University of Tasmania
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Elite democracy: Political competition and voter opinion in the 2010 Australian Federal election

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posted on 2023-05-27, 00:53 authored by Jones, CP
This research investigates the voter-leader nexus by examining the extent to which public opinion mirrors the political attitudes and pronouncements of political elites in Australia. While aggregative-pluralist scholars regard voters as holders of exogenous preferences and political elites as aggregators of these preferences, neo-elitists regard public opinion as actively shaped and manufactured by competitive elites seeking election to political office. These perspectives, while both compelling, are mutually exclusive. Using the 2010 Federal Election campaign as a case study, the research employs a mixed methods approach to compare the plausibility of the two perspectives. The empirical part involves: (a) comparison of the structure of voters' political attitudes with those of parliamentary candidates drawing upon the 1990 - 2010 Australian Election Studies and Australian Candidate Studies; and (b) qualitative analysis of the dynamics of leader-voter interaction through the use of innovative 'political logs' kept by participants during the 2010 election campaign. The quantitative analysis confirms the neo-elitist proposition that Labor and Coalition elites polarise more strongly on left-right issues than on authority issues, a finding that holds across the 20-year sampled period. The qualitative analysis shows that while participants generally have high levels of political awareness, their political autonomy is low ‚Äö- as their information is sourced from leaders and parties, and voter agendas increasingly correspond with those of leaders toward the end of the campaign. This study finds that Australian democracy is far more elite-driven than is currently acknowledged. I conclude that contemporary democracy is characterised by an asymmetrical and elite-dominated social process of persuasion in strategic competition for control of the state. My research contributes to political sociology, demonstrating that political logs offer a valuable supplement to surveys by allowing researchers to examine the dynamics of the voter-leader nexus.


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