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Our Research Catalogue contains grants and outputs data up to the end of April 2014. Records will no longer be updated after this date.

Perceptions of Power: Voter Attribution of Responsibility within the European Union

Grant reference: RES-062-23-1522

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Impact Report details

Perceptions of Power: Voter attribution of responsibility within the European Union
Impact Report

Primary contributor

Author Sara Hobolt

Additional contributors

Contributor Cees van der Eijk
Contributor James Tilley
Contributor Susan Banducci


The objectives of this project were two-fold. First, to collect and disseminate new survey data on how people attribute responsibility to governments. This survey interviewed 27,000 individuals across 27 EU member states (as part of the European Election Studies 2009). Second, to analyse these survey data – as well as experimental and media data – to enhance our understanding of how citizens assign responsibility to the European Union, and communicate the scientific findings in conference papers and international journals. Following from these objectives, the first main impact has been to disseminate the survey data to other researchers for use in their own research. The cross-national survey data represents the first comprehensive study of citizen attribution of responsibility in the European Union. These survey data have been made accessible to the wider academic community and the data are already being used by a large group of social scientists. The second main impact of the project has been the contribution to the scientific understanding of how citizens think about responsibility in the European Union. The findings from this project have made a significant contribution to the academic fields of public opinion and electoral democracy in the European Union. We have disseminated our research findings via international scientific conferences and via leading peer-reviewed journals (specifically Comparative Political Studies, European Journal of Political Research, Journal of Politics, Journal of Common Market Studies and Political Behavior). We also have a forthcoming book with Oxford University Press.

1) A cross-national survey module on Attribution of Responsibility, conducted as part of the 2009 European Election Study (ZA5055), which is publically available. 2) Research articles in leading peer-reviewed journals : • Tilley and Hobolt (2011) ‘Is the government to blame? An experimental test of how partisanship shapes perceptions of performance and responsibility’, Journal of Politics 73(2): 316-330. • Hobolt, Tilley and Wittrock (2012), ‘Listening to the government: How information shapes responsibility attributions’, Political Behavior, forthcoming. • Hobolt (2012) ‘Citizen satisfaction with democracy in the European Union’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 50 (1): 88–105. • Hobolt, Tilley and Banducci (2014) ‘Clarity of responsibility: How government cohesion conditions performance voting', European Journal of Political Research, forthcoming. • Hobolt and Tilley (2014), ‘Who’s in Charge? Voter Attribution of Responsibility in the European Union, Comparative Political Studies, forthcoming September 2014 3) A book, entitled Blaming Europe? Attribution of Responsibility in the European Union (Hobolt and Tilley), forthcoming with Oxford University Press in 2013. In addition, a methodology article on linking survey and media data by Van der Eijk and Sapir ‘A user-driven and flexible procedure for data linking’, appeared in IASSIST Quarterly (2010). The main findings can be summarised as follows: 1) Institutional context shapes how citizens assign responsibility across levels of government. Nonetheless, citizens mainly rely on their in-groups biases, such as partisanship and feelings about the EU, when deciding who is to blame. 2) The media and politicians attribute relatively little blame to the EU, however, when information is available, citizens are responsive. 3) Responsibility judgements do not generally shape vote choices in contexts with low clarity of responsibility, such as in EP elections.

These impacts were achieved in several ways: 1) The survey data and media attribution module have been made accessible on the PIREDEU website ( The datasets have also been deposited with the Economic and Social Data Services ESDS ( and with GESIS (, ZA5055). At the Final User Conference for the PIREDEU project held in Brussels in 18-19 November 2010, we ran hands-on training sessions on how to use and link the survey and media data for both academic users and non-academic users. 2) Research papers based on the project have been presented at 18 international scientific conferences and workshops, providing an excellent opportunity to introduce the data and findings to the international scholarly community. We have also organized three conference panels on the theme of attribution of responsibility: at the MPSA meeting (Chicago, April 2010) and at ECPR conferences (Porto, June 2010 & Reykjavik, August 2011). 3) The findings have been discussed in articles aimed at a wider public audience, including in interviews in Danish and Norwegian newspapers, in the ESRC magazine Society Now, and in the Institute for Public Policy Research’s journal Juncture. 4) We have published six journal articles (in print or forthcoming) in leading journals to present the key findings of the project and introduce the data to the academic community. Furthermore, the project findings are contained in a book to be published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

The outputs from the project had an impact on academics involved in research and teaching on European Union politics, public opinion and electoral democracy. Specifically, we have collaborated closely with two international networks of scholars and graduate students. First, ELECDEM, a Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) that brings together 11 expert teams from across Europe to provide training in electoral research to early stage researchers (ESRs). One of the ESRs involved in the project, Traci Wilson (Oxford), has based her doctoral thesis on the data collected in this project. Second, the EES Association and PIREDEU, a pan-European collaborative network of scholars studying electoral democracy in the EU. Evidence indicates that the data are already being used by a large group of social scientists, including both graduate students and senior academics: between May 2010 and November 2011 the datasets had been requested 1892 times, and more than 300 times between March and July 2012. There are currently 1,006 registered users of the PIREDEU online data centre, located in the UK, Europe and North America. The scientific findings have reached scholars on public opinion and multi-level system in both Europe and North America. We have presented project findings in the following places: Bergen University (Norway), Brussels (Belgium), Indiana University (US), London School of Economics (UK), Simon Fraser University (Canada), University of Colorado (US), University of Essex (UK), University of Manneheim (Germany), University of Michigan (US) and at the APSA, ECPR, MPSA, PSPE and UACES annual conferences. The publication of research papers in leading international political science journals ( e.g. the Journal of Politics and Comparative Political Studies), as well as in a top EU journal, Journal of Common Market Studies, attests to the broad scientific impact of this project on the political science and European studies scholarly communities.

We anticipate that the data generated by the survey will continue to be used widely by for research and teaching purposes, thus informing research and teaching on European Union politics, public opinion and electoral democracy in multi-level systems. Moreover, the impact of the scientific findings from the project are expected to increase over the next few years, not least as the forthcoming research articles and book manuscript, listed above, are out in print. We also currently have several other research articles in progress, which are anticipated to make a scientific impact in the next couple of years. These include: • Banducci and Russell. ‘Gender, Identity, Attribution: Responsibility for Climate Change in the European Union.’ Under review with Global Environmental Change • Wilson and Hobolt ‘Allocating Responsibility in Multilevel Government Systems: Voter and Expert Attributions in the European Union’. Working paper. • Hobolt and Tilley ‘Shifting Blame to Europe? Assigning Responsibility for the Eurozone Crisis’. Working paper. • Banducci, Hobolt and Tilley ‘The Media and Attribution of Responsibility: How Political Institutions Condition News Framing’. Working paper.

None so far

The main purpose of this project was to collect and disseminate data on how voters attribute responsibility in the EU to gain a better understanding of how citizens make sense of political outcomes in a complex multi-level system of governance. We believe that such evidence has the potential to have a societal impact as it is valuable for debates on the quality of democracy in the EU, not only among academics, but also among policy-makers in national and European institutions. It also provides an important benchmark for understanding blame attribution in the current financial and economic crisis in Europe. However, given the nature of the project it is difficult at this stage to demonstrate a measurable societal impact. Firstly, while the project may have had an impact on the quality of the debate on institutional reform and electoral democracy in the EU, it will necessarily be difficult to identify a demonstrable impact. Secondly, the societal impact is unlikely to be achieved within a 12 month period, since institutional reforms of national and European institutions generally take much longer to decide and implement. Nonetheless, we will continue to actively disseminate our findings beyond the narrow scientific domain. For example, we are organizing a number of seminars and high-profile talks in the autumn 2012 at the London School of Economics with academics, policy-makers and think tanks (such as the Policy Network) that links the current eurozone crisis, and future of the EU integration project, with our findings on credit and blame attribution. We are also planning a public event in connection with the launch of the book emanating from this project, Blaming Europe? Attribution of Responsibility in the European Union, that will reach out to both expert communities and media outlets. Finally, we plan to disseminate our research findings in a more accessible form in online forums, such as on the LSE EUROPP blog (

Cite this outcome


Hobolt, Sara et al. Perceptions of Power: Voter Attribution of Responsibility within the European Union: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-1522. Swindon: ESRC


Hobolt Sara et al. Perceptions of Power: Voter Attribution of Responsibility within the European Union: ESRC Impact Report, RES-062-23-1522. Swindon: ESRC.