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Article

Still Consociational? Belgian Democracy, 50 Years After ‘The Politics of Accommodation’

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 1 2020
Keywords Belgium, consociational democracy, Lijphart, federalism, ethnolinguistic conflict
Authors Didier Caluwaerts and Min Reuchamps
AbstractAuthor's information

    Despite the enduring importance of Lijphart’s work for understanding democracy in Belgium, the consociational model has come under increasing threat. Owing to deep political crises, decreasing levels of trust in elites, increasing levels of ethnic outbidding and rising demands for democratic reform, it seems as if Lijphart’s model is under siege. Even though the consociational solution proved to be very capable of transforming conflict into cooperation in Belgian politics in the past, the question we raise in this article is whether and to what extent the ‘politics of accommodation’ is still applicable to Belgian democracy. Based on an in-depth analysis of the four institutional (grand coalition, proportionality, mutual veto rights and segmental autonomy) and one cultural (public passivity) criteria, we argue that consociational democracy’s very nature and institutional set-up has largely hollowed out its potential for future conflict management.


Didier Caluwaerts
Didier Caluwaerts is professor of political science at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research deals with democratic governance and innovation in deeply divided societies. With Min Reuchamps, he has recently published “The Legitimacy of Citizen-led Deliberative Democracy: The G1000 in Belgium” (Routledge, 2018).

Min Reuchamps
Min Reuchamps is professor of political science at the Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain). His teaching and research interests are federalism and multi-level governance, democracy and its different dimensions, relations between language(s) and politics and in particular the role of metaphors, as well as participatory and deliberative methods.
Literature Review

Access_open Preference Voting in the Low Countries

A Research Overview

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 1 2020
Keywords elections, electoral systems, preference voting, candidates, personalization
Authors Bram Wauters, Peter Thijssen and Patrick Van Erkel
AbstractAuthor's information

    Preference votes constitute one of the key features of (open and flexible) PR-list electoral systems. In this article, we give an extensive overview of studies conducted on preference voting in Belgium and the Netherlands. After elaborating on the definition and delineation of preference voting, we scrutinize studies about which voters cast preference votes (demand side) and about which candidates obtain preference votes (supply side). For each of these aspects, both theoretical approaches and empirical results are discussed and compared. At the same time, we also pay attention to methodological issues in these kinds of studies. As such, this research overview reads as an ideal introduction to this topic which has repercussions on many other subfields of political science.


Bram Wauters
Bram Wauters is an associate professor at the Department of Political Sciences of Ghent University, where he leads the research group GASPAR. His research interests include political representation, elections and political parties, with special attention to diversity. He has recently published in journals such as International Political Science Review, Party Politics, Political Studies, and Political Research Quarterly. He is co-editor (with Knut Heidar) of ‘Do parties still represent?’ (Routledge, 2019).

Peter Thijssen
Peter Thijssen is a professor at the Department of Political Science of the University of Antwerp, where he is a member the research group M2P (Media, Movements and Politics). His research focuses on political sociology, public opinion and political participation. He has published in such journals as British Journal of Sociology, Electoral Studies, Energy Policy, European Journal of Social Theory, Party Politics and Risk Analysis. He has co-edited ‘New Public Spheres’ (Ashgate, 2013) and ‘Political Engagement of the Young’ (Routledge, 2016).

Patrick Van Erkel
Patrick van Erkel is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Political Science of the University of Antwerp, where he is connected to the research group M2P (Media, Movements and Politics). His research interests include electoral behavior, public opinion, political communication and polarization. He has published in journals such as the European Journal of Political Research, Electoral Studies, European Political Science Review and the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties.
Article

Populism as a Visual Communication Style

An Exploratory Study of Populist Image Usage of Flemish Block/Interest in Belgium (1991-2018)

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 1 2020
Keywords Populism, image use, visual style, campaign, posters, visual, Flanders, populist right, Belgium
Authors Kevin Straetemans
AbstractAuthor's information

    This article analyses the visual communication of the Flemish populist right-wing party Vlaams Blok/Vlaams Belang, and investigates whether or not the party uses a specific populist communication style in its campaign posters, whether or not its visual style evolves over time and how the party distinguishes itself from other (right-wing) parties in its use of images. To do this, the image use will be compared with the CVP/CD&V and the Volksunie/N-VA. This use of images will be investigated by analysing election posters from 1991 to 2018. The analysis shows that there is indeed a ‘populist visual style’. These items consist mainly of (negative) metaphors, false dilemmas, caricatures and the use of so-called ‘agonic’ visual techniques.


Kevin Straetemans
Kevin Straetemans attained a Master’s degree in Political Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 2018. He is currently pursuing an Educational Master in Social Sciences at the same university. His research interests are political parties, elections, extremism, propaganda and political communication.
Research Notes

Paid Digital Campaigning During the 2018 Local Elections in Flanders

Which Candidates Jumped on the Bandwagon?

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 3 2019
Keywords local elections, candidates, campaign spending, digital campaigning
Authors Gunther Vanden Eynde, Gert-Jan Put, Bart Maddens e.a.
AbstractAuthor's information

    This research note investigates the role of paid digital campaigning in the 2018 local elections in Flanders. We make use of the official declarations which candidates are legally required to submit. In these declarations, candidates indicate whether and how much they invested in online campaigning tools during the four months preceding the elections. We collected data on a sample of 3,588 individual candidates running in the 30 municipalities of the Leuven Arrondissement. A multilevel logistic regression model shows that the odds of spending on digital campaigning increases among incumbent aldermen and local councillors. The latter finding supports the normalization thesis of digital campaigning. The results also show that scale is important – the more potential voters a candidate has, the higher the odds that the candidate invests in digital tools.


Gunther Vanden Eynde
Gunther Vanden Eynde is a doctoral researcher at the KU Leuven Public Governance Institute. His research interests include political finance, campaign spending and the social media campaigns of Belgian political parties and their candidates.

Gert-Jan Put
Gert-Jan Put is a Senior Researcher at the Research Center for Regional Economics, KU Leuven. His research focuses on candidate selection and intra-party competition, and has been published in Political Behavior, Party Politics and Electoral Studies.

Bart Maddens
Bart Maddens is a professor of political science at the KU Leuven Public Governance Institute His research interests include political finance, elections and multi-level systems. His work has been published in West European Politics, Party Politics and Electoral Studies.

Gertjan Muyters
Gertjan Muyters is a doctoral researcher at the KU Leuven Public Governance Institute. His research focuses on candidate turnover and political careers.
Article

Access_open Opening the Opaque Blank Box

An Exploration into Blank and Null Votes in the 2018 Walloon Local Elections

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 3 2019
Keywords voting, elections, blank vote, invalid vote, abstention
Authors Jean-Benoit Pilet, Maria Jimena Sanhuza, David Talukder e.a.
AbstractAuthor's information

    In this article, we propose an in-depth exploration of blank and null ballots in the recent 2018 local elections in Wallonia (Belgium). In the official results, both blank and null ballots are merged together and are classified as invalid votes. After obtaining the authorization to access genuine electoral ballots, we study the votes which were not considered for the composition of local councils in detail. The dataset is a representative sample of 13,243 invalidated ballots from 49 Walloon municipalities. We first describe how many of these invalidated ballots are blank and how many are null votes, as well as the nature of the nulled votes (unintended errors or intentionally spoiled ballots). Second, we dig deeper into the differences between ballots that have been intentionally invalidated by voters (blank votes and intentional null votes) and ballots non-intentionally invalidated. Our results show that most of the ballots (two-thirds) are null ballots and that among them, half are unintentional null ballots. Finally, we show that contextual (socio-demographic and political) factors explain the variations in intentional and unintentional null votes across municipalities.


Jean-Benoit Pilet
Jean-Benoit Pilet is professor of political science at Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). He works on elections, political parties, and democratic reforms. He has recently co-authored Faces on the Ballot. The Personalization of Electoral Systems in Europe (OUP, 2016, with Alan Renwick) and The Politics of Party Leadership (OUP, 2016, with William Cross).

Maria Jimena Sanhuza
Maria Jimena Sanhueza is PhD Researcher in Political Science at Universite Libre de Bruxelles where she is associated to three projects studying Belgian politics. Her research focuses on citizenship, representation and democracy. Before starting her PhD, Maria Jimena worked as assistant researcher for EU HORIZON 2020 projects Pathways to Power and Solidarity in Times on Crisis, and co-authored a few publications on European democracies and representation.

David Talukder
David Talukder is PhD candidate at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). He is conducting a thesis on the reform of representative democracy, looking at disadvantaged groups’ evaluation of representative democracy and demands for procedural democratic reforms. His main research interests are related to procedural democratic reforms, participatory democracy and democratic innovations.

Jérémy Dodeigne
Jérémy Dodeigne is associate professor in political science at the Université de Namur. His research areas cover the study of political representation in multilevel systems, local politics, comparative politics and mixed methods research designs. His work appears in journals such as Party Politics, American Behavioral Scientist, Local Government Studies, Regional & Federal Studies, Government & Opposition, and Representation.

Audrey E. Brennan
Audrey E. Brennan is completing a joint doctorate in political science at Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and Université Laval. Her research interests are political parties, elections, and political participation. Her dissertation studies the effect of leadership change mechanisms on the long-term behaviour of political party members.
Article

Split-Ticket Voting in Belgium

An Analysis of the Presence and Determinants of Differentiated Voting in the Municipal and Provincial Elections of 2018

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 3 2019
Keywords split-ticket voting, local elections, voting motives, Belgium, PR-system
Authors Tony Valcke and Tom Verhelst
AbstractAuthor's information

    This article tackles the particular issue of split-ticket voting, which has been largely overlooked in Belgian election studies thus far. We contribute to the literature by answering two particular research questions: (1) to what extent and (2) why do voters cast a different vote in the elections for the provincial council as compared to their vote in the elections for the municipal council?
    The article draws on survey data collected via an exit poll in the ‘Belgian Local Elections Study’, a research project conducted by an inter-university team of scholars.
    Our analysis shows that nearly 45% of the total research population cast a split-ticket vote in the local elections of 2018. However, this number drops to one out of four if we only consider a homogenous party landscape at both levels by excluding the numerous votes for ‘local’ lists (which occur mostly at the municipal level). This finding underlines the importance of accounting for the electoral and institutional context of the different electoral arenas in research on split-ticket voting in PR systems. In the Belgian context, split-ticket voting in 2018 also differed between the different parties and regions. Furthermore, it was encouraged by a higher level of education and familiarity with particular candidates. This candidate-centred and strategic voting was matched by party identification and the urban municipal context favouring straight-ticket voting. Other factors such as region, a rural municipal context and preferential voting seemed more relevant to determine voting for local parties than using the instrument of split-ticket votes as such.


Tony Valcke
Tony Valcke is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of Ghent University (Belgium). He is a member of the Centre for Local Politics (CLP) and coordinator of the Teacher Training Department. His research, publications and educational activities focus on elections and democratic participation/innovation, (the history of) political institutions and (local) government reform, political elites and leadership, citizenship (education).

Tom Verhelst
Tom Verhelst is Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at Ghent University (Belgium) and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Political Science at Maastricht University (the Netherlands). His research focuses on the Europeanisation of local government (with a particular interest for the regulatory mobilisation of local government in EU decision-making processes) and on the role and position of the local council in Belgium and the Netherlands (with a particular interest for local council scrutiny).
Research Notes

Sub-Constituency Campaigning in PR Systems

Evidence from the 2014 General Elections in Belgium

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 3 2019
Keywords Sub-constituency campaigning, PR system, political advertisements, election campaign, content analysis
Authors Jonas Lefevere, Knut De Swert and Artemis Tsoulou-Malakoudi
AbstractAuthor's information

    Sub-constituency campaigning occurs when parties focus their campaign resources on specific geographical areas within an electoral district. This behaviour was traditionally thought to occur only in single-member plurality elections, but recent research demonstrates that proportional systems with multi-member districts can also elicit sub-constituency campaigning. However, most studies of sub-constituency campaigning rely on self-reported measures of campaigning, not direct measures of campaign intensity in different regions and communities. We present novel data on geographical variations in the intensity of Flemish parties’ campaign advertising during the 2014 general elections in Belgium, which provides a direct measure of sub-constituency campaigning. Our findings show clear evidence of sub-constituency campaigning: parties campaign more intensely in municipalities where they have stronger electoral support and in municipalities with greater population density.


Jonas Lefevere
Jonas Lefevere is assistant professor at Vesalius College and the Institute for European Studies (VUB). His research interests include the strategic communication of political elites, the effects of campaign communication on political attitudes and electoral choice and the role of issue perceptions in electoral behavior.

Knut De Swert
Knut De Swert is Assistant Professor, Political Communication and Journalism, at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands). His research is situated in the field of media and politics, and mainly focuses on the quality of (political) journalism and foreign news in a comparative perspective.

Artemis Tsoulou-Malakoudi
Artemis Tsoulou-Malakoudi is a student research assistant for the EOS research project RepResent which focuses on representation and democratic resentment. She is currently following a Research Master’s at the University of Amsterdam with an interest in political communication research.
Article

Split Offer and Homogeneous Response in Belgium

The Conceptual and Empirical Limitations of (De)Nationalization

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 2 2019
Keywords (de-)nationalization, voting behaviour, party offer, voter response, methodological nationalism
Authors Luana Russo, Kris Deschouwer and Tom Verthé
AbstractAuthor's information

    By examining the Belgian case, this article aims to show that methodological nationalism is strongly present in the literature on nationalization of party offer and voting behaviour. In nationalization studies, Belgium is often presented as a typical example of a denationalized country. This is true for the party offer, as it is de facto split between the two language groups since the 1980s, and therefore also voter response at the national level. However, voter response within each separate subnational party system is very homogeneous and shows interesting differences between these party systems that inform us about important electoral dynamics. We argue, on the basis of our results, that rather than stretching the concept of nationalization, it is preferable and justified to treat the concepts of nationalization of the party offer and homogenization of voter response as analytically distinct and not as two sides of the same coin.


Luana Russo
Luana Russo, Maastricht University.

Kris Deschouwer
Kris Deschouwer, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Tom Verthé
Tom Verthé, Ghent University & Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Article

Fiscal Consolidation in Federal Belgium

Collective Action Problem and Solutions

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 2 2019
Keywords fiscal consolidation, fiscal policy, federalism, intergovernmental relations, High Council of Finance
Authors Johanna Schnabel
AbstractAuthor's information

    Fiscal consolidation confronts federal states with a collective action problem, especially in federations with a tightly coupled fiscal regime such as Belgium. However, the Belgian federation has successfully solved this collective action problem even though it lacks the political institutions that the literature on dynamic federalism has identified as the main mechanisms through which federal states achieve cooperation across levels of government. This article argues that the regionalization of the party system, on the one hand, and the rationalization of the deficit problem by the High Council of Finance, on the other, are crucial to understand how Belgium was able to solve the collective action problem despite its tightly coupled fiscal regime and particularly high levels of deficits and debts. The article thus emphasizes the importance of compromise and consensus in reducing deficits and debts in federal states.


Johanna Schnabel
School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent, Rutherford College, Canterbury CT2 7NX, United Kingdom.
Article

Consensus Democracy and Bureaucracy in the Low Countries

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 1 2019
Keywords consensus democracy, bureaucracy, governance system, Lijphart, policymaking
Authors Frits van der Meer, Caspar van den Berg, Charlotte van Dijck e.a.
AbstractAuthor's information

    Taking Lijphart’s work on consensus democracies as our point of departure, we signal a major shortcoming in Lijphart’s focus being almost exclusively on the political hardware of the state structure, leaving little attention for the administrative and bureaucratic characteristics of governance systems. We propose to expand the Lijphart’s model which overviews structural aspects of the executive and the state with seven additional features of the bureaucratic system. We argue that these features are critical for understanding the processes of policymaking and service delivery. Next, in order to better understand the functioning of the Netherlands and Belgium as consensus democracies, we provide a short analysis of the historical context and current characteristics of the political-administrative systems in both countries.


Frits van der Meer
Frits van der Meer, Professor Institute Public Administration, Leiden University.

Caspar van den Berg
Caspar van den Berg, Campus Fryslân, University of Groningen.

Charlotte van Dijck
Charlotte van Dijck, PhD Fellow Research Foundation Flanders (FWO), KU Leuven Public Governance Institute.

Gerrit Dijkstra
Gerrit Dijkstra, Senior Lecturer, Leiden University.

Trui Steen
Trui Steen, Professor, KU Leuven Public Governance Institute.
Literature review

Consensualism, Democratic Satisfaction, Political Trust and the Winner-Loser Gap

State of the Art of Two Decades of Research

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 1 2019
Keywords consensualism, majoritarianism, political trust, satisfaction with democracy, Lijphart
Authors Tom van der Meer and Anna Kern
AbstractAuthor's information

    Lijphart (1999) argued that citizens tend to be more satisfied with democracy in consensual democracies than in majoritarian democracies and that the gap in democratic satisfaction between the winners and the losers of elections is smaller under consensualism. Twenty years on since then, this article takes stock of the literature on consensualism and political support. We find considerable ambiguity in the theoretical arguments and empirical evidence provided in this literature. Finally, we speculate on possible reasons for this ambiguity.


Tom van der Meer
Tom van der Meer, University of Amsterdam.

Anna Kern
Anna Kern, Ghent University.
Article

Access_open Do Characteristics of Consociational Democracies Still Apply to Belgian Parties?

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 1 2019
Keywords Belgium, political parties, party membership, political participation, political representation
Authors Emilie Van Haute and Bram Wauters
AbstractAuthor's information

    Belgium has long been described as a typical case of a consociational or consensus democracy. This article aims at identifying whether political parties in Belgium share the internal characteristics of parties in consensus democracies: passive mass memberships, the importance of purposive and material incentives for joining, and representation of a clear subculture in the social and attitudinal profiles of their members and via overlapping memberships with related organizations. We mobilize longitudinal party membership data and party member surveys conducted in three different time periods. We show that pillar parties still exercise their role of mobilization and representation of societal segments, but these segments tend to become smaller over time. New parties offer alternative options of mobilization and representation, although not always in line with the specific institutional arrangements of consociational democracy.


Emilie Van Haute
Emilie Van Haute, Cevipol, Université libre de Bruxelles.

Bram Wauters
Bram Wauters, Research Group GASPAR, Ghent University.
Article

Transformative Welfare Reform in Consensus Democracies

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 1 2019
Keywords consensus democracy, welfare state, social investment, transformative reform, Belgium and the Netherlands
Authors Anton Hemerijck and Kees van Kersbergen
AbstractAuthor's information

    This article takes up Lijphart’s claim that consensus democracy is a ‘kinder, gentler’ form of democracy than majoritarian democracy. We zoom in on contemporary welfare state change, particularly the shift towards social investment, and argue that the kinder, gentler hypothesis remains relevant. Consensus democracies stand out in regard to the extent to which their political institutions help to overcome the politically delicate intricacies of governing for the long term. We theorize the features that can help to solve the problem of temporal commitment in democracy through processual mechanisms and illustrate these with short case studies of the contrasting welfare state reform experiences in the Netherlands and Belgium.


Anton Hemerijck
Anton Hemerijck is Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the European University Institute (EUI) in Florence, Italy.

Kees van Kersbergen
Kees van Kersbergen is Professor of Comparative Politics at the Department of Political Science of Aarhus University, Denmark.
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