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.

What is MEDem?

Monitoring Electoral Democracy (MEDem) is a new, evolving European research infrastructure that will enable better, more comprehensive and highly innovative comparative research on electoral democracies. These aims will be achieved by cooperatively bringing together and linking data sources and information on the functioning of democracies, and by building standards and instruments for data collection, visualisation, analysis, and data operation. MEDem also strengthens existing national and comparative studies on electoral democracy by connecting them to a stable European network of research groups and scholars working collaboratively within the infrastructure. Furthermore, MEDem provides training and capacity building, laying the groundwork for academic excellence. In doing so, elevating the analysis of European electoral democracies to new levels of scientific distinction and public impact.

Why is MEDem necessary?

Social sciences offer an indispensable contribution to the well-functioning of liberal democracies, as they provide thorough understanding of how citizens, elites, legislatures, governments, and media interact within the democratic process. Electoral democracies - both in Europe and the rest of the world - face rising populism, misinformation and institutional distrust. Because of the complexity of today's political challenges, they cannot be studied within the boundaries of a single nation, or from only one perspective or one point in time. Unfortunately many institutions employ differing data collection or archival methods across countries, topics, or data types, making large amounts of gathered data inaccessible or incomparable. Data from multiple democracies should be harmonised, accessible, interoperable and reusable, in order to unlock their true potential. This is the primary task of MEDem.

What does MEDem provide?

As a European Infrastructure MEDem will provide a set of services:

  • coordinate comparative and national research groups in the field of electoral democracy. This includes ensuring an information flow and cooperation between different research groups on data, methodological, thematic, and governance issues. 
  • establish standards for data collection across nations and data types. Identifying and recommending standards on meta-data, concepts, questions, response categories, methods of data collection, coding, etc. will set the groundwork for data pre- and post-harmonisation processes.
  • organise the pre- and post-harmonisation of data collections across Europe and its nations. Post- harmonisation will make existing datasets more accessible and linkable to other data sources. Similarly, pre- harmonisation will allow for integration of new data using only high-quality instruments. Eventually, this process will make post-harmonisation redundant.
  • provide a user-friendly interface to a database of tools, measures, and datasets that does not require advanced technical knowledge, enabling a standardised search process on a wide range of topics related to electoral democracy. This will help communities, projects, institutions, and researchers, in ensuring their work is easily available and reusable.
  • develop new tools for advanced data visualisation and data linkage. Complex data need innovative approaches to data visualisation to make research findings broadly accessible. Various data sources need to be connected through the development of so-called “linkage keys” that further encourage data reusability.
  • train and interconnect the next generation of scholars and experts on European democracy. This will stimulate the democratisation of new and cutting-edge research by serving as an innovation hub where researchers have the possibility to develop and share new instruments to produce data and tools that will be used by the community in the future.

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:

  1.  When do citizens believe in "fake news" and when not?
  2. When do changing economic conditions affect support for political parties?
  3. 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.

MEDem data for innovative research on electoral democracies in Europe

By connecting current (inter-)national research groups, infrastructures, and global networks, MEDem is conceptualised as a distributed European research infrastructure. The immediate goal of the infrastructure is to secure a position on the ESFRI roadmap because of its crucial and strategic scientific significance for European social and political research and European democracy. MEDem members will be European countries. Their responsibilities include funding and developing data collection efforts for MEDem-related research in their country, contributing to the general MEDem operating expenses for the headquarters and regional competence centres, as well as appointing a representative to the General Assembly. In turn, members will be at the forefront of a highly innovative and integrative social science infrastructure, creating new opportunities for research on electoral democracies, and co-deciding the direction of future work programs. 

Download: MEDem Short Description

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