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85 Seiten, Note: 16/20
1 Introduction: what about Diffuse Support in Belgian Federalism?
2 In search of a valid indicator for Diffuse Support
3 Research design
3.1 Research question and goals
3.2 Research relevance
3.3 Important research remarks
4 The critical case of Belgian Federalism
4.1 Belgium: Federalism as outcome while still in process
4.2 An overview of comparative federalism
5 Conceptualizing Diffuse Support and operationalizing Division of Competences
5.1 Trust and Legitimacy
5.2 A clear separation from Specific Support
5.3 Support for Division of Competences as a measure for Diffuse Support
6 Assessing different predictors of Diffuse support for Belgian Federalism
6.1 Political knowledge
6.1.1 Level of Education
6.1.2 Factual Political Knowledge
6.2 Political Ideology
6.3 Regional Identity
6.4 Interregional Contact
6.5 The main independent variable: Region
7 Methodology and results
7.1 Operationalising the variables
7.1.2 Division of Competences
7.1.3 Level of Education
7.1.4 Factual Political Knowledge
7.1.5 Political Ideology
7.1.6 Regional Identity
7.1.7 Interregional Contact
7.2 Validity of DIVoCOM as an indicator for Diffuse Support
7.3 Constructing the model step-by-step
7.3.1 Regressing Region
7.3.2 Education: a significant value to the model?
7.3.3 Factual Political Knowledge: moderation or mediation?
7.3.4 Political Ideology: lack of significant mediation
7.3.5 Regional Identity and mediation effect
7.3.6 Mediation of Interregional Contact
7.3.7 The last step to the model and final results
7.4 When negative towards DIVoCOM: Regionalism or Unitarianism?
7.5 Assessing the validity of the structural model
8 Discussion, limitations and directions for future research
11.1 Descriptive statistics
11.2 List of questions in the PartiRep survey for the measure of Factual Political Knowledge
11.3 Correlation between DIVoCOM and Satisfaction of Democracy
11.4 Model 1 & 2: 2-step regression of DIVoCOM
11.5 Addition of Education
11.5.1 Model 3: 3-step regression with Education and interaction term
11.5.2 Multivariate regression of DIVoCOM
11.6 Addition of Factual Political Knowledge
11.6.1 3-step regression with Factual Political Knowledge and interaction term
11.6.2 Model 4: Mediation effect of Factual Political Knowledge
11.6.3 Model 5: modification of regressing Factual Political Knowledge on Regional Identity
11.7 Addition of Political Ideology
11.7.1 Bivariate regression
11.7.2 Model 6: Mediation effect of Political Ideology
11.8 Addition of Regional Identity
11.8.1 Bivariate analysis
11.8.2 Model 7: Mediation effect of Regional Identity
11.8.3 Model 8: Modification of regressing Regional Identity on Political Ideology
11.9 Addition of Interregional Contact
11.9.1 Bivariate analysis
11.9.2 Model 9: Mediation effect of Interregional Contact
11.10 Model 10: Modification of Regional Identity on Interregional Contact
11.11 Model 11: DIVoCOM replaced by COMtoFED
11.11.1 Initial model
11.11.2 Model after corrections and excluding insignificant relations
11.12 Model 12: DIVoCOM replaced by Satisfaction of Democracy
11.12.1 Initial model
11.12.2 Model after corrections and excluding insignificant relations
First of all, I would like to thank my supervisor Peter Thijssen who guided my thesis process with constructive remarks and feedback, made time for answering my questions, and provided me with the datasets for my thesis. Without him, this paper would not have been possible. Secondly, I would like to thank my colleague-students who provided me with advice, comments and revisions. At last, I thank my friends and family who supported me during the writing process.
Most of the writing process of this thesis was after the worldwide coronavirus outbreak of March 2020, which had an impact on the University of Antwerp and many of her students on an unseen scale. Fortunately for me and this thesis, I can confidently say the end result did not suffer as result of the coronavirus because the data was already provided by Peter Thijssen before the outbreak and the online meetings for discussion and feedback between us were as helpful as our physical meetings.
In literature, Easton’s conception of diffuse support is a key concept in evaluating the institutional design and structural mechanisms of a political system based on citizen attitudes. Nevertheless, diffuse support as a concept remains a challenge to operationalise. The political system of Belgian federalism, as such, would be served with a custom measure of diffuse support. The federal system in Belgium is praised by political scientists for its consensus-building mechanisms to appease political conflicts between the regions and language communities, yet the cultural and political separateness between Flanders and Wallonia still remains. Considering the seeming lack of agreement between political elites and difficult decision-making in recent Belgian history and the federal elections of 2019 having the most volatile electoral outcomes in long time, a study examining the level of support Belgian citizens have towards the Belgian federal system and how diffuse support is potentially affected by the regional separateness would be relevant. By constructing a model step-by-step with support for the division of competences between the federal and regional levels as an indicator for diffuse support and several other predictors of political attitudes, we demonstrate that levels of support for the division of competences is significantly lower in Flanders, although levels of support still are appropriate in both regions. Albeit, we did not succeed in determining our measure of support for division of competences being a valid indicator for diffuse support.
Diffuse support, Belgium, federalism, division of competences
Do Belgian citizens support the existing federal system in their country? After the 2019 federal elections, the federal government formation process was proven to be, yet again, difficult. Similarly to the federal elections of 2007 and 2010, there was mention of a new “regime crisis” (M. Hooghe, 2019). Additionally, it is often claimed that socio-cultural and political life in Belgium are almost completely separated from each other (Billiet, Maddens, & Frognier, 2006). Political journalists from Flanders and Wallonia recognise the further cultural widening between the regions and the probability of Belgium being split into a country of “two democracies” in the near future (Arnoudt, 2019). Yet, Belgium as a federal system is praised by authors for being capable to ensure political stability in a polarised setting and serves as a worldwide example for other federations. Up until now, federalism in Belgium has achieved to successfully resolve conflicts and to apply appeasement mechanisms between the opposing regional and lingual communities and is revered as a successful example of federalism (K. Deschouwer, 2009; Lijphart, 1981). PartiRep research of 2014 indicates that the level of trust in the federal level in both Flanders and Wallonia were both equally stable, with even a slight stable increase over the last years (Hooghe & van Haute, 2014). After the 2019 election, can we expect a similar level of positive attitudes towards the federal system among Belgian citizens?
Nonetheless, the 2019 elections turned out to be one of the most volatile in Belgian history. Most traditional parties lost many votes to untraditional parties whom were not supportive of the current federal model (van Erkel et al., 2019). Additionally, prior to the elections, Belgium was had no sitting government. Since Prime Minister Michel resigned in December 2018 due the political impasse among the federal parties after signing UN’s Marrakech-pact (Reuters, 2018) the federal government was in a state of running affairs. This meant they were at minimum decision-making capacity and clear political leadership was absent for months. With taking into regard the huge electoral volatility of the 2019 elections, a study about the levels of support of Belgian citizens in the federal system could be worthwhile in predicting Belgium’s political future. After the 2019 elections, do Belgian citizens support the existing federal system or do they favour new state reforms? A broad proportion of the Belgian population may be advocates of rearranging the Belgian federal model (with even voices advocating secession of the regions) who question principal federal mechanisms and show a below-par level of support for the current federalism. Research about the support of Belgian citizens in the political system they are part of, could make for interesting findings about the durability of the current state of federalism in Belgium.
Additionally, it would be relevant to investigate how political attitudes towards the federal system differs in each region. If the alleged political and cultural separateness between the regions produces too big discrepancies in political attitudes and the levels of support citizens have, this can potentially be harmful for the current federal mechanisms to respond adequately to the different political demands of the several political communities, leading to loss of support.
As many authors such as Hetherington (1998) and Easton (1965, 1975) have underlined, civil attitudes such as trust and support are essential for the legitimacy and democratic foundation of all political systems, including the model of Belgian federalism. Most authors refer to Easton’s distinction between specific support (the satisfaction of government output and actions of incumbent politicians) and diffuse support (citizen attitudes towards the inner workings and efficacy of the political system, wherein this political structure is referred to as regime) in evaluating the robustness of a political system. It is the latter that forms a more fundamental and durable evaluation of the political system (Hetherington, 1998). Diffuse support in the Belgian federal system will be our main research topic. We are not interested in the politicians in office, governing parties and other political actors (i.e. specific support). The distinction of Easton explains how regimes still can attain trust and support when a (or even consequent) sitting(s) of legislature and political personnel behaves dysfunctional or corrupt. Only after longer periods of government dissatisfaction and negative perceived policy outputs, people will start to lose support in the regime (Brown & Deem, 2018). Through Easton’s conception of diffuse support, we hope to make a meaningful contribution to knowledge regarding the institutional design of Belgian federalism and its future based on the different political attitudes between Flanders and Wallonia. In this paper, we will try to construct a path model of region and its effect on diffuse support. Based on literature and recent PartiRep research data1, we will include several intermediary variables that act as predictors of diffuse support and variate possibly in the two regions due to the political and cultural separateness that helps explain what support establishes and how it can differ in the regions. In order to determine whether Belgians have low of high levels of support in the federal model, we need to construct a measure that is a suitable and valid indicator of diffuse support.
Despite diffuse support being a popular topic in political sciences, there is hardly a singular way of operationalizing it. Political systems and citizen attitudes within them can vary significantly from each other, so many different measures of diffuse support have been opted in research. Even models of federalism can stand out uniquely, which makes finding a valid measure applicable for all different federations hard (Jedwab & Kincaid, 2018; Moreno & Colino, 2010). In addition, the object of diffuse support is a broad concept, connected with other abstract concepts such as trust in political institutions and political efficacy (Iyengar, 1980; Munoz, Torcal, & Bonet, 2011). A measure that encompasses the complete width and properties of diffuse support would be challenging to construct.
Yet, constructing such a measure that could be applied in different political systems would be a valuable contribution to political sciences. In political attitudes studies, scholars often use large scale opinion polls at country-level conducted with large groups of respondents with different social backgrounds, such as Eurobarometer or the International Social Survey Programme. These rich datasets provide many opportunities for analytical research. Key variables, however, could be missing or the formulation of poll questions could be a bit too superficial in order to create the desired measure. The alternative for researchers would be then to construct a measure on their own for their specific research needs. In reality, this is often unfeasible to execute out of practical reasons and time constraints.
In this paper, we aim to find or create an appropriate measure that encompasses the most important defining properties and dimensions of diffuse support in the context of Belgian federalism, that would also be applicable in other federal systems. A single indicator for diffuse support employable in all political systems would probably be out of scope, resulting in the measure being too vague or superficial. In this thesis, we hope to find a single-item directly measured variable that can serve as an indicator for diffuse support in Belgian federalism. That measure will be support for the division of competences between the federal and regional level. More exactly: how do the citizens perceive the division of competences between the two governing levels; whether they believe it is right or not and whether this produces satisfying political outcomes.
Division of competences relates heavily with the core requirement of a successful federation, namely subordination (Kincaid & Cole, 2015). Subordination refers to the extent to which public acceptance towards the control of the central government in regional affairs and whether the received autonomy of the subordinate levels is considered fair. This is heavily connected with the legitimacy and trust a federal system enjoys from its population, the main dimensions of diffuse support (Easton, 1975). For the Belgian case of federalism, the division of competences is extra relevant, with it being a regular topic of political debate between the regions. In most state reforms, it was the core issue (Billiet, Maddens, & Frognier, 2006; K. Deschouwer, 2009; K. Deschouwer & Reuchamps, 2013). As such, division of competences mainly define the processes and outcomes of Belgian federalism. The processes and outcomes of Belgian federalism are mainly defined by the division of competences. This makes us believe that division of competences could possibly prove to be an appropriate and valid indicator for diffuse support in Belgian federalism.
Now that we have decided on division of competences as a measure for the support in the existing regime of Belgian federalism, we continue to set the lines of our research design. M. Hooghe and van Haute (2014) have demonstrated that the amount of trust and support of Belgian citizens is considered to be above average and varies just slightly between the Flanders and Wallonia, but that political attitudes can still variate on the level of the regions. We believe that Flemings and Walloons do support the institutional design of Belgian federalism to an acceptable level, but the degree of support and underlying reasons why they show support differs in the regions. Cultural and socioeconomic differences between the regions can reflect in differences in political behaviour and attitudes, as such is the case between the cantons in Switzerland (Linder, 1994). A decent level of support does not necessarily mean that citizens do not prefer any changes in the current political structure. PartiRep research from 2014 (M. Hooghe & van Haute) indicates that people in Wallonia were more in favour of centralisation and the federal level holding more autonomy and competences, while the Flemish were in favour of further federalisation and transfer of competences to the regions and communities. Different attitudes towards federalisation and the cultural and political separateness between the regions may still produce a decent level of support and opinions on how Belgium should evolve. The preferred directions of future federalisation processes can however still go in opposite directions.
Considering that for months the federal level was at minimum capacity because the government had fallen in December 2018 and the highly volatile federal elections of 2019, it is worth asking if the levels of support in the federal system are still at a decent level in Belgium.
1 The Political Participation and Representation is an Interuniversity Attraction Pole (IAP) which focuses its research projects on political attitudes and linkages between citizens and the state in Belgium (André et al., 2019)
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