Neuere und Neueste Geschichte

Forschungsprojekt

Shall the »People« Speak? Historicizing Electoral Participation in France, Germany and Switzerland, 1945–2017

Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin


Pessimistic stances on the state of democracy may be as old as democracy – and universal franchise – itself. Yet abstention has particularly emerged as a democratic »sickness« in »old« democracies since the first post-war decades.

This research project proposes to take a new look at electoral participation, not as a political phenomenon per se, but rather as an object of contention leading to multiple interpretations and practices in the political sphere. To that aim, it asks how political actors – politicians, officials, but also journalists and political scientists – have »dealt« with electoral participation through the post-war era in France, West-Germany and Switzerland. Following a transnational perspective, the project aims to reveal similarities, differences as well as circulation patterns in discourses and practices regarding electoral participation in the three countries, fostered by the intense intellectual exchanges of the post-war period.

This research project proposes to take a new look at electoral abstention, not as a political phenomenon per se, but rather as an object of contention leading to multiple interpretations and practices in the political sphere.

Plakat, Mai 1968, Autor/in unbekannt, gallica.bnf.fr / BnF.

On the one hand, it identifies and compares the specific political conjunctures that bring about the problematizing of electoral abstention as a »symptom« of a crisis of democracy. On the other hand, it aims to explore the many ways in which political actors have also tried to act on electoral participation. These three Western European countries, while each having distinct political systems, have experienced similar evolutions throughout the post-war decades: sinking turnout rates, a weakening of traditional party ties, and the emergence of new forms of political participation, particularly around 1968, but also the professionalization of politics, supported by the emergence of new electoral knowledge.