Reforming Representative Democracy


Promoteurs : Pierre Baudewyns, Jean-Benoit Pilet (ULB), Nathalie Brack (ULB)
Chercheurs: Marta Gallina, David Takluder (ULB), Maria Sanhueza (ULB)
Financement : FNRS - PDR

Across contemporary democracies, a large share of the population is dissatisfied with the way the representative system works. As a consequence, institutional changes have been implemented over recent years in most European democracies (Bedock 2017). It ranges from transparency reforms to more citizens’ participation. Politicians and political parties appear to believe that the cure to democratic resentment is to revise democratic institutions. But is this really the case ? The project proposes to tackle this question in three steps examining in details the case of Belgium. First, we will inventory all democratic reforms implemented in Belgium over the last 25 years. Second, we will survey how citizens as well as politicians evaluate representative democracy, and what are the main critics addressed. The goal is to go beyond existing typologies and tools on democratic attitudes by combining an inductive and qualitative approach based upon focus groups with a quantitative survey. Third, the study will also explore how citizens evaluate those reforms implemented and proposed by politicians to address citizens’ dissatisfaction. A last major component of the project is the attention to those citizens that are the most politically, socially and economically disadvantaged (women,
lower educated, ethnic minorities). One of the cornerstones of democracy is that each citizen should have the same political weight. Any diagnosis of what could be wrong with representation must look into this matter. Yet, we know that these groups are hard to approach (see Braconnier and Mayer, 2015). Therefore, the project will pay special attention to disadvantaged groups within Belgian society and will make sure that the survey instruments will include them into the study.