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The Project

What is the goal of the study?

The main question in this project is how politicians form their perceptions of the public opinion.

Why is this question important?

In a representative democracy like Switzerland or California, politicians are elected to represent the interests of their electorate. This is not an easy task for either side. From existing research, we know quite a bit about how voters form their opinion for elections. However, we know much less about how politicians form their opinion about what the public wants. This is the key question of democratic theories we are studying in this project.

How do you conduct this study?

We focus on surveying Swiss politicians from the National Council ("Nationalrat") and the Council of States ("Ständerat") as well as regional politicians from the Great Councils of Geneva and Berne. As part of our study, we ask politicians to estimate what percentage of the population is in favor (or against) a specific and timely policy proposal. An exceptionally high number of 368 Swiss politicians participated in our study (61-88% per parliament).

We also conduct a representative survey among 10'000 Swiss citizens to learn what they think about very specific policy proposals. About 47% of the people we contacted participated in the study.

The data collection in California follows a similar procedure and is currently under way.

By combining the information from citizens and politicians, we can answer our research question.

Can I participate too?

We have to follow rigorous scientific protocols to make sure our results are reliable and therefore cannot sign up individuals to participate in this research study.

If you are a member of the Californian State Senate or Assembly, please contact Dr. Luzia Helfer to make an appointment.

Will the results of the study be accessible?

Of course. You can find all information we have gathered so far under Findings (in German and French).

Who conducts this study?

The Swiss part of the project is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation [project number 100017_172559] and is conducted under the direction of Prof. Varone and Dr. Helfer at the Department for Political Science and International Relations at Geneva University (Switzerland). Prof. Varone and Dr. Helfer conduct the interviews with politicians, supported by an extended team (see "Team").

The complex survey of the Swiss population is conducted by the Swiss Centre of Expertise in the Social Sciences (FORS) at Lausanne University on behalf of the project team.

Californian data collection is located at Stanford University and is led by Dr. Helfer. This part of the project is made possible through the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program financed by the U.S. Department of State.

Is there an international collaboration?

Besides Switzerland and California, the study is conducted by project partners in at least four other countries (Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada). These country's varying political systems, for example concerning the degree of direct democracy, allow us to discern whether those have effects on the estimations. You can find a list of the other involved researchers under The Team.