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Polls as a means of political legitimation

Les sondages comme outil de légitimation (du) politique

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Published on Monday, March 21, 2022

Abstract

Today, the importance of opinion polls must be discussed in the context of an increasing “doxophrenia”, i.e., the obsessive need to quantify opinions, and an increasing mistrust (of citizens as well as political actors) towards opinion polls. The focus of this conference is thus on questions of legitimacy and legitimation as well as opinion polls as an instrument of political communication: polling expertise considered both as a method of forecasting and political framing.

Announcement

Argument

Deeply political, both in their production and their effects, polls provide a communication tool and a symbolic device (Blondiaux, 1998; Champagne, 2015) on which candidates, political parties, politicians, and journalists rely to speak on behalf of the citizens. "Public opinion" harnessed through polls derives its performative force from a "scientific" measure: a percentage established by polls (Aldrin & Hubé, 2017) – allowing to perceive information as reliable and incontestable (Grunberg & Mayer, 2014).  As a commercial product (e.g., the methods used, their purpose) polls are often controversial. It is key to address the innate biases (Knobloch-Westerwick et al., 2020) and blind spots of those who develop and exploit polls to feed a campaign strategy or justify a public stance (Corzine & Woolley, 2018).

While major polling failures speak for themselves (Giuliani, 2018), polls can be used to instrumentalise or even manipulate public opinion (Maquis, 2005). The legitimacy of polls is regularly questioned, raising suspicions (e.g., the financing of partially manipulated polls serving exclusively partisan political interests like the recent scandal of faked polls in Austria) and mistrust (e.g., the criticism of some editorial offices, such as the newspaper Ouest France, to the detriment of a genuine debate).

Today, the importance of opinion polls must be discussed in the context of an increasing "doxophrenia", i.e., the obsessive need to quantify opinions, and an increasing mistrust (of citizens as well as political actors) towards opinion polls. The focus of this conference is thus on questions of legitimacy and legitimation as well as opinion polls as an instrument of political communication: polling expertise considered both as a method of forecasting and political framing.

The discussions will focus on three thematic areas:

  1. The reception of polls by actors in the media

Opinion polls describe and influence dynamics of election campaigns and other political events. Opinion surveys constitute a "hot topic" dictating the pace of campaigns and fostering the "priming" effect (Scheufele, 2000; Tewksbury & Dietram, 2007; Tryggvason, 2021). The media guarantees opinion polls a central role in defining today's public debate (Kessler, 2002). Moreover, survey results are instrumental in "framing" political issues or controversies (Herbst, 1998; Entman, 2007). This first focus therefore addresses the interactions between pollsters, political staff, and actors in the media. It proposes to examine the media’s responsibility in influencing public opinion. Questions referring to this area are: How are different political parties framed in relation to published poll results? What effects in perception are created among voters?

  1. The instrumentalization of polls by political communication

Political communication uses opinion polls as a “weapon” of mass persuasion (Jacobs & Shapiro, 1995; Brochot, 2013). Taking advantage of, or contesting their ranking in the polls, candidates for instance label themselves as frontrunners or outsiders to convince voters (Chou, 2019). This second focus proposes to examine the determining role of the pollsters' "clients" and the interpretative leeway left to the latter. How do parties, supporters and campaigners manage to impose a positive interpretative framework for their candidates based on opinion polls? More generally: How does the instrumentalization of polls fit into the communication strategies of candidates and what are its limitations?

  1. The role of Eurobarometers

In addition to their decisive impact on electoral processes at the national level, opinion data constitute an essential resource for the legitimisation of the European Union. Despite a rigorous methodology, the production and use of opinion data by and for the EU still raises several questions – due to certain heuristic shortcuts (Gaxie et al., 2011), the diachronic dimension of the surveys (Aldrin, 2010) or an inherent cognitivist bias (Aldrin, 2009). Thus, the third area focuses on the Eurobarometer as a tool for legitimising the EU as a transnational political project. How does Eurobarometer data represent the European political project with its citizens and what are its limitations?

This symposium PROTAGORAS 2022 has the scientific contribution of the FHWien der WKW University of Applied Sciences for Management & Communication and CELSA, the Ecole des hautes études en sciences de l’information et de la communication, part of Sorbonne University, and the Department of Media, Society and Communication at the University of Innsbruck.

The symposium will organise separate panels in French and English

Submission guidelines

Proposals (in Word or PDF format) should include:

  • In a separate file: name, professional or academic status, institutional affiliation, contact details of the author(s) (e-mail and postal addresses).
  • The title of the paper (maximum 180 characters including spaces).
  • The axis of the conference within which the paper is to be presented.
  • A 500-word abstract (excluding references) highlighting the interest of the contribution and including an overview of the problematic.
  • Proposals for papers may be presented either as reflective analyses based on recent and completed empirical research, or as analyses of professional communication practises.

Deadline for proposals is April 29, 2022. Please send your abstract to conference@protagoras.be

Abstracts will be evaluated through a double-blind review process by the scientific committee. Authors will be notified of the decision of the organisational committee on May 13, 2022.

Participation fee is 100 Euros.

The symposium will be followed by a publication in the “cahiers protagoras” (Éditions L’Harmattan)

Organisation Committee

  • Nicolas Baygert – IHECS-Protagoras, Sciences Po (IEP Paris) & Université Libre de Bruxelles.
  • Baptiste Buidin – IHECS-Protagoras Research Fellow, Université Libre de Bruxelles.
  • Thierry Devars – CELSA Sorbonne-University, (GRIPIC).
  • Esther Durin – Applied Research Coordinator (IHECS), Université Paul-Valéry (Praxiling).
  • Isabelle Le Breton Falezan – CELSA Sorbonne-University, (GRIPIC).
  • Élise Le Moing-Maas – President of the IHECS PR Section, Université Rennes 2 (PREFics).
  • Loïc Nicolas – IHECS-Protagoras Research Fellow.
  • Gisela Reiter – FHWien der WKW University of Applied Sciences for Management & Communication.
  • Uta Rußmann – University of Innsbruck.
  • John Vandenhaute – Research & Development Coordinator, IHECS-Protagoras.

Scientific Committee

  • Nicolas Baygert – IHECS-Protagoras, Sciences Po (IEP Paris) & Université Libre de Bruxelles.
  • Vincent Carlino – Université catholique de l’Ouest (UCO), Nantes.
  • Lucie Château – Tilburg University.
  • Anne-Marie Cotton – Haute école Artevelde de Gent, Université Bordeaux Montaigne (MICA)
  • François Debras – Université de Liège (HELMO).
  • Lucile Desmoulin – Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée (DICEN-IDF)
  • Thierry Devars – CELSA Sorbonne-University, (GRIPIC).
  • Charles Devellennes – University of Kent
  • Esther Durin – IHECS-Protagoras, Université Paul-Valéry (Praxiling).
  • Helen Etchanchu – Montpellier Business School
  • Alexandre Eyries – Université de Bourgogne (Ciméos)
  • Adrien Jahier – IHECS-Protagoras Research Fellow.
  • Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels – University of Kent (BSIS).
  • Alexander Kondratov – Université Libre de Bruxelles (ReSIC), IHECS.
  • Isabelle Le Breton Falezan – CELSA Sorbonne-University, (GRIPIC).
  • Élise Le Moing-Maas – IHECS-Protagoras, Université Rennes 2 (PREFics).
  • Brieuc Lits – Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles
  • Philippe Marion – Université Catholique de Louvain (ORM)
  • Loïc Nicolas – IHECS-Protagoras Research Fellow.
  • Alvaro Oleart – Vrije Universiteit (VU), Amsterdam.
  • Uta Rußmann – University of Innsbruck.
  • Kelly Céleste Vossen – Université Saint-Louis, Bruxelles

About Protagoras

Attached to the Institut des Hautes Etudes en Communications Sociales (IHECS), the PROTAGORAS think-tank is an inter-university and interdisciplinary research centre specialised in public and political communication. PROTAGORAS aims to build bridges between fundamental and applied research, as well as between scholars and practitioners in public and political communication.

Website

References

Aldrin, P. (2009). L’Union Européenne face à l’opinion. Construction et usages politiques de l’opinion comme problème communautaire, Savoir/Agir,1 (7), p. 13-23.

Aldrin, P. (2010). L’invention de l’opinion publique européenne. Genèse intellectuelle et politique de l’Eurobaromètre (1950-1973). Politix1(89), p. 79-101.

Aldrin, P.,& Hubé, N. (2017) Introduction à la communication politique. Louvain-la-Neuve : De Boeck Supérieur. 

Belot, C., Boussaguet, L. & Halpern, C. (2016). La fabrique d’une opinion publique européenne : Sélection, usages et effets des instruments. Politique européenne, 54, 84-125. 

Blondiaux, L. (1998). La fabrique de l’opinion. Une histoire sociale des sondages. Paris : Seuil.

Brochot, V. (2013). Le sondage d’opinion : attribut de la démocratie ou manipulation de l’opinion. Pouvoirs, 145, 141-154. 

Champagne, P. (2015). Faire l’opinion : le nouveau jeu politique. Paris : Minuit.

Chou, H.-Y. (2019). Labeling candidates as underdogs in political communications: The moderation of candidate-related factors. Electoral Studies59, 120–135.

Corzine, J.S., & Woolley, P.J. (2018). In Defense of Polls, Though Not Necessarily Pollsters, Pundits or Strategists. Political Science and Politics, 51(1), pp. 159-164.

Entman, R. M. (2007). Framing bias: Media in the distribution of power. Journal of communication, 57(1), 163-173.

Gaxie, D., Hubé, N., De Lassalle, M., et Rowell, J. (2011). L’Europe des Européens. Enquête comparative sur les perceptions de l’Europe. Economica, coll. « Etudes Politiques ».

Grunberg, G., & Mayer, N. (2014). L’effet sondage. Des citoyens ordinaires aux élites politiques. In: Y. Déloye et al., Institutions, élections, opinions (pp. 219-236), Paris : Presses de Sciences po.

Giuliani, M. (2018). Making sense of pollsters' errors. An analysis of the 2014 second-order European election predictions. Journal of Elections Public Opinion and Parties, 1-17.

Herbst, S. (1998). Reading Public Opinion. How Political Actors View the Democratic Process. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press.

Jacobs, L.R. & Shapiro, R.Y. (1995). Presidential Manipulation of Polls and Public Opinion: The Nixon Administration and the Pollsters. Political Science Quarterly110(4), 519–538.

Kessler, E. (2002). « La folie des sondeurs. De la trahison des opinions ». Paris : Denoël.

Knobloch-Westerwick, S., Mothes, C., & Polavin, N. (2020). Confirmation Bias, Ingroup Bias, and Negativity Bias in Selective Exposure to Political Information. Communication Research47(1), 104–124.

Marquis, L (2005). Sondages d’opinion et communication politique. Les Cahiers du CEVIPOF, 38, Centre de recherches politiques de Sciences Po.

Scheufele, D.A. (2000). Agenda-Setting, Priming, and Framing Revisited: Another Look at Cognitive Effects of Political Communication. Mass Communication & Society, 3(2-3), 297-316.

Scheufele, D.A., & Tewksbury, D. (2007). Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models. Journal of Communication57(1), 9–20.

Tryggvason, O. (2021). The Winner-Loser Spiral in Political News Coverage: Investigating the Impact of Poll Coverage on Subsequent Party Coverage. Political Communication38(6), 672–690.

Places

  • IHECS - Rue de l'Étuve 58-60
    Brussels, Belgium (1000)

Event attendance modalities

Hybrid event (on site and online)


Date(s)

  • Friday, April 29, 2022

Keywords

  • sondage, poll, opinion publique, public opinion, communication politique, political communication, communication publique, public communication, légitimation politique, political legitimation, science politique, political science

Contact(s)

  • John Vandenhaute
    courriel : john [dot] vandenhaute [at] protagoras [dot] be
  • John Vandenhaute
    courriel : john [dot] vandenhaute [at] protagoras [dot] be
  • Nicolas Baygert
    courriel : nicolas [dot] baygert [at] protagoras [dot] be

Information source

  • John Vandenhaute
    courriel : john [dot] vandenhaute [at] protagoras [dot] be

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Polls as a means of political legitimation », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, March 21, 2022, https://doi.org/10.58079/18jb

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