Department of Comparative Politics

Leading the way for subnational voting

Arjan Schakel’s project is coming to an end: –We have cracked open the black box of regional voting.

Arjan Shackel
Magnus Buseth Danielsen (UiB). In the picture: Arjan Schakel is the leader of the SRD team and project.

Main content

The Department of Comparative Politics hosted on 17-18 January 2024 a workshop 'Territoriality and Dynamics of Regional and Local Voting'. This workshop concluded the research project 'Strengthening Regional Democracy -- Contributing to Good Democratic Governance' led by Professor Arjan H. Schakel and which ran from September 2019 to February 2024.

The workshop brought together the Principal Investigators of regional and local election surveys held in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, and Wales. On the first day of the workshop, the participants presented their cutting-edge research on local and regional voting. The main conclusion of the first day is that scholarship on local and regional voting behaviour lacks theory. A proper understanding requires new theory because national voting theory does not apply to local and regional voting. To address this gap in the literature, the participants agreed to contribute to a special issue of an academic journal that will be edited by Schakel's team. 

The participants of the workshop at Solstrand.
Magnus Buseth Danielsen (UiB). In the picture: The participants of the workshop at Solstrand.

The discussion on the second day of the workshop concerned the research infrastructures to conduct local and regional election surveys and the need to coordinate and harmonise survey questions to enable comparative research. This appeared to be a thorny issue considering that regional election surveys in Germany and Spain are conducted by research institutes that have little to no connection to the academic research environment. In addition, there is a lot of competition for survey time and many surveys include survey questions used to for tap trends over time. Similar question wordings are required in order to be able to continue measuring time trends in the future. For these reasons, the participants concluded that the best way forward is to first develop a common research agenda because then voting researchers are incentivised to develop similar survey questions. 

There was an unanimous consensus that it will be crucial and important to maintain the dialogues initiated at the workshop. The participants agreed to hold two online meetings per year during which research can be presented and election surveys can be discussed. Furthermore, Schakel's team will take the lead in organising the next workshop preceding a political science conference to be held in 2025. 

Jochen Müller presenting at the workshop.
Magnus Buseth Danielsen (UiB). In the picture: Jochen Müller presenting at the workshop.

Successful project

The research team of Strengthening Regional Democracy led by Professor Schakel consists of postdoctoral fellow Martin Okolikj and two PhD-students Berkay Alıca and Alexander Verdoes who will defend their PhD-theses in 2024 and 2025. The team sets out to study when and how regional democracy functions well. Despite an undeniable trend towards multilevel democracy, regions are hardly studied.

Over the past four years, Schakel's team has developed three key datasets that initiate and develop a research agenda on understanding regional democracy. The Regional Electoral Democracy Dataset includes institutional and behavioural indicators on regional electoral systems and regional parliaments and executives for 6,300 unique parties, competing in 3,559 regional, national, and European elections held in 305 regions in 15 West-European countries from 1945 until 2020. In addition, the team has developed the Comparative Regional Voter Dataset which merges 410 regional elections surveys conducted in 68 regions in 8 countries into one trend file. Furthermore, Schakel's team has built the Multilevel Norwegian Voting Dataset which merges eleven rounds of the Norwegian Citizen Panel and which combines vote municipal, county, and national vote preferences of more than 3,200 citizens with their local, regional, and national attachments, centre-periphery perceptions, and assessments of the national and regional economies. Finally, Schakel's team has established and developed the European Regional Democracy Map which provides easy access to regional election results and regional political institutions for 138 regions in 12 member states of the European Union. 

Over the past four years, Schakel's team has produced 15 academic journal articles, 8 book chapters, and 5 edited special issues. These publications crack open the black box of regional voting and theorise the different ways in which subnational decentralisation and elections can affect democratic processes and outputs. In addition, the publications develop an innovative research line on public opinion towards multilevel government and citizens’ perceptions on local and regional governments in unitary countries. Many more publications by the team members will follow in the next few years including three book projects.