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Perceptions of Power: Voter Attribution of Responsibility within the European Union

1 November 2008 - 31 December 2010

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Susan Banducci

Research partners: Professor Sara Hobolt (lead) (LSE), Professor Cornelis van der Eijk (University of Nottingham) and Dr James Tilley (Oxford)

Funding awarded: £ 10,168

Sponsor(s): ESRC

About the research

This project examines the questions of when and why voters attribute responsibility to the national and EU levels of government for policy, and how that matters for democracy. A key component of democratic accountability is for citizens to understand “who is to blame”, yet little is known about how citizens attribute credit and blame in the complex multi-level structure of the EU.

As the first comprehensive study of attribution of responsibility in the EU, this project analyses unique cross-national survey of citizens in the 27 member states, a series of experiments and a content analysis of media coverage. It addresses the crucial question of whether citizens rely on perceptual biases or content-rich information when deciding who to blame.The answer is both. While citizens’ attributions are shaped by their partisanship and attitudes towards the EU, information also serves to bring evaluations into line with actual divisions of responsibility.This has wider implications for democracy. Promisingly, the project demonstrates that well-informed citizens can make sense of divisions of responsibility. However, it also reveals that even if citizens can navigate the multi-level structures of governance that in itself does not necessarily enable them to hold their EU representatives to account.

Economic and Social Research Council