Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies
Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies

Clark Center Funds Research on Party Leadership Selection Processes in Australia

Wed, October 23, 2019
Clark Center Funds Research on Party Leadership Selection Processes in Australia

Graduate student Joseph Cozza and Associate Professor Zeynep Somer-Topcu, both of the Department of Government at UT-Austin, were awarded Clark Center funding for a joint research project that examines how different leadership selection processes shape the ways in which citizens evaluate the legitimacy and efficacy of political parties and their leaders. The selection of a new leader is a critical moment in the history of a political party. In an era of increasing presidentialization and voter dealignment, leaders have come to personify their parties, concentrating greater power while becoming the public face in parliament and in electoral campaigns. Parties in advanced democracies are increasingly adopting more inclusive mechanisms of leadership selection, such as incorporating rank-and-file members into the process. And yet, little empirical work analyzes how these mechanisms alter public perceptions of political parties and their leaders.

Focusing on Australia, Cozza and Somer-Topcu will utilize a survey experiment to fill these gaps in the literature. With its federal structure and use of a proportional electoral system in its Federal Senate, Australia makes an ideal setting to examine how different mechanisms of leadership selection influence citizen perceptions of the strength and legitimacy of leaders and the parties they represent. Cozza and Somer-Topcu’s project builds on insights gained from their recent work concerning leadership selection processes in other Western parliamentary democracies as well as their research into how the use of different constitutional amendment mechanisms shape citizen perceptions of the legitimacy of constitutional change. This project will not only contribute to the cross-national conversation about intra-party democracy, but will also speak to a significant debate in contemporary Australian politics.

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