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Over the past three months, AUTHLIB – Neo-Authoritarianisms in Europe and the Liberal Democratic Response has begun the dissemination of its recent findings while continuing an active collaboration across various partner organizations.

Notably, the Central European University team, in partnership with the Transatlantic Foundation, kicked off the dissemination of findings from the “Illiberalism in Power” work package through a series of hybrid discussions in February. Concurrently, the Sciences Po team, continued its work on modeling ideological configurations, employing manifesto data to explore the ideological alternatives to liberal democracy present in 21st-century Europe. SWPS University, the Oxford team, and Scuola Normale Superiore have also made significant strides in their respective work packages, delving into survey-based data collection, rhetorical analysis, and the analysis of dynamics of transnational illiberalism diffusion. As we gear up for forthcoming publications and presentations of our work in the next months, including a panel at the Council of European Studies Conference in Lyon in July, we invite you to delve deeper into our consortium’s latest endeavors.

 

As the work package “Illiberalism in Power” concluded in December, the team of the Central European University, in cooperation with the Transatlantic Foundation, started the dissemination of its findings through a series of hybrid discussions. The work package explored how illiberals influence various policy areas when they are in power. As part of our event series, Bálint Mikola and Péter Radó (both of CEU) presented their findings on illiberals’ impact on education and cultural policies (see their working paper HERE and the video HERE). This was followed by the presentation of Elena Basheska and Dimitry Kochenov on illiberals’ impact on immigration and citizenship-related issues (see the video HERE). Finally, Dorottya Szikra discussed her results from a comparative analysis of illiberal social policies in Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Poland (th working paper and the event video are coming soon).

The CEU team also set up a cooperation with a new and exciting Horizon Europe project on moral emotions (MORES), coordinated by the Centre for Social Sciences in Budapest, to explore and utilize potential synergies. Moreover, Zsolt Enyedi’s paper—“lliberal conservatism, civilisationalist ethnocentrism, and paternalist populism in Orbán’s Hungary”—was published in the open-access journal Contemporary Politics.

The Sciences Po team, under the guidance of Jean-Philippe Cointet and Elena Cossu, in cooperation with colleagues from CEU, SWPS University, and University of Vienna in the work package “Ideological Configurations” began work on a model definition using manifesto data. This process, which ultimately aims to examine the ideological alternatives to liberal democracy, and their relative position in the new ideological-political space in 21st-century Europe, involves two stages. Initially, team members—notably Caterina Froio, Romain Lachat, and Jan Rovny—manually annotated party manifestos in various languages including Czech, French, and Italian. Subsequently, they collectively annotated French party manifestos to compare expert understandings of key concepts. Chat GPT was then utilized to automate labeling. Elena Cossu organized the manifesto data into coherent paragraphs, which were translated and labeled by sentiment. Currently, the team, led by Elena Cossu, is developing a BERT model to learn from and identify new texts.

Looking ahead to spring 2024, the Sciences Po team’s primary focus will be on evaluating the initial BERT model’s results. The model will be run on manifesto data prepared by the team and will assess the outcomes in terms of clarity, validity, and interpretability. Adjustments may be necessary to improve its predictive capability. Once the model is fine-tuned, Jan Rovny’s team will extend its analysis to other forms of political communication such as speeches and social media. Using this data, Sciences Po plans to develop a map of political ideologies and oppositions to democracy in Europe.

The SWPS University team, in cooperation with colleagues from CEU, Sciences Po, Charles University, and University of Vienna, continues its work on the questionnaire for an upcoming survey study under the work package “Survey-based Data-collection and Experiments”, which will explore ideological orientations in social contexts and the mechanisms behind accepting or rejecting certain authoritarian frames. Some of the team’s hypotheses require an experimental design and therefore a conjoint experiment design is envisioned to separate support for policy objectives from preferences for particular modes of political decision-making that go against democratic procedures. The choice of conjoint analysis is motivated by the complexity of the phenomena and the multi-dimensionality of the decision-making processes, allowing to control and vary several factors and to estimate the impact of multiple components. Several meetings regarding the conjoint experiment were held in February and March where the core aspects of the conjoint experiment were agreed upon. The subsequent phase involves refining the attributes and ensuring their consistency across the seven languages.

The Oxford team has been making good progress on the work package “Rhetoric and Emotional Appeals”, which investigates the emotional rhetoric deployed by political parties and the responses it elicits from citizens, and also considers, in an experimental context, whether emotions that may be linked to illiberal appeals may be triggered. On the first of these tasks, the team has completed its phase of coding tweets across ten dimensions of liberalism and illiberalism and is now deploying that information as a training set for topic modelling. The results of this are very promising. On the second task, the team—now also including Noah Bacine, a behavioral economist and lab sirector at the Centre of Experiments in Social Sciences at Nuffield College—is working on the experimental design that is focused on testing the relative importance of economic and status shocks as a driver of the willingness of participants to defect from democratic rules, and the emotional corollaries. The team plans to pre-test this design, beginning in Oxford, in the coming months.

Over the last three months, the Scuola Normale Superiore team working on the work package studying “International Co-operation and Diffusion” has focused on exploring the dynamics of transnationalization and diffusion of illiberalism in Europe. With two new post-doctoral researchers joining the team in February, the team has intensified its work to reveal the mechanisms of diffusion of illiberal ideas and frames along with the patterns of international/transnational cooperation between various types of illiberal actors. During this quarter, one of the priorities was to initiate and expedite the data collection process by conducting semi-structured in-depth interviews with the organizers and participants of illiberal political actions as well as experts in order to explore the relational, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of the transnationalization processes.

The team has also traced the activities and discourses of illiberal political actors across various media platforms to uncover their transnational linkages and the diffusion of illiberal frames/ideas. Daily tracking of the official Facebook pages of the relevant political actors including political parties, NGOs, and activist groups in all seven countries was conducted to identify transnational connections among the actors. These findings not only helped to understand the dynamics of the transnational exchange of information, ideas, and practices, but also enabled the team to plan future research activities, including conducting in-depth interviews and participant observations at detected events.

In addition, a social media content-based dataset was created using a dictionary-based computational text analysis that utilized the dictionary of the “Illiberalism in Power” work package to define illiberal and liberal policy frames. This dataset includes all available Facebook posts from relevant political actors to explore common policy frames and their cross-national diffusion across six policy fields. Concurrently, a social network analysis was conducted to identify transnational links among the illiberal actors in the same database.

As several work packages are coming to an end in 2024, the various teams are also working on prospective publications, including conference papers, working papers, and journal articles. AUTHLIB will be represented at the Council of European Studies (CES) Conference in Lyon on July 3–5, and it is preparing the publication of a thematic issue of the open-access journal Politics and Governance that is to include contributions from across work packages. A call for papers for the special issue is also available here.

 

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