top of page

Project Synopsis

 

On the night of November 7th, 2010, George Papandreou, already in power for almost a year, was somewhat carelessly enjoying what was widely accepted as an unambiguous electoral victory for his party in the Greek municipal and regional elections. Back then, only a handful of insightful observers of Greek politics could anticipate the inglorious sudden end of his term. Just six months earlier, and soon after finally realizing the dramatic state of the Greek economy, the Socialist leader had grudgingly requested a substantial bail-out package, accompanied by a set of harsh austerity measures. The November municipal elections were the first ones to take place after the first Memorandum was signed between the Greek government, the ECB, the EU, and the IMF. With public discontent gradually escalating and despite their second-order character, Papandreou felt confident to convert these elections into a referendum for his economic policy. Accordingly, the result was interpreted as a reluctant, yet clear, vote of confidence for the government. Evidently, this pattern did not last long. Only a year later, with public discontent skyrocketing, Papandreou would move on to ask this time for an actual referendum before ratifying the EU Summit agreement that had been achieved after a long process of negotiations in Brussels. 

 

By now it is probably safe to argue that what was the first election within the Referendum era, was also the last election marked by the post-1981 established two-party system. At the same time, it was the last election in which the traditional left-right cleavage was the predominant if not the only cleavage mapping party preferences. The 2012 election did not only signal a dramatic transformation of the party competition dynamics, but it also exemplified the dominance of a new dimension, dubbed either pro-Europe versus anti-Europe or pro-Memorandum versus anti-Memorandum.  

 

Although various factors have contributed to this development, it is hard to deny the role of the Greek ‘indignados’ movement in this transformation. Since their first demonstration in Syntagma square on May 25th and until deep in the summer, the participants of the "Movement of Indignant Citizens", as they were officially called, were able to capture the attention of the media and cast their some times just and noble, other times dark and violent shadow on the agenda of the government as well as the opposition. The aim of this project is to examine the roots of this protest activity and its consequences on public opinion and party competition. In particular, drawing on Hirschman’s exit-voice-loyalty framework, we aspire to uncover what determines the shift between voice and exit and vice versa (Hirschman 1970). Moreover, we examine the link between change in political predispositions and political mobilization.   

 

Existing approaches of contentious politics in Greece tend to highlight cultural factors, which have difficulties explaining why political mobilization escalated during this period. Our study aims to provide a more comprehensive theoretical account of contentious collective action by focusing on the interplay between three major aspects of protest activity. First, we delve into the psychological and sociodemographic underpinnings of political engagement, looking at the role of affective mobilization as it becomes manifest through the expression of emotions and non-cognitive reactions to the flow of political information. In effect, Greece constitutes a paradox for two key theories of electoral change. First Zaller's Receive-Accept-Sample model (Zaller 1992) predicts a curvilinear, bell-shaped, relationship between political sophistication and attitude change: more politically interested individuals are more immune to new political stimuli; less politically interested ones are less likely to receive this stimuli; this leaves people in intermediate levels to be more prone to update their priors as a result of accumulating information contrasting their predispositions, in a somewhat Bayesian manner. In periods of political turmoil, however, with discussions about politics monopolizing the public debate, the threshold for receiving the message is quite low, creating a potential for a monotonic relationship between political sophistication and change in political preferences. Second, even new democracies display relatively high levels of partisan stability among the electorate. However, these levels are much higher in established democracies (Converse 1976). Reminiscent of an affective orientation towards a political object, a defining characteristic of partisanship is that it develops during early adulthood and remains relatively stable thenceforward (Campbell et al. 1960). Although age appears to be an important predictor of support for the two major parties until 2012, the unprecedented degree of electoral volatility seems to have affected even core party supporters. Both these puzzles require systematic exploration, aided by both observational and experimental data.  

 

This first approach is an attempt to capture the 'grassroots' origins, the demand side of the contentious collective action episodes. Having said that, the frequent use of the term ‘grassroots’ for movements such as the ‘indignant citizens’ of Syntagma square seems to disregard important degrees of infused agency. A first important dimension is intramovement dynamics, shaped through the agency of conscious, rational political entrepreneurs who attempt to exploit the rising potential and sway the movement's agenda towards their partisan shores. Another important top-down channel is the appropriation of the movement's framing by established political parties or renegade MPs and splinter parties that seize the opportunity to plant their seed on the fertile populist substrate and force their way into the next electoral process in order to reap the fruits of their labor. We will try to account for these dynamics by adopting a rational choice framework. An indicative example helps to motivate ideas and summarize the intuition: pro-memorandum policies become increasingly less popular to the point of incurring a potential election cost. This cost increases as intra- and inter-party competition increases. In cases with open-list ballots, both types of competition are contingent upon the district magnitude. We thus propose a duration analysis of desertion among PASOK and ND MPs, based on the magnitude of the district in which they were elected. Exploring such mechanisms will shed light on the constant interplay between grassroots politics and elite adaptation, a defining feature of Greek politics throughout this period.

 

This supply side analysis of the phenomenon carries significant explanatory value for understanding the important repercussions of this collective action instance on the Greek party system. However, the picture would not be complete without our third pillar of research: the media, both electronic and conventional. The impact of the media in the process of meaning construction is now common knowledge, however, the intensity of the role of new social media tools such as Facebook groups/pages and Twitter hashtags in the outbreak and organization of the movement, presents a cognitive twist that deserves close scrutiny. 

 

Our main empirical contribution will consist of a panel survey study on a nationwide scale, complemented by semi-structured interviews with adherents, as well as political entrepreneurs that became active in the heydays of the movement. We will attempt to reinforce our findings through the conduct of experiments in the form of trust/dictator games with which finer details will be examined in a more controlled environment. Given the presence of pronounced selection effects, the identification of media effects is a notoriously cumbersome task.  We will address this issue by combining\experimental data, mainly consisting of attempts to capture framing effects, with aggregate level information. Again, an illustrative example is the use of geographical variation in broadband connections as a proxy of internet usage in trying to discern differences in the relative density and durability of various local 'indignados' clusters. 

 

All in all, we aim to shed light on an important building block of Greek grassroots politics during the Memorandum era, namely, protest activity. The obliteration of the decades-old and virtually unshakable party system took place within the span of only 2 years and this groundbreaking development was manifestly filtered through the channels of collective action and reflected on the repertoire of contentious mobilization. Ranging from innocent street dramaturgy to violent acts against politicians and higher officials to massive demonstrations across the country, the indignados movement has proven to have been a catalyst of the political change that was witnessed. However, existing theoretical accounts about its roots, the driving forces of its genesis and its political implications have only been scarce. Remaining explanations are often limited by the tendency to look at this admittedly still evolving phenomenon through the eyes of the old political setting.  Rather, our departure point is that to effectively understand this inherently complex phenomenon, one needs to bring into the analysis the role of political elites, media and their dynamic interplay over time. To pursue this goal, we engage in a plethora of different design-based analytical techniques which range from aggregate-level patterns to fine-grained experimental settings. 

 

Our ambition is that our conclusions will be disseminated widely and reach scholars of various disciplines, from social psychology researchers to political scientists interested in purely electoral politics. At the same time, we believe that this work has the potential to expand outside the strict academic circles and stir discussion that will challenge existing beliefs on the interplay between the street and the parliament. Ideally, we would like our findings to stimulate policy makers into adjusting their agendas according to scientific data and political elites to reflect on the weight of our explanatory schemata. We believe that the academic capacity of our research team, under the close supervision of our Principal Investigator, holds the potential to successfully fulfill these goals under the highest of scientific standards.

 

References:

 

Campbell A., Converse P.E., Miller, W.E. & Stokes, D.E. (1960). The American Voter. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Converse, P.E. (1976). The Dynamics of Party Support: Cohort-analyzing Party Identification. Beverly Hills: Sage.

Diamantouros, N. (1993). "Politics and Culture in Greece, 1974-91: an Interpretation". In R. Clogg (Ed.), Greece 1981-89: The Populist Decade. London: St Martin's Press.

Hirschman, A.O. (1970). Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and State. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Zaller, J. R. (1992). The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

bottom of page