The aim and purpose of MEDem

Understanding voters, parties, media and elites (and how they influence policy-making) is crucial to monitoring the functioning of electoral democracy in modern societies. The proposed research infrastructure for Monitoring Electoral Democracy (MEDem) aims to:

  • bring together well functioning national and comparative projects and to link and coordinate existing endeavors as well as to support innovation in research on electoral democracies;
  • set standards and develop instruments for data collection to allow for comparative research;
  • increase accessibility by providing a single data linkage and access point in collaboration with a data archive;
  • help strengthening existing national election studies and allied projects by connecting them to a stable European network of projects and scholars working collaboratively in this field as well as to provide training and build capacity;
  • provide reports and information on the functioning of electoral democracy in Europe to the wider community and public.

To achieve this, MEDem sets out to establish, operate and develop a pan-European distributed research infrastructure of data-collection centres and national nodes in order to provide resources, facilities and support for high quality research regarding all aspects of the democratic electoral process in Europe. MEDem will grant European researchers effective access to its resources and common services that include a centrally organized data management and dissemination service, and provide scientific, technical and ethical expertise.

Concept, Scientific Vision, and Potential Impact

Well-functioning elections lie at the foundation of modern liberal democracies as they provide for citizen representation in the executive and legislative branches of power. To understand in depth how citizens, elites, parliaments, governments and media interact and relate to each other in contemporary electoral competition is therefore central for the understanding of modern societies. 

Democracies face a number of very evident challenges. The future of the EU itself is put into question by popular sentiment as manifested in referendum and election outcomes. Fifty years of studying voting behavior has taught us much about voters’ party choices, but recent electoral surprises seem to have been associated especially with new departures in media usage and with unconventional candidacies that affect the context within which elections take place. Such matters cannot be studied from within the confines of individual countries — confines that limit the extent to which context can vary. 

The proposed infrastructure will provide the means to address such questions, three examples of which are: 

(a) when do citizens believe “fake news” and when not? 

(b) When do changing economic conditions affect support for political parties? 

(c) When can party leaders hope to influence voters and when do they rather need to bow to voter demands? 

​To answer these questions and others like them takes sufficient examples of different media outlets, different economic conditions and different party leaders. A single country does not supply this need. 

​Also, European democracies today are interrelated and inter-dependent and must be researched accordingly. To provide adequate variance in the character of parties and candidates, and in how the media covers their activities and pronouncements, data manifestly needs to be made available on multiple elections covering as many countries as possible over as long a time-span as possible.

​Potentially suitable data already exist, not only regarding voters but also regarding parties, their candidates and manifestos, and (even if more sporadically) the media that reports on them. To study the functioning of democracies is a key part of many national projects like national election studies, however also of comparative projects such as the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), the Comparative Candidate Survey (CCS), the Comparative Agendas project (CAP) or the Manifesto Project (MARPOR).

​The proposed research infrastructure for Monitoring Electoral Democracy (MEDem) would release the potential currently locked away from view by the idiosyncrasies of country- and topic-specific data collection and coding conventions. MEDem will bring together scattered infrastructures, research initiatives, centres, and projects across Europe under one umbrella to facilitate and stimulate innovation in the study of electoral democracy. It will situate existing and future voting data within broader social and dynamic contexts of elite, party, and government activities as well as those of the media in its broadest sense, over the passage of time.

​In this way it will enhance research capacity for monitoring the legitimacy and well-functioning of dynamic electoral processes – topics of interest to scholars well beyond political science, including those in economics, sociology and media studies. Such topics have recently come to the fore because of the strong performance of populist parties promoting illiberal political ideas. Because not all countries have seen similar developments, MEDem data might even permit scholars to devise political and institutional correctives for poor democratic performance. The importance of these questions is widely understood, as is the need for appropriate data in order to address them. Given this context, the impact of the proposed infrastructure will be profound.