Contamination Effects in Multi-level Systems of Governance

Research question/goal: 

This project deals with the nature of the relationship between different levels of governance. Most European democracies employ a multi-level system of governance. They provide several challenges and important opportunities for representative democracy and electoral accountability. We speak of "contamination effects" or "interaction effects" between two electoral arenas if the null hypothesis of independence between both arenas cannot be sustained, i.e., when one electoral arena “contaminates” the result in another electoral arena. This project is to conceptualize the decision-making process of citizens as a trade-off between their preferences and the incentives that are provided by the electoral context (e.g. institutions). The research question focuses first on the relationship between national and state elections in Germany. A combination of state- and national-level public opinion surveys has been used to answer some of these questions for Germany. The main result of this study is that the political composition of the national and the sub-national levels of government might provide an important decision-making heuristic. If both governments are held by the same parties then the attribution of responsibility is easier for citizens. The same parties are responsible for the policy output and are likely to be punished or rewarded depending on citizens’ performance evaluations of the government. Voters really do not need to know much about the structure and rules of the political process in a multi-level system. In order to validate the causal claims other federal systems will be subsequently studied. The obtained results informed a grant proposal that got meanwhile funding and will inform a new MZES project on "Making Electoral Democracy Work". The results of a comparative analysis of sub-national elections are expected to inform the literature on voting behavior, electoral cycles and second-order elections.

Fact sheet

2005 to 2011
Data Sources: 
Aggregat-level and individual-level data
Geographic Space: 



Behnke, Joachim, Thomas Gschwend, Delia Schindler and Kai-Uwe Schnapp (Eds.) (2006): Methoden der Politikwissenschaft. Neuere qualitative und quantitative Analyseverfahren. Baden-Baden: Nomos. more