The Democratic Interface: Technology, Party Organization, and Diverging Patterns of Electoral Representation


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Type of work: Working Paper




Democracies are experiencing historic disruptions affecting how people engage with various core institutions such as the press, civil society organizations, parties, and elections. These processes of citizen interaction with institutions operate as a democratic interface shaping self-government and the quality of public life. The electoral dimension of the interface is important, as its operation can affect all others. This analysis explores a growing left – right imbalance in the electoral connection between citizens and government created by the party organization and communication processes that enable voter engagement. Data show that radical right parties are on the rise, while the parties on the left fail to capture comparable levels of citizen support. Surveys of European citizens reveal important differences between radical left and radical right in terms of political attitudes and engagement patterns, suggesting preferences for different kinds of political organization. Support on the right for clearer social rules and simpler moral, racial and nationalist agendas are compatible with hierarchical, leader-centered party organizations that compete effectively in elections. Parties on the left currently face greater challenges engaging citizens due to the popular meta-ideology of diversity and inclusiveness and demands for direct or deliberative democracy. What we term connective parties are developing technologies to perform core organizational functions, and some have achieved electoral success. However, when connective parties try to develop shared authority processes, online and offline, they face significant challenges competing with more conventionally organized parties on the right.