ActEU: New European research project strengthening trust in democracy

Trust in politics is in crisis throughout Europe. This is clearly reflected in regular polling. How does politics regain trust and how can young people become more enthusiastic about democratic participation?

The Chair of Politics & Gender, Diversity & Equality at the Department of Political Science of the University of Salzburg is part of a  new multinational research project „ActEU“ that investigates this question. The consortium is led by the Institute of Political Science at the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) together with Saarland University. The project started in March 2023.

The Salzburg team around Prof. Zoe Lefkofridi leads a working package analysing the relationship between political trust and political representation in Europe, with a special focus on women. Prof. Lefkofridi, together with Dr. Nadine Zwiener-Collins and Dr. Matilde Ceron, will also advise on and provide expertise on gender and equality aspects in all working packages.

„Climate change, immigration, gender injustice: these challenges are debated throughout Europe,“ says Michael Kaeding, EU professor at the Institute of Political Science at the UDE. In view of this polarisation, the ActEU project seeks investigate the trust of citizens in political institutions and their legitimacy in the face of this polarisation.

The 30 international researchers who make up the ActEU consortium are not approaching this issue from the traditional survey format. „By moving away from the usual method, we can recapture legitimacy and political trust,“ Kaeding explains. To this end, a team led by Prof. Dr. Daniela Braun (Saarland University) and Dr. Kristina Weissenbach (NRW School of Governance, UDE) are developing very different survey methods, from web analyses to experimental interviews.

In the second phase of the project, young people in particular will have their say on the subject. Throughout Europe, researchers from the participating universities will offer Youth Democracy Labs. These will be set up in cooperation with a civil society network in the participating cities such as Duisburg, Prague or Paris. Prof. Kaeding sees this as a great opportunity: „We will develop new material for teaching at universities and schools.“ The publication of comics in particular is intended to make democracy tangible, with the project intending to develop these together with political cartoonists and EU partners for use throughout Europe in teaching and political education.

*The research project is funded by the Horizon Europe Programme of the European Union with three million euros.