immigration are becoming more important in all aspects considered.

Paper I studies political polarization in a qualified sense, focusing on ideological views among the electorates of European democracies. The paper presents a conceptualization and measurement of ideological polarization that is partly novel, and proceeds to investigate patterns across countries and time. 

Paper II studies the degree to which vote choices in contemporary European democracies are connected to political views, in particular left-right placements, among electorates in Europe. This degree is gradually declining in most cases, and attitudes on secondary dimensions are generally rising in importance. In particular, the left-right scale is subsuming more issues than before, while issue attitudes are becoming gradually more important for explaining vote choices independently as well.

Paper III studies intra-party ideological congruence, focusing on the case of Sweden. Here, the framework of May’s Law is utilized to formulate hypotheses of the structure of intra-party opinion. The study finds that May’s Law is supported in the Swedish case, with some qualifications, in contrast to recent studies. Additionally, there is not a sharp decline in opinion representation in the Swedish parties. Amidst declining levels of engagement in the parties, they still manage to represent the political opinions of their electorates relatively well over time.

The general conclusion from the studies in the dissertation is that what we are seeing is not a wholesale transformation of representative democracy in these aspects, rather, there are signs of gradual change amid a general pattern of stability.

Find out more about Oskar Hultin Bäckersten here

Full-text available on DiVA open access

Public Defences

Last modified: 2023-11-23