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General background

Modern mass democracy rests upon the electoral connection between citizens and their government (Dahl 1989, 2000). This electoral connection is under stress, perhaps particularly so in Europe. A variety of factors are mentioned as potential causes. In the West, political parties loose stable support (Dalton & Wattenberg 2000) at a time when their social roots (Dalton et al. 1984, Franklin
et al. 1992) and ideological distinctiveness (Schmitt & Wessels 2008) are shrinking and, at the same time, their campaign efforts are abounding (Farrell & Schmitt-Beck 2002). Many voters have lost faith in electoral politics, and abstentions and last-minute vote choices are increasing (Wattenberg 2002). This goes hand in hand with growing populism and anti-establishment orientations (Meny & Surel 2002).
The situation might be different in the South of Europe, however, where party alignments are in a different level of development due to late (re-) democratization and the persistence of pre-modern clientelistic features of political linkage (Diamandouros and Gunther 2001; Gunther et al. 1995). And in the post-communist East of Europe, stable party alignments of voters have yet to grow and stabilize (Kitschelt et al., 1999; Tworzecki. 2003): party systems there are still fluid and the volatility of individual voters is very high (Sikk 2005).
Cross-national variation in the functioning of representative democracy in Europe thus seems to originate in differences of the political-institutional context, the timing of democratization, and of social and cultural legacies. This diversity is accentuated by the fact that European electoral politics is extending over a plurality of levels sub-national, national and European which tends to obscure electoral accountability. Under these circumstances, former regularities no longer hold. It is the aim of the Action (a) to update and consolidate our knowledge about these processes; and (b) to determine their consequences for the functioning of representative democracy in Europe. Based upon this, (c) policy recommendations shall be made for the further democratization of the multi¬level system of governance of the European Union.
This agenda calls for a collaborative effort of the National Election Studies established in most European countries. In Western Europe, these studies often date back to the late 1950s or early 1960s; they were at the centre of the European Voter Project (Thomassen 2005). In the South, empirical electoral research started about a decade later. In the East, free and fair elections only exist from the 1990s onwards, and electoral research has been starting form then on.
In short, there is a huge number of National Election Studies already funded and conducted within many European countries. What is lacking in order to take full profit from these past and ongoing research efforts is the opportunity to analyze the findings of these diverse data bases in a comparative perspective. This requires a joint effort of European scholars to integrate their data bases into a common data-structure and jointly and separately analyze it in the pursuit of a common analytical agenda. COST is the most appropriate framework for realizing the Action because it is not about original research but about the co-ordination and integration of existing data bases. But the benefits of the Action will go well beyond data-integration, as it will generate an important cross-fertilization of country specific research perspectives.