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The Europe of ElitesA Study into the Europeanness of Europe's Political and Economic Elites$

Heinrich Best, György Lengyel, and Luca Verzichelli

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199602315

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199602315.001.0001

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The elites–masses gap in European integration

The elites–masses gap in European integration

Chapter:
(p.167) 8 The elites–masses gap in European integration
Source:
The Europe of Elites
Author(s):

Wolfgang C. Müller

Marcelo Jenny

Alejandro Ecker

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199602315.003.0008

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter makes one conceptual and one empirical contribution to the study of the elite–masses gap in European integration. While most research focuses on substantive representation of voter opinions by MPs, under the ‘issue congruence paradigm’ we consider the entire chain of delegation from voters, to MPs, to governments. Representation gaps are measured as resulting from the two-step aggregation process of preferences typical for party democracies (first step within and the second between political parties). Specifically, the chapter looks at key projects towards a fully integrated Europe, such as common European foreign-, defence-, social security-, and tax-policy, and EU cohesion policy, that are already in place, agreed in principle, or are prominent when deepening European integration is the aim. Of the 15 countries covered in this book, the gaps are particularly large in Britain, Denmark, Germany, and Austria in Western Europe, and Estonia and Poland in Eastern Europe.

Keywords:   elite–masses gap, mass–elite congruence, policy congruence, European integration, median voter, median member of parliament, median government MP, political delegation, preference aggregation, representation gap

8.1 Introduction

The elite–masses gap is notorious in European integration. Throughout the history of the European integration project, pro-European elites have been moving ahead with measures leading to ever closer integration and presenting the citizens with a series of fait accompli to which they then gradually became accustomed. The Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean‐Claude Juncker, expressed this quite freely in an interview concerning the working of the EU Council of Ministers:

We decree something, then float it and wait some time to see what happens. If no clamour occurs and no big fuss follows, because most people do not grasp what had been decided, we continue––step by step, until the point of no return is reached. (Der Spiegel, No. 52, 1999, our translation)

Indeed, it is widely believed that many of the major moves in the European integration process that are largely accepted by the public today would probably have failed if there had been a referendum at the time of decision making.

Regardless whether the above is true, we need to consider why an elite–masses gap is relevant to the issue of European integration and the extent to which a cross-sectional study can contribute to such a debate. First, the recent referendums on European integration in France, Ireland, and The Netherlands that rejected important elite arguments for moves towards deeper integration made it clear that European citizens are no longer acquiescent, even in countries not known for having a troubled relationship with ‘Europe’. As the effects of European integration come closer to the everyday lives of citizens and gain salience, party competition is picking up the subject. Issue entrepreneurs (p.168) of small parties, also more extreme on other dimensions than the established parties, were the first ones to exploit the EU issue (Franklin and van der Eijk 2004). Yet, taking a critical attitude towards aspects of the European integration process is no longer the exclusive province of outsider parties. The more successful these outsider parties are, and the more the integration process affects the core concerns of established parties, the less these established parties can afford to remain unqualified supporters of further integration (Hooghe and Marks 2008). Given these circumstances, elites in established parties have to be careful about the magnitude of the representation gap: too large a gap can cause ‘big fuss’––to use Juncker’s terms (see earlier quote)––and thereby harm both established parties and the European integration project.

Political elites, therefore, need to be concerned about the representation gap, as too large a gap can backfire and jeopardize their electoral, office, and policy goals. However, there is no natural metric with which to measure the gap and no certainty about what kind of divergence between elites and the masses will result in trouble. Nor are national elites free to choose their fate. Being confronted with demands from their European partners and EU institutions on the one hand and national constraints on the other may be similar to being caught between a rock and a hard place. In addition, national political opportunity structures may differ widely and a similar magnitude of the elites–masses gap may be inconsequential in some systems but constitute major challenges in others. We cannot address or even resolve all these problems in the present chapter. Rather, we confine ourselves to measuring representation gaps as they emerge from various dimensions of the European integration project and different modes of preference aggregation. We proceed by looking at key projects towards a fully integrated Europe that are either already in place, agreed in principle, or which loom prominently on the agenda when deepening European integration is the aim. These are the common European foreign, defence, social security, and tax policies, and the EU cohesion policy. In so doing we make the simplifying assumption that cross-national differences in the magnitude of the elite–masses gap are valid measures of the tensions over the European integration project in the member states at the given point in time. The larger the elite–masses gaps in these areas, the greater the challenges faced by the elites.

The present chapter makes two contributions, one conceptual and one empirical. Most research under the ‘issue congruence paradigm’, originally proposed by Miller and Stokes (1963), focuses on substantive representation of voter opinions by members of parliament (MPs; see Powell 2004). Given the relevance of government in parliamentary systems we propose to extend that perspective by considering the entire chain of delegation from voters, to MPs, to governments (Strøm, Müller, and Bergman 2003), and hence to evaluate the gap between elites and masses in terms of political outcomes. To this end, we (p.169) develop an outcome-oriented approach that is based on stylized models of the political process. Our approach is novel in that it measures representation gaps as resulting from the two-step aggregation process of preferences that is typical for party democracies, whereby the first step takes place within political parties, and the second step between them. By taking into account actual inter-party coalitions and the key role of governments in making public policy in general and EU policy in particular, our approach is also more realistic than others that compare elite opinions in parliament with voter opinions. Admittedly, that makes our results sensitive to changing patterns of party alliances and the parties’ government or opposition status.

Finally, we want to be clear that we are not claiming to measure policy outcomes in a narrow sense. Rather, we estimate the outcomes of the political representation process under the assumption of specific rules of preference aggregation. In a world without technical and political constraints,1 our measure of policies preferred by the government and real policy outputs should be equal. Clearly, real world situations satisfy the above conditions to very different degrees.

Our empirical contribution is measuring the elites–masses gaps in fifteen EU member states with regard to central issues of European integration in 2007 by drawing on the unique data collected by the IntUne project (see Chapters 1 and 11, this volume).

We begin by surveying how representation studies have measured the degree of ‘policy correspondence’ between citizens and political elites, and by discussing a number of conceptual issues. Then we present our approach to the topic. Next we compare the views of political and economic elites with those of voters. In the concluding section we discuss some potential implications of our results for the European integration process and its democratic legitimacy.

8.2 How to Study Policy Congruence

The rich literature on policy representation offers many ways of comparing the opinions of masses and elites and of measuring the gap between the two. It has also resulted in very different substantive conclusions about the quality of representation and what accounts for such differences (for excellent literature reviews see Powell 2004; and Golder and Stramski 2010). As Powell (2004) and Mattila and Raunio (2006) have noted with regard to the contributions in Miller et al. (1999), the peaceful coexistence of research results and conclusions (p.170) about the quality of representation could remain as long as different methods of comparing mass and elite attitudes were applied to different data sets. However, more recent research demonstrates that different methods applied to the same data can lead to different conclusions concerning the size of representation gaps and the factors that cause them.2 It is important, therefore, to be aware of the choice of methods available and the possible consequences of each choice.

8.2.1 Conceptual Issues

What Is The Appropriate Elite Group?

Empirical research on policy representation began in the United States, with researchers comparing the policy preferences of the voters in single-seat constituencies with the policy choices of the individual representatives they had elected (Miller and Stokes 1963; Rehfeld 2005). Subsequent empirical analyses and models aggregated the representative agents into groups and extended the level of aggregation on the side of the voters to both ends of the scale, from a single voter to the national electorate (e.g. Weisberg 1978). In the context of European democracies, political parties are key to the structuring of the opinions and behaviour of voters and politicians. The pair-wise comparison of party voters and party politicians was originally proposed by Barnes (1977) and is now common to empirical representation research in European party democracies. The chain of delegation has also been extended from the voters–MP relation to the voters–government relation (Huber and Powell 1994).

Although we address both relations in this chapter, we remain ultimately interested in the existence of representation gaps between voters and governments. This is the core of policy representation and it seems particularly relevant with regard to European integration. Although national parliaments appear to have increased their scrutiny of EU affairs in the most recent period (p.171) of the European integration process (e.g. Aurel and Benz 2005; Raunio 2009), it continues to be elite driven (Haller 2008).

Unfortunately, practical problems render it impossible to measure government preferences and voters’ opinions directly with the same methods and metric. One possible strategy is resorting to estimate government positions from other sources, such as party manifestos, coalition agreements, or government declarations, but this requires the making of quite a few potentially consequential assumptions. Another common approach has been to calculate government preferences from party positions identified by expert surveys (e.g. Huber and Powell 1994). We follow a different strategy. While it is not without assumptions, we consider those we make more intuitive than those behind approaches that extract position data from political texts or use expert ratings instead of political actor data. Specifically, we consider the cabinet under parliamentary government as a kind of parliamentary committee. While access to this most exclusive club hinges on several factors, ‘party’ is the one that most systematically discriminates between parliament and government: some parties are represented in the cabinet and others are not. Moreover, research on politicians’ policy positions shows that party membership is typically their strongest determinant, clearly outperforming other factors (e.g. Putnam 1973). Further, cabinet members are ultimately accountable to parliament and depend on the trust and support of their parliamentary parties (Müller 2000; Strøm 2003). Our method, therefore, is to calculate government policy positions from the answers of government parties’ MPs to our survey questions.

Positions Versus Direction And Salience

According to the Downsian framework (Downs 1957), politicians should mirror the preferences of their voters and hence take positions very similar, if not identical, to those of their constituents. Any relevant differences found in empirical studies, therefore, suggest that representation does not work, and indeed, the bulk of the empirical representation literature seems to proceed from that understanding. Note, however, that in the literature on voting and party competition several other approaches have gained prominence. One such refinement is incorporating the policy status quo; another is to allow for some difference between the parties’ promises and their ability to deliver public policy or even outcomes (Merrill and Grofman 1999; Adams, Merrill, and Grofman 2005). Once the status quo is taken into account and parties’ claims for making public policy have been discounted, a party that takes a position far from that of the voters may be acting more in the voters’ interests than the party closest to the voters.

Downsian proximity models have been challenged more fundamentally by directional theory (Rabinowitz and Macdonald 1989). In this vein, Valen (p.172) and Narud (2007) claim that it is the directional mechanism that drives representation: it works when politicians take positions that promise to move the status quo in the direction favoured by the voters and in so doing take more extreme positions than the voters.

Finally, proximity models may be challenged from a salience perspective. Appealing to that reasoning, Schmitt and Thomassen argue that the difference in importance voters and representatives attach to an issue might be the better indicator than the difference in position with regard to the issue:

Issue effects on the vote are more pronounced for issue competence attributions than for parties’ policy positions. This is consequential also for the measurement of political representation. Following the competence logic, measures of issue congruence should be based on issue salience rather than issue positions. A close match between voters’ and elites’ views is then indicated by similar salience rather than distances in their policy positions. (2000: 335 n. 2)

All these different approaches to classic issue proximity have strong micro-foundations, and it would be fascinating to engage with these theories empirically to see whether they lead to substantively different results than the issue proximity approach. Yet, although the IntUne project has established a unique and rich database, its strength is more in breadth than depth. While we can study issue proximity of elites and citizens in fifteen countries, for the first time covering both long-standing and relatively new democracies, we cannot explore all theoretical approaches to political representation empirically. For this reason, we focus on the classic concept of issue proximity and discuss what our results mean within the directional framework.

Absolute Versus Relative Congruence

Until recently, the literature on representation has focused almost exclusively on ‘absolute congruence’––the absolute distance between citizens and their representatives. As Golder and Stramski (2010) show, this measure is useful for some purposes but less so for others. For instance, it is a poor measure for revealing how good politicians are at their job in representing the citizenry. This is because absolute distance is highly contingent on the dispersion of preferences among the citizens. As a result of such differences, representatives doing a poor job in pleasing their voters can score more highly in terms of absolute distance than representatives who are doing their utmost but technically cannot come closer to their voters in the aggregate. Golder and Stramski (2010) have therefore proposed a new measure––relative citizen congruence––that takes into account the dispersion of citizen preferences. In this chapter, however, we are less interested in the fairness of how the performance of representatives is evaluated than in a very real problem of European integration––the notorious masses–elites gap. For this reason, we focus exclusively on absolute congruence.

(p.173) 8.2.2 Measurement Issues

Alternative Data

Representation studies employ a range of different types of data: population surveys, elite surveys, expert surveys, judgements of single experts, and data derived from the coding of party documents. Most studies face the problem that their data have severe limitations, forcing the researchers to make more or less heroic assumptions. This is most obvious when party positions, government positions, and the position of the median voter are derived purely from party manifestos (McDonald, Mendes, and Budge 2004; Kim and Fording 1998). Some studies combine party manifesto data (which serve to establish elite positions) with voter surveys (Carruba 2001; Powell 2009), but they face the problem that the data use different metrics. While voter positions can be directly observed by asking relevant questions, establishing party positions from manifestos requires the researchers to make assumptions that are highly contested in the academic debate (Laver, Benoit, and Garry 2003). In this way, representation studies drawing on the Comparative Manifestos Project (CMP) data buy themselves into the specific assumptions of this project. Many representation studies avoid such measurement problems by drawing on expert judgements and asking the experts to place the parties on the same scale used for the voters.3 Nevertheless, it remains contested to what extent expert surveys can substitute for ‘real’ data (i.e. data originating from the parties; Mair 2001). Finally, using population surveys (such as the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) data) for establishing both the voter and party positions (Blais and Bodet 2006; Golder and Stramski 2010; Mattila and Raunio 2006) has the limitation of comparing the actual self-placement of voters with mere perceptions of party positions. This may be highly relevant for some research questions, but less so for others. Many national representation studies, therefore, rely on elite surveys,4 and although such surveys come with their own problems, asking a sample of national-level politicians about their policy positions might nevertheless be the most convincing strategy with which to ascertain party positions. The sheer magnitude and complexity of conducting such surveys, however, has tended to limit such research to single-country or small-set comparative studies (e.g. Kitschelt et al. 1999; Holmberg 2000), and few studies concerned with representation in the context of European integration have employed elite survey data (Schmitt and (p.174) Thomassen 1999, 2000; Thomassen and Schmitt 1997; Wessels 1995; Hooghe 2003).

Compared to the extant studies of European representation, the IntUne study has a competitive advantage in that it can draw on separate data sources for populations and elites, that is, on individual data on both the mass and elite levels. A further advantage is that it uses the same metric to establish policy positions in both cases. Compared to the previous elite surveys in the EU context, the IntUne study also distinguishes itself by focussing on a more clearly defined elite group (compared to Hooghe 2003) and a group higher up the hierarchy (compared to Schmitt and Thomassen 1999, 2000; and Thomassen and Schmitt 1997 who studied candidates rather than MPs). By relying on telephone or face-to-face interviews, the present survey also avoids the problem of uncertainty about the identity of respondents that can plague written surveys. Finally, we also avoid (or at least contain) the problem of different countries having different policy spaces that is most virulent when abstract scales (such as a 10-point left–right scale) are used. Rather than using such scales, we employ specific policy issues, although admittedly this cannot guarantee that survey respondents from different pools think about these issues in the same way.

The major disadvantage of the method employed here, of course, is that it is tremendously costly and, while mass surveys are unlikely to run out of respondents, elite surveys probably will when too many such demands are made upon the scarce time of politicians. Consequently, the double-survey method used here can only be employed on rare occasions. It is imperative, therefore, that our results help shape methods for future research to derive elite positions from other sources, such as population and manifesto data.

Aggregate Measures Versus Comparing Distributions

In comparing voters and elites, we compare opinion distributions within two groups. Having two samples, as is typical for empirical studies, means that the standard problem of inference to their populations applies. The sample distributions can be compared by using the full set of available cases or, more often in the social sciences, through a small set of summary statistics, or even a single summary measure of a distributional characteristic. Data analysis groups them into measures of location, spread, and shape. The representation literature has focussed on measures of location like the arithmetic mean and the median and we will follow this path in this chapter. However, it is worth pointing out that directly comparing two distributions instead of their summary statistics is a viable alternative approach (Achen 1978; Golder and Stramski 2010).

(p.175) Quantitative Asymmetry

Political delegation is about relationships that are quantitatively highly asymmetric.5 In fact, the process of delegation from voters through parliament to government evokes the image of a funnel, with the number of actors becoming dramatically smaller at each step in the chain of delegation.6 This does not imply that the smaller group will exhibit a smaller dispersion of opinions, as dispersion is a relative measure. However, another effect can occur. Given the difficulties of collecting elite data, there is a danger that the size of the elite sample may be so small that the robustness of any findings concerning the level of policy congruence is called into question. The IntUne project protected itself from this problem by employing short scales in its survey questions that provide a ‘natural’ barrier against excessive outlier influence. We thus expect our results to be quite robust.

8.3 Theoretical Framework

We use a highly stylized version of the decision-making process in a polity with three collective actors: voters, parliament, and government, which builds on and extends previous work (Huber and Powell 1994; Kitschelt et al. 1999; Powell 2000). We treat each group as a collective decision-making body. At stage one, it is the voters who make a collective decision; at stage two, it is MPs organized in parliamentary parties; and at stage three, it is the subset of MPs who belong to the government parties. The three groups are connected by a chain of delegation. For the purpose of assessing the functioning of representation, we need to look at three dyads: voters–parliament, parliament–government, and voters–government.

With regard to single-peaked preferences on a one-dimensional issue, Black (1948) has shown that the policy position of the median voter should be the outcome of voting in committee; a small collective decision-making body that is able to move back and forth in its deliberations and to reintroduce proposals to votes until the process converges on an equilibrium. On the other hand, Huber and Powell argued that, in a social choice situation over a single issue, the median voter position beats the mean position on normative and empirical grounds:

Since the mean minimizes the sum of the squared distances, it gives greater weight to cases more distant from the center. We see no justification in democratic theory (p.176) for permitting minorities to prevail over majorities or for giving greater weight to ideologically extreme citizens. Indeed, there is no evidence to suggest that ideologically extreme citizens hold their positions more intensely, which might be the one possible, but hotly debatable, justification for weighting them more heavily. (1994: 296)

We concur with these arguments and rely on the median voter position to represent the policy positions of the electorate, and on the position of the median MP within each party to represent individual parties. For single party governments, the median MP of the government party also represents the government position. Determining a government position is less trivial for coalition governments. A coalition government’s position should be derived from the set of positions advanced by individual government parties. To take into account differences in party size, various authors have weighted these positions––either the individual government parties’ vote shares, legislative seat shares (among all parties or government parties only), or cabinet seat shares––when calculating means or medians (e.g. Kitschelt et al. 1999; Budge and Laver 1992; Warwick 2001).

However, the median results in implausible and empirically wrong positions for coalition governments. Regardless of the type of weights used, the median of the government of a two-party coalition will always be where the median MP of the larger government party is. A two-party coalition with unequally sized partners and a single-party government of the larger party would then take the same value. This runs counter to the long-established, empirically robust ‘law of proportionality’ (Gamson 1961; Warwick and Druckman 2006), which states that coalition parties distribute the important spoils of government participation (e.g. cabinet seats) according to their relative share of legislative seats among themselves. We expect this logic to extend to the policy positions of a coalition government. Following the ‘proportionality norm’, we therefore calculate the position of a coalition government as a weighted arithmetic mean.

8.3.1 Two Models of Representation: Institutions versus Parties

We now present our two models for the aggregate outcomes at the three stages (Table 8.1). In the first model, the aggregate outcome is calculated by a simple aggregation over all members of the respective groups (voters, members of parliament, member of government parties). In the second model, we introduce political parties (Müller and Jenny 2000). Accordingly, in each of the parliamentary and government stages, the aggregation process is of a two-step nature that occurs first within the individual parties and then between them in the relevant institutional arena––the parliament or the government (party democracy model). We argue that this more complex aggregation (p.177)

Table 8.1. Two models of collective outcomes

Stage

Institutional model

Party democracy model

(Single-step aggregation at each stage)

(Two-step aggregation at the parliamentary and government stages)

Voters

Median voter

Median voter

Parliament

Median MP

Median party

Government

Median government MP

Weighted mean of government parties’ medians

model, though still stylized, is more realistic in modern parliamentary democracies than a purely institutionalist perspective with single-step aggregation in each of the institutions (institutional model).

At the first stage, both models access voters’ choice in the same way, namely, we consider the collective outcome at the voters’ stage as a kind of referendum over the different options available. From our survey data, we calculate the median position and take this to represent the voters’ choice.

At the second stage we calculate the parliament’s position. Here the models diverge. In contrast to other studies,7 we distinguish between the median MP and the median party. We identify the position of the median MP in a single-step aggregation of all members of parliament (institutional model), whereas the position of the median party is the outcome of a two-step process of aggregation. With regard to the latter, in the first step we calculated the median position within each party, and in a second step, we chose the median of the party medians, which is the measure used in our party democracy model. A central function of parties is to channel the opinions of their voters into one or more positions in policy space that are then represented in parliament by the party MPs. Party decision making precedes parliamentary decision making, and strong parties (Krehbiel 1993, 1998) are able to aggregate the variety of opinions held by their MPs to a single type of voting behaviour––the party line. The party line that is adopted for a parliamentary vote is the result of a process of internal deliberation and negotiation among members of the same party. Thus, Black’s (1948) model of committee decision making is a reasonable approximation of this process, which leads us to the median MP’s position as the outcome of the intra-party vote.

At the third stage, the models differ again. In the institutional model, the government’s position is that of the government legislator who occupies (p.178) the median position within the block of government MPs, although this is a rather unrealistic assumption in the case of coalition governments. In the party democracy model, we replace the government position with a weighted mean of the medians of all government parties, where the weights represent the government parties’ shares of the legislative seats held by government MPs. This follows the logic of Gamson’s (1961) ‘law of proportionality’ in the distribution of cabinet seats. For single-party governments, the two models produce the same outcome as the government’s position.

To test the three stages of our models (see Table 8.2), we used the case of Germany and an item from a battery of questions on mass and elite support for further Europeanized policies. This item asked interviewees to state whether they were in favour or against a common system of social security in the European Union and was scored against a 5-point scale, where 1 indicated strongly against, 3 was the neutral mid-point, and 5 indicated strongly in favour. (More details on survey construction and testing, and on data collection, can be found in Chapter 11, this volume.)

Results showed that the German median voter is somewhat supportive of the idea of a common system of social security in the European Union, whereas the median German Bundestag MP in the institutional model exhibits a slightly negative attitude towards the idea, being situated at scale point 2 (somewhat against). Given that Germany was ruled by a grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats at the time of the surveys in 2007, the distribution of opinions of the government MPs is very similar to the complete set of opinions of all members of the Bundestag. In other words, the median government MP holds the same somewhat unfavourable view of a common system of social security in the EU as the median Bundestag MP.

Table 8.2. Institutional model and party democracy model outcomes: the example of Germany

Stage

Institutional model

Party democracy model

(Single-step aggregation at the parliamentary and government stages)

(Two-step aggregation at the parliamentary and government stages)

Voters

Median voter

Median voter

Somewhat in favour (4)

Somewhat in favour (4)

Parliament

Median MP

Median party

Somewhat against (2)

Somewhat in favour (4)

Government

Median government MP

Weighted mean of government

Somewhat against (2)

parties’ medians

Neither/nor (3)

Note: Question on support for ‘a common system of social security in the EU’.

Scale: Strongly against (1),

somewhat against (2),

neither/nor (3),

somewhat in favour (4),

strongly in favour (5).

(p.179) In the two-step aggregation process in the party democracy model, the procedure followed to locate the median voter’s position is identical to that followed in the institutional model. In the second and third stages, the procedures diverge, as do the outcomes. For the parliamentary stage in the party democracy model, we first need to identify the median positions of the five parliamentary parties. The median MPs of both the German Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Liberals (FDP) are somewhat against the proposal. The median MPs of the three parties to the left in the Bundestag, the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens (die Grünen), and the Left (die Linke), are all somewhat in favour of further Europeanization. As these three left-leaning parties held more seats than the two rightist parties, the position of the median party in parliament is also somewhat in favour of a common system of social security. The Government’s position––based on the answers of the MPs from the two government parties CDU/CSU and SPD––is situated at the neutral position at scale point 3. The two government parties are almost equal in size; therefore, the common government position is situated at almost equal distance in between the two party positions.

Comparing the two models over the three stages, we see different outcomes at the parliamentary and government stages. In both models, the German voters would have chosen a different option to that calculated for their government, which shows that aggregation procedures can make a difference in terms of the outcomes at the parliamentary and government stages, as well as for the resulting size of the gaps between voters and the political elite.

As we will see in the next section, the outcomes of the two models at the parliamentary and government stages are very similar and often identical. The preference distributions of different parties need to diverge to some extent in order to let ‘strong parties’, who impose a party line on their MPs, or intra-coalition negotiations, have a distinct effect on the outcome. If the distributions are very similar, the alternative procedures of the party democracy model will have no effect.

The empirical applications that we present also include the positions of the national economic elites (defined as top managers and economic lobbyists––see Chapters 1 and 11 in this volume for sample details). This enables us to describe the gap between voters and economic elites as well as the gap between the economic elite and the government, but we do not try to incorporate the preferences of economic elites into the framework of democratic political delegation from voters to government, as this would overstretch the concept. However, the economic elite is, without doubt, a very important reference group for a government, and opinions on European integration voiced by members of a national economic elite can influence MPs and even voters.

While overall we would expect national business elites to take a more positive perspective on European integration than citizens in general, we (p.180) need to be aware that individual business firms and sectors may not always welcome the stiffer competition and market rules imposed by the EU. We make no assumption about a collective decision-making process in the economic elite by choosing the ordinary median to represent the group’s position. Rather, we bank on its quality as a robust measure that is less prone to outliers than the mean.

8.4 The Elites–Masses Gap in European Integration

Our empirical analysis draws on surveys conducted in fifteen West and East Central European countries with members of national parliaments, with CEOs and other persons who belong to the national economic elite, and with voters. In this chapter, we concentrate on items of a prospective nature that represent five distinctive integration ‘projects’. One can be characterized as a strengthening of current policy (more help to the regions), one as a goal that is accepted in principle but has not yet been attained (a single foreign policy), and three that represent new goals (a common tax system, a common social security system, and a European army).

We will first present figures that depict the positions of the voters, the economic elite, the political elite, and the national governments in the fifteen countries with regard to the five items described. The positions of MPs and governments are based on the two-step aggregation procedure of our party democracy model. We then turn to showing the size of the gaps between the various groups based on an index of the five items and compare the results of aggregation according to the institutional and party democracy models.

Altogether we draw on a total of 1145 MPs (for whom we have complete data) and 15,115 voters, and 608 business managers. Answer refusals and ‘Don’t know’ answers to specific items were quite prevalent in the voter surveys whereas they were almost non-existent in the surveys among MPs and business managers. The ‘More support for EU regions in economic or social difficulties’ item collected the smallest share of refusals and ‘Don’t knows’ overall, while the ‘Common European tax system’ item collected the highest share. More help for the regions indeed seemed to be the easiest of the five policy issues for people with minimal interest in or minimal knowledge of politics to answer. We excluded answer refusals and ‘Don’t knows’ ahead of calculating the voter and elite positions. In some countries, the item regarding defence policy resulted in spontaneous ‘Neither’ answers to the volunteered choice between ‘European army’, ‘national army’, or ‘both’. For some countries, e.g. Bulgaria, the median depends on whether and how we incorporate the ‘Neither’ answers into the ordinal scale. In this chapter we use the three original options ‘national army’, ‘European army’, and ‘both’.

(p.181) 8.4.1 More Help for Regions in Economic or Social Difficulties

The first issue we present asked whether respondents approved or disapproved of, ‘More help for regions with economic and social difficulties’. Such support has been one of the most durable EU programmes. The answers given by citizens and the political and economic elites suggest that regional support (even beyond today’s level) is a valence rather than a position issue. Indeed, with the sole exception of the German economic elite, which takes a ‘somewhat against’ stand, no collective position in the fifteen countries expresses disapproval. In Germany, the topic has special domestic significance due to the national support programme of the federal government to the regions that were part of the former German Democratic Republic.

In Figure 8.1, we have ordered the countries according to government position, beginning with countries expressing the strongest approval. Most countries with good prospects of being the beneficiaries of additional support locate themselves in the upper part of the figure, while countries tending to receive less are found in the lower part. In several countries (Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Portugal), all groups––voters, economic elites, MPs, and government ––are strongly supportive of the idea. In several other countries, however, there is a gap in the amount of enthusiasm for regional aid between voters and the positions of MPs and government: France, Great Britain, Poland, Slovakia, Italy, minimally also in Belgium and Estonia. Denmark is the only country where the government is less supportive of this item than MPs, business elites, and voters.

8.4.2 A Single EU Foreign Policy

The famous goal of a single EU foreign policy enjoys wide support both at the mass and elite levels. Nevertheless, a representation gap exists as the median voter in all fifteen countries is only ‘somewhat in favour’, while economic and political elites express strong support for this goal. Yet, the gap between masses and elites is a gap in the degree of enthusiasm. Support for a single European foreign policy is most widely spread among the economic elites. In twelve of the fifteen countries, the median manager was ‘strongly in favour’. The exception is the British economic elite, which is somewhat against this goal. The Danish, Estonian, German, and Belgium government positions are somewhat more in favour than those of their parliaments, while the idea receives only lukewarm support from both voters and the political elites in Poland, Austria, and Great Britain.

While more help for the regions and the foreign policy issues are rather uncontroversial in each of our fifteen European countries, no consensus exists with regard to the idea of common European tax and social security systems. (p.182)

The elites–masses gap in European integration

Figure 8.1. Voter and elite positions towards more help for regions and a single foreign policy according to the party democracy model

As we will see, disagreement between different elite groups is greater than between elites and the masses.

8.4.3 A Common European Tax System

Figure 8.2 indicates that, in eleven out of fifteen countries, the median voter expressed moderate support for the proposal. The median voter in Great Britain, Estonia, and Denmark moderately opposes this goal, and is ambivalent about it in Austria. As might be expected, the intensity of approval and disapproval increases at the elite level, and in France, Greece, and Italy, the political and economic elites are all strongly in favour of a common tax system. The elite groups in Great Britain, however, are clearly against the idea. To a lesser extent, this is also true for Estonia, Denmark, and Poland. In Denmark, the economic elite is in favour, while parliament and government oppose such a move. In Estonia, the economic elite and the median MP oppose a common European tax system, while the median voter and the government are in favour. Overall, however, the tendency among most groups is to favour a common European tax system. Only fourteen (of sixty) group positions are on (p.183)

The elites–masses gap in European integration

Figure 8.2. Voter and elite positions towards a common tax and a common social security system according to the party democracy model

the negative side of the scale: four national governments, four parliaments, three electorates, and three economic elite groups.

There is no country with a complete discord between the voters on the one hand and the various elites on the other. The country closest to such a representation gap is Austria, where the elite groups are all in favour of a common tax system, while voters are ambivalent. In Slovakia the median voter is somewhat in favour, whereas the median party in parliament is slightly opposed and the government position is much closer to that of the voters. In a number of countries, the largest gap is the one between the positions of the government and the median party in parliament (Slovakia, Poland, Germany, and Denmark). In Slovakia, the largest gap is between voters and elites. However, we record by far the greatest gap between the Danish economic elite and the Danish median party in parliament.

What accounts for the variation in national group positions and the intra-country variation, especially among the political and economic elites? The peculiar Danish pattern might result from different reactions to the ‘race to the bottom’ argument implied in common European tax rates. While the Danish economic elite may find the prospect of lower rates attractive, political (p.184) elites (with an eye to the voters) seem inclined to preserving the financial base of the welfare state. In contrast, in Great Britain and Estonia, the risk of losing the competitive advantage enjoyed by these low-tax countries from accepting uniform European tax rates looms large. Thus, the opposition seen in these three countries towards a centralized European tax system might be based on different reasons.

8.4.4 A Common European Social Security System

National elite responses towards the proposal of a common tax system are in many ways similar to those towards the proposal of a common social security system. At the mass level, however, the idea of a common social security system is less controversial than the idea of a common tax system, meaning that the elites–masses gap is more extreme with regard to social security. In all fifteen countries, the median voter was somewhat in favour, and even strongly in favour in Hungary, of establishing a common European social security system. In twelve of the fifteen countries the political elites were also in favour, or at least not opposed. As in the common tax system proposal, the aggregate opinion among political elites showed greater divergence than among voters. The positions of parliaments and governments cover both ends of the scale, from very much in favour to being strongly against the proposal.

As we have seen, the government and parliament positions towards the goal of a common tax system are negative in Great Britain, Denmark, and Austria. These countries also exhibit the largest gap between the median voter position on the one hand and the parliament and government positions on the other. Among our set of issues and sample of countries, these are the first cases to show not just mere differences in intensity between masses and elites, but also differences in the direction a policy should take.

8.4.5 Defence Policy Options

Our last issue, concerning defence policy, had a different question format to the other four. Here, respondents were asked whether they wanted to keep a national army, have a European army, or have both (see Figure 8.3). In thirteen out of fifteen countries the median voter opted for a double-track defence policy: keeping the national army and creating a European army. Only in Great Britain and Bulgaria did the median voter prefer a defence policy based on a national army exclusively. In the case of Great Britain, the political elites in parliament and government concur with the median voter. In the case of Bulgaria, elite and masses diverge: the positions of parliament and government are in favour of having both a national and a European army. Another noteworthy difference between the two countries is that the British (p.185)

The elites–masses gap in European integration

Figure 8.3. Voter and elite positions towards defence policy options

elites seem to have made up their minds about that issue (a marginal number of ‘Don’t knows’), while this is not so evident in Bulgaria.

A step towards a more strongly Europeanized defence policy, based on the creation of a European army, is supported by the political elite in Belgium, Germany, and Spain. In these countries, parliament and government take the same positions, but they diverge from the position of the national median voter, who wants to maintain a national army in addition to a European army. Denmark is the only country where the positions for both parliament and government favour only a national army. In contrast, the Danish median voter favours having both. The Polish median voter is more European than the government (under Jaroslaw Kaczynski) and parliament (dominated by the right), both of whom favour having only a national army.

With regard to economic elites, results show that they like the idea of having a European army more than any of the other groups. The collective positions of six (out of fifteen) economic elites, three parliaments, and three governments is to prefer a European army as the only means of defence, but not a single electorate of all countries shares this strong view. The most frequent stance of economic elites, however, is a preference for having both national and European armies, with only the Estonian economic elite preferring the national army.

(p.186) 8.4.6 The Elite–Masses Gap across Issues

After looking at the five issues separately, we now turn to the overall picture of opinion representation on European integration in the fifteen countries. We do this by building an index.8 First we calculated the distances between (a) voters and parliament and (b) the parliament and government for each item separately. Next, we combined the two differences into a single measure of the elite–masses gap. Finally, we sum up the resulting values over all five issues. This is our index of the elite–masses gap. We calculated the index both with single-step aggregation (institutional model) and two-step aggregation (party democracy model).

Table 8.3 presents the resulting indices and their sub-components, with countries ranked according to the index of the institutional model. The party democracy model, which we argue to be a better approximation of the collective position of the political elite in parliament and government, produces slightly larger gaps in seven countries, smaller gaps in four countries, and identical results in the remaining four. The mean index values calculated over all fifteen countries indicate that the models produce similar results when summed across both steps––from voters to parliament and from parliament to government. The Spearman rank correlation of the indices from the institutional model and the party democracy model is 0.92. Yet, the two stages of the delegation chain vary according to the model of preference aggregation chosen (see e.g. Estonia and Germany).

Both models identify Portugal as the country with the smallest elites–masses gap––note that it was under a single-party government (of the Socialist Party) at the time of the survey––and we find the largest gaps in Germany, Great Britain, and Denmark. This latter group comprises two coalition governments and one single-party government (in Great Britain). Thus, there is no straight pattern linking a specific government type to larger elites–masses gaps.

Next we compare the magnitude of the gaps between voters and parliament and between parliament and government in the two models. The voters–parliament representation gap has more than double the magnitude of the parliament–government gap, regardless of aggregation model. In our sample of European integration issues, it seems that delegation from parliament to government produces higher policy congruence than delegation from voters to parliament via elections. This is in line with theoretical expectations in the literature on political delegation (Müller 2000; Strøm 2003). (p.187)

Table 8.3. Indices of the elites–masses gap across the five issues in 15 countries in 2007

Institutional model

Party democracy model

Economic elite

Country

Voters–parliament gap

Parliament–government gap

Voters–government gap

Voters–parliament gap

Parliament–government gap

Voters–government gap

Economic elite–voters

Economic elite–government

Portugal

0

1

1

1

0

1

1

0

Hungary

2

0

2

2

0.2

2.1

4

1.2

Slovakia

4

2

2

4

1.6

2.4

6

7.1

Greece

2

1

3

3

0

3

3

0

France

3

0

3

3

0.2

2.8

2

1.2

Poland

1

2

3

3.5

0.4

3.3

2

3.3

Estonia

0

3

3

1

1.9

1.8

3

3.8

Spain

1

2

3

3

0

3

4

1

Austria

3

0

3

3

0.5

3.5

5.5

4

Bulgaria

3

0

3

3

0.8

3.5

4

1.2

Belgium

3

0

3

2.5

1.4

3.9

3

1.7

Italy

4

0

4

4

0.8

3.9

4

0.8

Germany

4

1

5

2.5

2.3

4.8

5

6.2

Great Britain

5

2

5

5

0

5

7.5

4.5

Denmark

5

4

5

7

2.8

5.2

4

9.2

Mean

2.7

1.2

3.2

3.2

0.9

3.3

3.9

3.1

St. Dev.

1.6

1.3

1.1

1.5

0.9

1.2

1.7

2.8

Note: Rank order of countries according to index in the institutional model. We have doubled the weight of the distances on the item ‘Defence options’ in the indices to correct for the item’s smaller scale.

(p.188) Economic elites are not constrained by the same chains of delegation and accountability as exist between voters and MPs, or among politicians themselves, and results for this elite group are consistent with that freedom. Across all issues, the gap between the position of the economic elite and the position of the voters, and between the economic elite and the government, are larger than that between voters and parliament and between parliament and government. However, the variation between countries is huge. The economic elites are in accord with both the masses and the political elites in Portugal, Greece, and France, but take widely differing positions in Denmark, Slovakia, Germany, and Great Britain, whose economic elites were more pro-integrationist than voters and politicians. However, on some issues, economic elites from one or two countries took the most ‘nationalist’ stance of all the groups that we have studied (see Germany for the ‘More help for regions’ and ‘Common social security system’ issues, Great Britain for the ‘Single foreign policy’ issue, Slovakia for the ‘Common social security system’ issue, and Estonia for the ‘Common defence’ issue).

8.5 Conclusion

This chapter has highlighted how voters and elites think about the important steps that have either already been taken towards a unified Europe or which occupy a prominent place on the agenda of ‘integrationists’. Notwithstanding the common interpretation of European integration as an ‘elite project’ (Haller 2008), actual data on the attitudes of political decision makers on this topic is extremely scarce (in contrast to the abundance of studies on the attitudes of the masses). The present study, which allows us to rank fifteen countries by the actual degree of elite support for European integration, helps to fill that gap. In so doing, we find many of the ‘usual suspects’ at the bottom of the list: Great Britain, Denmark, and Austria in Western Europe, and Estonia and Poland in Eastern Europe, but interestingly, we also find Germany in this group.

The main purpose of our study, however, has been to shed light on the notorious elite–masses gap in attitudes towards European integration. We have reported this gap with regard to five issues of European integration and presented two models of calculating collective opinions of voters, parliaments, and governments. Theoretically, we argued that a two-step aggregation process that is sensitive to the intervening effects of political parties and government coalitions is a better empirical approximation of the outcomes of collective decision-making processes than the simpler model of single-step aggregation of individual preferences in the relevant institutions.

(p.189) After confronting our empirical data with the two models of preference aggregation, and considering the combined distances of the two delegation steps––from voters to parliament, and from parliament to government––the two models were found to return similar results in terms of size of representation gap. Yet, such similarities between the model outcomes are not guaranteed. This is clear when we look at the group distances for each step separately, where we find substantial differences between the two models. It is worth pointing out that our measurement utilizing ‘short’ (3- or 5-point) policy scales loaded the dice in favour of finding small differences and that larger divergences in outcomes could be expected when employing larger scales.

Two of the five items––‘more help for disadvantaged regions’ and support for a ‘common foreign policy’––were almost uncontroversial and elicited broad support among voters, economic elites, and politicians alike. Support among voters for a single foreign policy was lukewarm in most countries compared to the stronger support expressed by the political and economic elites. This resulted in elite–masses gaps in many countries, but these were gaps in the intensity of support rather than gaps created by conflicting views of the direction that European integration should take. Of course, such opposing views of the direction a policy should take would indicate much more significant representation gaps and enormous challenges for the elites. It is a good sign of the working of European democracies that the policies already in place in the EU do not show any significant divergence between the opinions of the voters and those of their political representatives.

The goal of unifying national social security systems drew overwhelming support among voters in all fifteen countries studied, whereas elites held more diverse opinions. In particular, political elites, but often also the economic elite from the ‘rich’ Western European member states, such as Great Britain, Denmark, and Austria, opposed the idea. On the issue of ‘a common tax system’ opposition even extended to the mass level. In concurrence with their elites, voters in Great Britain, Estonia, and Denmark disapproved of this idea.

Our final issue probed the choice between a national and a European army. The collective outcome among most national groups––at the elite and at the mass level––was to ‘play it safe’ by opting for both. In most instances where we found a gap between the positions of the voters and the elites, it was due to elites preferring a European army.

The last three issues, where we find a greater amount of disagreement between the national elites and their citizens, all relate to European integration steps that have not yet been taken. According to the traditional pattern of elites’ driving the integration process and mass attitudes adapting to the new realities, we should expect elites to take more pro-integrationist positions. Yet, this is not always the case. With regard to social security and tax issues, elites (p.190) in some countries take less integrationist positions than their citizens. We can think about such differences either in terms of conflicting values or differences in information levels between voters and political elites. Clearly, elites know much more about the possible implications of the choices involved (such as levelling social services) and, once confronted with these implications, voters may indeed adapt quickly to the line taken by their political representatives. At the same time, however, real world developments, such as the near collapse of the international banking system and associated crisis fighting, may force national elites to grudgingly accept more European integration in the taxation and social security policy domains.

In terms of the group difference, our results confirm the expectation derived from the functionalist logic of European integration. National economic elites turned out to be the most pro-integrationist group on all five items, with just a few nationalist outliers among them. Generally, however, we find a considerable amount of agreement in the positions taken by economic and political elites on European integration issues. Not surprisingly, economic elites are more similar to the political elites in their attitudes than to voters, and political elites tend to be more pro-integrationist than their voters. However, this is not a universal pattern and the nature of the issue clearly plays a role (see Hooghe and Marks 2008). As already indicated, the ability to keep one’s own variant of the welfare state, or to preserve a favourable low tax-rates regime, seemed to concern political elites, and even the voters in some member states.

In the introduction to this chapter, we have argued that the very dynamic of European integration suggests that there will be some level of gap between the positions of voters and elites. Yet, too large a gap may lead to trouble, such as government defeat in referendums, or may negatively impact on the electoral prospects of government parties, in particular when EU issues become salient. While some of the gaps we have measured are small, this is not the case in all countries (see the countries at the bottom of Table 8.3). Unfortunately, there is no natural threshold distinguishing critical from uncritical divergences between the voters and their representatives. Nevertheless, larger gaps provide elites with incentives to close or narrow them; something elites will typically make greater attempts to do when elections are approaching. One way they can do this is by bringing their policy attitudes closer to those of the voters, referred to by Esaiasson and Holmberg (1986) as ‘representation from below’. Alternatively, they can provide leadership und use the electoral campaigns to educate the voters, thus providing ‘representation from above’ (see also Holmberg 1989, 1997; Stimson et al. 1995; Schmitt and Thomassen 2000). Given real world constraints, the former strategy is easier for opposition parties. In addition, real world developments can render the policy positions of government parties unfeasible when they conflict with what governments (p.191) (must) do to cope with current events. Obviously, ‘dynamic’ questions of representation cannot be fully answered from analyses, such as the present one, measuring preference gaps at a single point in time. Based on the IntUne project’s second wave of mass and elite interviews, however, this is something we will turn to in future analyses.

Notes:

(1) For instance, agenda-setting rights and strategic voting or abstention of actors may impact on the final outcome of the preference aggregation process.

(2) Take the relevance of electoral systems for the size of representation gaps. According to Huber and Powell (1994) and Powell (2000), democracies with proportional electoral systems exhibit better issue congruence than majoritarian electoral systems. Golder and Stramski (2010) have challenged this result. They find that ‘the level of ideological congruence between citizens and their government is not substantively higher in proportional democracies than in majoritarian ones’ (Golder and Stramski 2010: 91). According to their analysis, the conflicting results of scholarly analyses result from different concepts of congruence, as either defined purely in terms of ideological distance between citizens and their representatives (absolute congruence) or also taking into account the dispersion in citizen preferences (relative congruence). In contrast, Powell (2009) finds that it is different time periods rather than different measures of congruence that account for conflicting results. While in most decades proportional representation systems produce higher amounts of congruence between voters and legislators, this result completely vanishes in the 1996–2004 period (Powell 2009: 18). As Powell notes, this, can be ‘random fluctuation (of the few single-member district elections), the outcome of short-term global or ideological context, or a trend’ (2009: 19).

(3) Huber and Powell 1994; Powell 2000, 2009; Powell and Vanberg 2000; Gabel and Scheve 2007; Steenbergen et al.2007; Ray 2003; Rohrschneider and Whitefield 2006.

(4) Miller and Stokes 1963; Converse and Pierce 1986; Dalton 1985; Esaiasson and Holmberg 1986; Holmberg 1997, 2000; Kitschelt et al. 1999; Matthews and Valen 1999; Narud and Valen 2000.

(5) Rehfeld (2005: 5) calculated the proportion of the adult population in France in 2003 serving as delegates to the two chambers of the French Parliament as 0.000183.

(6) It is obviously not true for the next step of delegation from the cabinet to the bureaucracy, which could be seen as a second, but inverted funnel.

(7) McDonald, Mendes, and Budge (2004: 2 n. 3), who infer party positions from electoral manifestos, use the terms ‘median party in parliament’ and ‘parliamentary median’ as synonyms. With MP survey data the two terms denote different entities.

(8) As there are four issues with a 5-point scale and one issue with a 3-point scale, weighting is necessary. As the maximum possible gap is four units on the 5-point scale and two units on the 3-point scale we sum the elite–mass gap over the four issues with the 5-point scale and then add two times the gap measured on the 3-point scale.