Thomas Däubler, Jochen Müller, Christian Stecker
Assessing democratic representation in multi‐level democracies

West European Politics, 2018: 41, issue 3, pp. 541-564
ISSN: 0140-2382 (print); 1743-9655 (online)

This article introduces the special issue ‘Assessing democratic representation in multi-level democracies’ from a conceptual perspective. It adapts Powell’s chain of responsiveness – as a model of the democratic process on the national level – to the context of multi-level systems and discusses conditions that might facilitate or hamper responsiveness in regional democracies. The theoretical reasoning identifies added complexity, multiple actors sharing the same label and cross-level interdependent decisions as the key challenges to multi-level democracy. Empirical illustrations focus on the first stage of the representation process. Here voters should form rational policy preferences and take informed voting decisions, and parties are expected to offer coherent policy platforms that are tailored to the specifics of the regional level. While the analysis of party manifesto data suggests that regional parties cover regional issues, and strategic incentives to focus on other levels appear limited, survey-based information illustrates the cognitive burden of multi-level democracy on voters. In combination with a synopsis of the other contributions assembled in this issue, the findings suggest that information, responsibility and accountability problems may be particular obstacles to responsiveness in multi-level systems.