When long-distance relationships don't work out : representational distance and satisfaction with democracy in Europe

van Egmond, Marcel and Johns, Robert and Brandenburg, Heinz (2020) When long-distance relationships don't work out : representational distance and satisfaction with democracy in Europe. Electoral Studies, 66. 102182. ISSN 0261-3794

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    Abstract

    We assess the impact of party representation on satisfaction with democracy. Our proposition is that such representation is not only about having a chosen party in government; citizens also derive satisfaction from having their views represented by a political party. We test this through an individual-level measure of policy (in)congruence: the ideological distance between a voter and his or her closest party. Via multi-level modelling of European Election Study data from 1989 to 2009, we find that perceived policy distance matters: the further away that voters see themselves from their nearest party – on either a left-right or a European unification policy dimension – the less satisfied they are with democracy. Notably, this effect is not moderated by party incumbency or size. Voters derive satisfaction from feeling represented by a nearby party even if it is small and out of office. Our results caution against a purely outcomes-driven understanding of democratic satisfaction.