The History of the European Elections Study (EES)

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The History of the European Elections Study (EES)

The History of the European Elections Study (EES) and its contribution to the development of comparative electoral research in Europe

By Eftichia Teperoglou (Lecturer, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)

Back in June 1979, the process of the European integration entered into a new phase with the inauguration of the first direct election of members to the European Parliament. A trans-national group of electoral researchers was formed aiming to study electoral participation and voting behaviour in this new type of elections. This research stream was initiated in 1979 under the label “European Election Study” (EES) and its home is the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES) at the University of Mannheim with the exception of the 2009 study which was hosted in EUI. Over the period of time has been transformed into a pure cross-national research group with outstanding scientific output for the development of comparative electoral research in Europe. The EES is closely bound up with the second-order election model (Reif & Schmitt 1980), the most prominent and well-known conceptual framework of analyzing the European elections. EES has contributed towards the main amendments and revisions of the original model.

The EES, by applying a modular approach to the study of electoral behaviour early on, served as a paradigm for the design of election studies in national politics as well. It also sub­sti­tuted “proper” national election studies (NES) data in situations when those were lacking. Finally, another contribution of the network is more methodological. Scholars involved in the network developed a novel strategy for analysing multi-national survey data on party choice by creating and analysing a stacked and merged data file.

In the first EES, the study of the electorate – conducted as part of the regular Eurobarometer surveys of Spring and Fall 1979 under the supervision of Jacques-Rene Rabier and Ronald Inglehart – was designed along with a party elites study (both national and trans-national party conference delegates and EP candidates) and a media study coordinated by Jay Blumler. In 1984, a comparative EES could not be realised. Instead, some questions of interest were included in the regular Eurobarometers of that year, while a survey among MEPs was fielded in 1983. Moving to 1989, we can perhaps trace the beginnings of a more systematic and comparative study. The main post-electoral survey was supplemented by two pre-electoral survey waves (independent cross-sections, not panel waves). Among the valuable deliverables of this study, I highlight one of the masterpieces in the study of the electoral behavior in second-order elections: the book “Choosing Europe? The European Electorate and National Politics in the Face of Union” co-authored by Cees van der Eijk and Mark N. Franklin. Its scientific output contributed towards the first main amendment of the original model, namely the “types” of voting in European elections ( “voting with the heart”, “voting with the boot” and “voting with the head”).

From the EES 1994 until the last one of 2014, post-electoral voters surveys were always carried out, composing a unique venue for comparative electoral research. Of course, the evolution of the project goes hand in hand with the process of the European integration itself; from nine voter studies conducted at the same time back in 1979, in 2014 we had the unprecendented opportunity to study the functioning of EU electoral democracy at the same time in the 28 member states.

But, the EES series is not only about voters. A unique contribution of this fascinating project is the linking with data from the other actors involved in the electoral process: political parties and elites, candidates, news media. In 1994, the so-called ´European Representation Study of 1994´ was another main component of the study. Its findings are analysed in the book edited by Hermann Schmitt and Jacques Thomassen (1999) “Political Representation and Legitimacy in the European Union”. In 1999 a major new avenue was opened by an effort to content-analyse the election manifestos of political parties of that election year. The party manifestos of all past EP elections back to 1979 were collected and content-analysed as far as they could still be identified and documented, following the approach of the ‘Comparative Manifestos Project’ (CMP). Here we can find the roots of the Euromanifestos project, which stands since then and until the 2014 EES as one of the main components of the EES studies. The EES 1999 also included a study of the media in six EU countries, funded by the Dutch NWO. One of the most important deliverables is the book edited by Wouter van der Brug and Cees van der Eijk “European Elections and Domestic Politics”. Another media study was included in the EES 2004 too. The EES 2009 was run as a Design Infrastructure funded under the 7th Framework Programme of the European Union. It was called PIREDEU (Providing an Infra-Structure for Research on Elections Democracy in the European Union) under the coordination of the European University Institute. The post-electoral survey was one of the five components, along with a media study, a party elites survey among EP candidates, an analysis of the election manifestos of the parties, and a collection of relevant macro-indicators. An innovative aspect of the PIREDEU project was the involvement of the wider academic community with suggestions and comments on each of the five data collection components. The results of the study are summarized in “An Audit of Democracy in the European Union” ebook edited by Susan Banducci, Mark Franklin, Heiko Giebler, Sara Hobolt, Michael Marsh, Wouter van der Brug and Cees van der Eijk.

The EES 2014 has been coordinated again by MZES and has been realized under a consortium of private foundations (Volkswagen Foundation, Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, Stiftung Mercator, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian), a Horizon 2020 grant and local funding. Its main research theme was whether in times of economic turmoil these elections turned out to be “critical contests (Key 1955), subject to profound socio-political realignments. The post-electoral voter study was carried out jointly with the post-electoral survey commissioned by the European Parliament. A manifesto study was conducted too. The other two components are new: the EES online panel surveys in nine EU member countries ( the first wave was carried out after the European elections and the second wave after the subsequent national election in each country) and a Social Media Study, consisting of all the Twitter communication of EP candidates and their followers at the time of the election.

The data from all the studies are deposited at the GESIS Data Archive for the Social Sciences, offering invaluable opportunities for cutting edge research and cross-national analyses. Hundrends of publications using the EES data are produced and many senior and young researchers have been involved. The European comparative research is born with the EES series and its development of over the last 37 years contributes to the discussion about the challenges and the quality of EU electoral democracy. By applying the same core questionnaires in all the countries and assuring high quality data standards, both the community of social scientists users engaged in comparative research and various other stakeholders and non academic users have the unique opportunity to use a wealth of data allowing to tackle many different questions regarding electoral behaviour, participation, mobilization, multilevel elections, the evolution of the EU political community and European public sphere, and ultimately the development of a European demos.