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Elite democracy: Political competition and voter opinion in the 2010 Australian Federal election

Jones, CP 1989 , 'Elite democracy: Political competition and voter opinion in the 2010 Australian Federal election', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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This research investigates the voter-leader nexus by examining the extent to which public
opinion mirrors the political attitudes and pronouncements of political elites in Australia.
While aggregative-pluralist scholars regard voters as holders of exogenous preferences and
political elites as aggregators of these preferences, neo-elitists regard public opinion as
actively shaped and manufactured by competitive elites seeking election to political office.
These perspectives, while both compelling, are mutually exclusive. Using the 2010 Federal
Election campaign as a case study, the research employs a mixed methods approach to
compare the plausibility of the two perspectives. The empirical part involves: (a) comparison
of the structure of voters’ political attitudes with those of parliamentary candidates drawing
upon the 1990 - 2010 Australian Election Studies and Australian Candidate Studies; and (b)
qualitative analysis of the dynamics of leader-voter interaction through the use of innovative
‘political logs’ kept by participants during the 2010 election campaign.
The quantitative analysis confirms the neo-elitist proposition that Labor and Coalition elites
polarise more strongly on left-right issues than on authority issues, a finding that holds across
the 20-year sampled period. The qualitative analysis shows that while participants generally
have high levels of political awareness, their political autonomy is low – as their information
is sourced from leaders and parties, and voter agendas increasingly correspond with those of
leaders toward the end of the campaign.
This study finds that Australian democracy is far more elite-driven than is currently
acknowledged. I conclude that contemporary democracy is characterised by an asymmetrical
and elite-dominated social process of persuasion in strategic competition for control of the
state. My research contributes to political sociology, demonstrating that political logs offer a
valuable supplement to surveys by allowing researchers to examine the dynamics of the
voter-leader nexus.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Jones, CP
Keywords: Elites, elitism, democracy, Australia, political diaries
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