Inequality & Democracy

When people think about threats to democracy they think about attacks on the media, freedom of expression, human rights, free and fair elections. They think about the core democratic institutions and how to protect them. And they are right. Human rights, the rule of law and the integrity and fairness of elections come increasingly under pressure in democracies across the globe fuelled by dissatisfaction with the political system and right-wing populist rhetoric.

But: What is often missing in the analysis is the role of social and economic insecurities people face that drive their dissatisfaction. Democratic dissatisfaction is very much an economic story as well. People do have worries about their opportunities and suffer from real hardship. We think it is thus paramount if we care to protect democratic institutions we need to look at economic conditions of what makes people dissatisfied. Asking the economic question is what our work in Inequality & Democracy is about.  


Illustrating the inequality of voter turnout

Voting in elections is unequally distributed. Disenfranchised and marginalised groups such as people with lower income, lower educational attainment and minorities are less likely to vote. More well-off groups within society are instead more likely to vote. This inequality of voter turnout has consequences for democracy. If large groups persistently participate less in democratic elections, representation decreases and political responsiveness suffers. The reasons for non-voting range from lack of interest, confidence in the political system, belief in delivery to the role of social norms shaping voting behaviour.  

These effects of unequal voting behaviour are well known in science. What we lack is a public debate about it. With our extensive study that depicts the state of inequality in voter turnout in 29 countries of the OSCE region, we aim to alleviate this gap. We will be able to illustrate trends and developments of the inequality of voter turnout over the past four decades.

Our study wants to inspire a public discussion about why inequality has an effect on democratic processes and why progressive decision-makers and the public should be concerned about that.

The study collects all existing data and presents the best obtainable picture of the state of voting inequality in all democracies within the OSCE. The data will cover categories gender, age, education for all countries and if available education, income, unemployment, and profession.

The study will be published in Q2 2022.

A cooperation project with the Institute of Comparative Politics at the University of Münster headed by Lea Elsässer and Armin Schäfer.

Measuring the representativity of parliaments

In a representative democracy, parliaments should be a representative image of society. Today, most parliaments are not as representative due to inequality in voter turnout and the academisation of the political process and its institutions. However, we do not know to what exact degree parliaments are mis-/representative today. Our proejct wants to change that. We put forward a comparative analysis of four selected parliaments within the OSCE region with regards to their socioeconomic representativity.

Our case countries will be representative for different regions and political systems to make generalizable statements about common patterns. All social characteristics will be gathered uniformly and according to approved social scientific criteria. We will classify the data within an established classification scheme to consider the altered occupational structures in post-industrial societies. Further social characteristics (education, gender, age, if possible migration background) are also collected to receive a preferably comprehensive image of descriptive representation patterns.

The study will be published in Q2 2022.

A cooperation project with the Institute of Comparative Politics at the University of Münster headed by Lea Elsässer and Armin Schäfer.


back to top