People Haven’t Had Enough of Experts: Technocratic Attitudes among Citizens in Nine European Democracies

The forthcoming article “People Haven’t Had Enough of Experts: Technocratic Attitudes among Citizens in Nine European Democracies” by Eri Bertsou and Daniele Caramani is summarized by the author(s) below. 

In the run up to the UK’s referendum on EU membership in 2016, Justice Secretary Michael Gove, a leading figure in the “Leave Campaign” claimed that “people in this country have had enough of experts” in an effort to rebuke economic expert opinions regarding the repercussions of Brexit. The validity of his claim remains doubtful, especially in the light of experts’ role during the Coronavirus crisis. 

In this article, we assess the extent to which technocratic attitudes, that is, the public’s beliefs that an independent knowledge elite can provide effective and responsible governance based on expertise, exist among citizens and can be measured. We also investigate how technocratic attitudes oppose populist ones 

First, we conceptualize and confirm empirically technocratic attitudes at the mass level across nine European countries using a novel survey battery to measure dimensions of Elitism, Expertise and Anti-politics. 

Second, we investigate in what numbers there are citizens harbouring technocratic attitudes in established democracies. Using latent class analysis, we identify groups of citizens that follow a Technocratic, Populist or Party-democratic profile and show how they overlap and contrast. Across the nine European countries, approximately 12% of citizens fall into the Technocratic profileThis group can be found across Europe but is larger in Southern and Eastern European countries (13-20%). This finding adds force to the claim that the model of responsible party government, which has dominated in Western democracies in the second half of the 20th century, is challenged not only by populism but also by technocracy.  

We also find that technocratic and populist attitudes share a common Anti-politics stance, while they contrast on Elitismin line with our theoretic expectationsA surprising finding from our research concerns the Expertise dimension. We find that beliefs around the superiority of skillful, knowledgeable and scientific experts over politicians abound across countries. Citizens with technocratic attitudes register strong preferences for expertise and science in politics. At the same time, however, citizens with populist attitudes also showcase strong preferences for more expertise. In other words, there is no Populism without Expertise.  

Finally, we explore the differences among citizens who fall in the Technocratic, Populist and Party-democratic profiles in terms of demographic characteristics and attitudes. While citizens with technocratic attitudes are dissatisfied with current representative systems, they are distinct from citizens with populist attitudes; they are more educated and interested in politics, they have higher political trust, and they are not attracted to the extremes of the left−right ideological spectrum. 

Being able to distinguish between populist and technocratic attitudes vastly increases our ability to understand the current challenges faced by mainstream parties and governments in established democracies on the demand side. Given that, so far, no political force has tried to mobilize this segment of the electorate, the potential implications for political behaviour and party competition are considerable. 

About the Author(s): Eri Bertsou is Senior Researcher, Department of Political Science, University of Zurich and Daniele Caramani is Ernst B. Haas Chair of European Governance and Politics at the European University Institute. Their research “People Haven’t Had Enough of Experts: Technocratic Attitudes among Citizens in Nine European Democracies” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Speak Your Mind



The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.