Previous research has shown a steady decline of citizen’s political trust and growing skepticism towards key institutions of representative democracy. Political parties, which perform the crucial role of linking citizens to the political system, are in the eye of the storm: citizens are generally more distrusting towards parties than other social and political institutions. The relevant literature mentions that parties often implement intra-party democratization to remedy party distrust. This article examines whether democratic candidate selection processes actually affect party trust among voters. The analysis is based on the cases of Belgium and Israel, where politicians made a strong case for intra-party democracy in recent history. The results indicate that, while inclusive selectorates indeed increase trust levels, decentralization decreases trust towards parties in both countries.
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While the effect of selectorate on trust level is presented (and tested empirically) as a meso-level predictor, one can hypothesize that selectorate effect on trust levels will differ across individual respondents. As individual voters are the ones that react to the differing stimuli from the selection procedures, their individual characteristics might determine whether they respond to democratization of selection process positively (according to H1a), or negatively (according to H1b). This rationale is similar to the one presented by Van der Brug (2004) who argued that the degree to which issue ownership explains individual voters' electoral choices is dependent on ideology. Similarly, Vegetti (2014) demonstrate how partisanship affects the manner by which voters process information about parties, such that partisans are more likely to regard their preferred party as the most competent and the closest to them ideologically. These findings are especially important in light of our research design, whereby we nest voters within parties based on their support in the party. Given this rationale and our research design, voters may react positively to democratization, in light of their partisan support in the party. However, if Vegetti's rationale was at work, we should have seen no effect for democratization of the selectorate, as respondents were nested within the parties they supported irrespective of whether that party used primaries or a single leader to select its candidates. Nonetheless, given Vegetti's rationale it might be that if voters were asked to record their trust level towards each and every party in the system, our results might have been different. Unfortunately, neither the Israeli nor the Belgian surveys provide us with such detailed account of voters' trust levels towards all parties.
The legislative sessions for each country were chosen based on data availability of both, selection processes and survey data.
Note that two of the surveys (2003 and 2009) were conducted shortly after the elections took place. The 2006 survey, on the other hand, was in the field prior to the elections. Ideally we would have like to have an identical partisan vote question for all legislative terms. Moreover, the ideal type of a nesting question would have asked respondents in a post-election survey which party did they vote for in the elections, or in a pre-election survey it would have asked them if the elections were held today which party would they vote for. Indeed, the 2006 question falls squarely into this ideal type, but the 2003 and 2009 questions do not. Unfortunately the surveys contained no other information we could use to overcome this pitfall.
The response rate for the European Social Survey for 2008 stood at 58.9% and for 2010 stood at 53.4%. For the 1995, 1999, and 2003 elections, data from the Belgian General Election Study were used. This survey is a combination of panel data and random cross-sectional data on new respondents. This group of new respondents was added to include first time voters and to compensate for non-responses in the panel group. In 1995, the response rate was 65.4% for Flemishes and 51.3% for francophones. In 1999, these percentages were, respectively, 63.7% and 36.4%. Finally, in 2003, the reported response rates for both groups was 64.4% and 64.5%. The Israeli IDI surveys, do not specify, unfortunately, any information concerning response rates.
Since the outcome variable is ordinal we also estimated a two-level ordered logit hierarchical model, for each country (see the on-line appendix). Substantive results are similar to the ones presented in the paper, especially concerning the effect of selection processes, and we therefore chose to present the more easily interpretable results.
See online appendix for details.
In Israel, we could not include treatment contrast for both selectorate and centralization, as this led to perfect multicollinearity. Therefore, we only include contrast for the selectorate variable.
See: descriptive statistics in the on-line appendix.
The initiative to draft a model list was assigned to the bureau of the district party. Afterwards the national party board had the possibility to make a number of modifications to this list. Finally the assemblies of member delegates at the district level were expected to approve the model lists.
The initiative was still taken at the district level, where the majority of the district parties created an informal and highly exclusive list formation committee to coordinate the process. The first draft of the candidate list needed to be ratified by the bureau of the district party. Afterwards it was passed to the national level where the general assembly ratified the lists of all of the districts. In the final step, all members had the possibility to ratify or reject the proposed list through member polls at the district level.
Regrettably, the 1996 INES did not ask respondents the battery of questions about trust in institutions. We therefore, cannot directly ascertain the relationship between perceptions about primaries and citizens' trust in parties.
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Shomer, Y., Put, GJ. & Gedalya-Lavy, E. Does intra-party democracy affect levels of trust in parties? The cases of Belgium and Israel. Acta Polit 53, 167–183 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-017-0044-2