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Mechanisms of Opposition: Inclusion or polarization?

Project Draft by Dr. Simon T. Franzmann

Despite its importance in democratic theory (cf. Dahl 1966), the phenomenon of democratic opposition is rather seldom subject of research.  In the rare cases opposition is addressed, subject-related approaches currently dominate the discourse (cf. Helms 2008). But such approaches use qualitative case-studies that lack of the ambition to get generalizable insights. Hence the proposed project focused on a mechanism based approach in order to assess the impact of different patterns of opposition on party democracy. Which impact has the type of democracy on the pattern of opposition? What does the particular pattern of opposition mean in terms of citizen’s representation? Which impact does the pattern of opposition have on citizen’s participation? And which impact does it have on policy formulation?
For the level of participation, we expect that citizens tend more to protest in case of a weak opposition. This weakness might be caused institutionally, for instance being a majoritarian democracy, or caused by party behavior due to oversized coalition or collusive behavior. Vice versa, in a system where the discontent with the government can be expressed by a powerful opposition, we expect a lower protest rate but a higher rate of conventional participation. Concerning policy formulation and policy outcome, literature often assumes a direct impact of the elected government and their preferences on its policies. However, each government which seeks to be re-elected has not only to reconsider citizens’ preferences but also the strategies of the opposition parties. Hence we assume that depending on the (numerical) fragmentation and the ideological distance within the opposition, government coalitions reconsider differently opposition claims: the more fragmented the opposition, the more the government tends to implement their own ideal points. In case of a unilateral opposition (cf. Sartori 1976), the government is able to fight for the median voter position (e.g. Downs 1957). In case of a bilateral opposition, the government will stick to their core issues in order not to lose issue-ownership and votes to either the opposition to the right or to the left. During the project first data on opposition and ideological party positions are collected. Beyond institutional variables the data of MARPOR are used to identify policy positions in multiple dimensions as well as parties most important issues. Data on participation are taken from the ESS, the CSES and the ISSP. In order to ensure logically consistency of our hypotheses regarding micro-, meso- and macro-level, we rely on Agent Based Modelling (ABM). For our empirical models we combine statistical multi-level analysis (MLA) with configurational methods such as QCA. While MLA models context and intra-group effects explaining a phenomenon on the micro-level, QCA focuses on the macro-level and on the differences of necessary and sufficient conditions. By combining both, we are able to step completely through ‘Coleman’s macro-micro-micro-macro-approach’.


Schmitt, Johannes & Franzmann, Simon T. (2017): Wie schädlich sind große Koalitionen? Zum Zusammenhang von Regierungs-Oppositionskonstellation und ideologischer Polarisierung. In Jun, Uwe & Bukow, Sebastian (Hrsg.), Parteien unter Wettbewerbsdruck. Wiesbaden: Springer VS (im Erscheinen).

Franzmann, Simon T. & Schmitt, Johannes (2016): How the Mechanism of Dynamic Representation Affects Policy Change and Stability. In: Analyse & Kritik 38(1): 227-256.

Netlogo-File of the ABM


Dahl, Robert (1966) Political Oppositions in Western Democracies. New Haven und London: Yale University Press.

Downs, Anthony (1957) An economic theory of democracy. New York: Harper & Row.

Helms, Ludger (2008) Studying Parliamentary Opposition in Old and New Democracies: Issues and Perspectives, in: The Journal of Legislative Studies (p. 6-19).

Sartori, Giovanni (1976): Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Project title:       High degree of participation due to a weak opposition?
Theoretical and empirical models of the interaction of democratic type, opposition and participation
Funding: Strategic research fund of the Heinrich-Heine-University
Grant sum: 48.749,28 €
Duration: 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2015
Project leader: Dr. Simon T. Franzmann
Project staff: Johannes Schmitt, M.A., Stephan Schütze, B.A.



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