The political capital of Switzerland

In this project, we focus on the development of the militia as the cornerstone of Switzerland's political system. Of all the areas of institutionalized voluntary work, the declines in political activities and management tasks are most pronounced. The research project aims to investigate this development and to analyze it systematically: Why do citizens take over a political office? Are there unequal regional developments? What personal characteristics and contextual configurations can explain the willingness to accept a militia office? Are the motives of people holding political office different from those of other volunteers? What drives people in militia authorities? What may the militia office of the future look like? The research project aims to provide answers to these questions and to enrich and systematize the current political debate on the future and viability of the Swiss militia system. The project is a collaboration with Markus Freitag and Martina Flick from the Department of Political Science of the University of Bern.

Evaluating citizens’ attitudes towards federalism

This research project takes an in-depth look at citizens’ attitudes toward federalism in Germany’s states and Switzerland’s cantons. Its goal is to better understand the conditions that demand more or less federalism. Despite the decisive role that the population’s attitudes to federalism might play when reforms to federal systems are debated, knowledge about them is either lacking or limited to certain regions. The project thus seeks to plug these gaps by mapping citizens’ attitudes toward federalism across Switzerland and Germany; it studies diverse factors at the individual, regional and national levels and carries out detailed analyses of the variability (or stability) in citizens’ preferences with regard to centralisation.

Our research is divided into two sub-projects. With the goal of improving on earlier studies, the first sub-project conceptualises several dimensions of people’s attitudes towards federalism. This is done by using web probing (a survey method that enables cognitive interviewing techniques to be integrated into online surveys) to measure different indicators of regional identity. This information is combined with data collected from large numbers of respondents in every region of our countries of interest, enabling us to effectively apply multi-level analysis procedures.

The second sub-project explores the variability (or stability) in people’s preferences concerning centralisation. Existing research findings show that the general populace is not particularly well informed about the federal division of powers and that its attitudes may thus be contradictory. These issues are investigated in more depth using an experiment involving vignettes and asking interviewees to evaluate reform proposals on a range of subjects that would imply a transfer of responsibility from the regional to the national level. Discussions on the advantages and disadvantages of federalism also explore the influence of strong regional identities.

This ambitious project will comprehensively map citizens’ attitudes towards federalism in general and their specific preferences regarding centralisation, providing finer-grained knowledge about the more pertinent elements. It is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

How do politicians evaluate public opinion?

In democracies, policies are supposed to react to public opinion. However, research has shown that policy reactivity tends to be selective: it varies according to the problem at hand, time issues and the country involved. Yet the question of why policy reactivity varies so much has never been answered satisfactorily.

This project formulates and examines a novel answer to the enigma of why politicians’ responsiveness varies so much. Its principal argument is that politicians evaluate public opinion, and then their subsequent actions—whether they align with or go against public opinion—are contingent on those evaluations. When politicians evaluate public opinion negatively, it has no effect on their actions. However, when they evaluate public opinion positively, the chances that their actions will be compatible with it increases. How politicians evaluate public opinion—as a mechanism leading to their reactive representation of the electorate—has previously been neglected completely.

The project approached these questions by examining a comparative study of eight different countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Portugal, Switzerland and Sweden). Throughout two consecutive series of data collection, a large sample of politicians was surveyed, interviewed and submitted to a series of experiments integrated into the survey. To put politicians’ behaviour into perspective, their responses were compared with surveys of the citizens in their respective countries.

This project is a collaboration with Professor Frédéric Varone of the University of Geneva’s Department of Political Science and International Relations, and it forms part of the ERC project “How politicians evaluate public opinion (POLEVPOP)” run by Prof. Stefaan Walgrave from the University of Anvers (click here for more information).


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Prof. Pirmin Bundi
Unit director
+41 21 692 69 02

Rue de la Mouline 28 - CH-1022 Chavannes-près-Renens
Tel. +41 21 692 68 00
Fax +41 21 692 68 09