Literature Review: Policy congruence and its impact on satisfaction with democracy

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Ferland, B. (2020). Policy congruence and its impact on satisfaction with democracy. Electoral Studies. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2020.102204

In his recently article published in Electoral Studies, B. Ferland analyses how the extent to which preferences of citizens are considered in legislative processes affects their satisfaction with democracy. Taking into account different facets, the author considers three forms of congruence: the extent to which policy interests of citizens correspond to those of their preferred party, to the government and to enacted policies. If citizens expect that their opinions are represented by legislatures and executives, the satisfaction with how democracy works should increase as their interests are better mirrored. Going a step further, an innovative argument introduces a hierarchical order suggesting that correspondence between enacted policies and citizens is the strongest driver for democratic satisfaction, as enacted laws have most direct and visible impact on voters’ lives. Using CSES data, Ferland exploits a variable that has not been used in this context: the measure of congruence between citizens and enacted policies captures whether respondents think government spending in eight policy areas should be kept as it is or not. If respondents indicate that they prefer higher or lower spending, their preferences are counted as incongruent to policies. The analyses of 17 advanced democracies between 2011 and 2015 provides evidence for all expectations and reveals that policy correspondence indeed has a greater impact on citizens’ assessment of the political system than party or government congruence.

This article takes a multifaceted approach to uncover whether satisfaction with democracy is shaped by how citizens’ preferences are mirrored in parliament, government, and policies. As there is only imperfect data available to study these complex dimensions of congruence, it is obvious that the author had to stretch the concept a little. However, I wonder to what extent policy congruence can be measured as an agreement with government spending in a certain policy area. The indicator proposed by the author presumes that respondents are aware of their own preferences concerning government spending in a wide range of areas and additionally have sufficient information to judge the current amount of expenditures caused by recent policies. Yet, while citizens might be able to express their stance in a field that is particularly important to them, it seems unlikely that they can make informed choices about spending in eight different policy areas. Consequently, some respondents might opt for the status quo because they lack a clear opinion and not because they agree with how much budget is allocated to policies enacted. Based on these considerations, the insights of this study should motivate us to collect further data that allows testing the arguments with a different measure of policy congruence across countries e.g. ideological mapping of citizens’ positioning or support for a concrete policy.           

By Sarah C. Dingler in October 2020


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