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As our AUTHLIB consortium is closing a busy but fruitful year and is ready to hit pause until January, let us share with you what we are proud of from the past months and excited for the next few.

In 2023, we opened six and already closed two of our work packages, which respectively laid the conceptual groundwork for our scientific inquiries by clarifying the relationship between illiberalism, populism, and authoritarianism, and gathered a first round of empirical evidence on what illiberals do when they are in power. Furthermore, we launched our blog and published widely on electoral developments in Europe and beyond as well as on the ideologies and policy positions of illiberal actors and their international cooperation. We launched our working paper series, which will expand in the course of 2024 as the initial fruits of our labor keep rolling in. We built partnerships and initiated dialogues with partners in Europe and the United States, and introduced and represented AUTHLIB at international academic conferences on both sides of the Atlantic.

Over the past months, the team at the Central European University that works on exploring Illiberalism in power has focused on analyzing the key policy changes under illiberal governments that gained power in Europe since 2000. It analyzed their impact across several policy areas, including education and culture, foreign policy, immigration and citizenship, social policy, and gender. A separate stream of the team’s work has focused on how illiberalism manifests itself in the discourse of these actors, which was studied through analyzing 271,899 parliamentary speeches, using a word-embedding approach. Bálint Mikola, Liliia Sablina, and Franziska Wagner from the team have also explored the diffusion of illiberal narratives across countries, with particular attention to how Russian discursive strategies are adopted by European far-right actors. Jonas Suchanek and Tomas Cirhan from the Charles University team also devoted their efforts to examining illiberal discourses across diverse fields and, under the guidance of Balint Mikola, they are now exploring how to translate their work into a research paper that compares multiple countries of interest. With the work package on illiberalism in power coming to an end in December, a comprehensive report as well as the analytical results of each policy area, and the text analysis will be presented within the AUTLHIB project as part of our working paper series and in the framework of online discussion events in 2024.

CEU’s Zsolt Enyedi, Dean Schaffer, and Balint Mikola are working on a journal special issue on illiberal politics in Europe as co-editors, with the involvement of many researchers from the consortium. From the CEU team, Dean Schafer, Mehmet Yavuz and Franziska Wagner are analyzing parties’ liberal and illiberal positions in various policy areas, Péter Radó and Bálint Mikola are writing on the educational and cultural policies of illiberals in Hungary and Poland. Seraphine F. Maerz and Carsten Q. Schneider are exploring the relationship between strong leadership and state redistribution, and Dorottya Szikra is discussing illiberalism and social policy. From the Charles University, Jonas Suchanek is writing an article that analyzes the electoral results of the populist candidate Andrej Babiš in Czechia’s 2023 presidential election. Tomas Cirhan is analyzing the public communication, legislative proposals, and policies adopted in recent years by ANO and SPD parties in Czechia for a comparative paper on illiberalism and cultural narratives in Visegrad countries, collaborating with Balint Mikola from CEU. Jaroslav Bilek is working on a comparative study of autocratization in Eastern Europe and Latin America. Petra Guasti and Ales Michal are jointly focusing on the mobilization for and against democracy. From Sciences Po, Elena Cossu is exploring the rejection of multiculturalism in French party manifestos. From Scuola Normale Superiore, Manuela Caiani is writing on the transnationalization of the illiberal right. Radosław Markowski from the SWPS University is analyzing the conceptual and empirical relationship between populism, illiberalism and authoritarianism. From the Transatlantic Foundation, Dániel Hegedűs is working on geopolitical models of Autocratization. Last but not least, Sylvia Kritzinger and Marta Vukovic are writing on the impact of the authoritarian personality and perceptions of 20th century history.

The team exploring the Ideological configurations of alternatives competing with the ideals of liberal democracy, led by Sciences Po and assisted by the Central European University, the University of Oxford, and the University of Vienna, continues to work on preparing a large language model that will classify political texts. The main task at hand is labeling diverse political texts as they engage our key concepts of interest: populism, illiberalism, and authoritarianism. After going through diverse political manifestos, the team is working toward using Chat GPT to add labels inside the textual datasets according to a set of theoretically derived prompts concerning the key concepts. Once these texts are labeled, the team will cross-check the labeling and proceed towards using Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) model to score unlabeled texts. The team now works with one language, French, and it will continue with other languages if the results for the French texts are satisfactory. In October, Elena Cossu (Sciences Po) presented the methodological developments and challenges of the work package at an internal seminar of Sciences Po CEE on “Conceptualising and Measuring Illiberalism Using Text Data”.

The SWPS University team working within the Survey-based data collection and experiments work package has reached a pivotal moment in the preparation of the survey study, which is set to commence in spring 2024. The first draft of the questionnaire is now complete and discussions are underway to finalize its format. The survey merges established questions, primarily sourced from renowned studies such as the European Social Survey, the World Values Survey, and the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems with novel questions formulated by our experts. This approach enables comparative analyses as well as empirical verification of our research questions, which delve into understanding the essence of illiberalism today, its variations, and its theoretical underpinnings. Furthermore, the study aims to explore the complex relationship between illiberal citizens/parties and liberal democracy, identifying various ideological combinations and preferences that shape political landscapes.

At the same time, project members from SWPS University, the University of Vienna, and Sciences Po are working on another key component of the survey: the conjoint experiment, which, together with mini-publics and laboratory experiments, will allow us to conduct a realistic assessment of the “demand side” of democratic politics. Additionally, the team is in the process of selecting a research agency that will carry out the survey across seven countries, ensuring a broad and comprehensive analysis of illiberalism, authoritarianism, and populism in various political landscapes.

After piloting and then modifying its coding scheme to identify various dimensions of illiberalism—including regarding democratic institutions, voting rights, free speech, immigration, gender equality, political economy, diversity and inclusion, and religious tolerance—the Oxford team, with the great input of three research assistants, has nearly completed the initial stage of coding of more than 1,000 tweets by parties in the six core countries that serves as the foundation of the Rhetorical and emotional appeals work package. Based on these results, the team is now ready to develop the machine-learning algorithm that will enable including a vast number of tweets that will classify illiberal party types as the foundation for analyzing the nature of the emotional appeals of these parties and how they may differ from those of liberal ones. Considerable progress is expected in this regard in the next quarter. With Zofia Stemplowska in the lead, the Oxford team has also made an early start on the work package that will bring normative theorists together in Budapest to discuss the legitimate ways that liberal democracies might respond to illiberal political threats. Finally, we welcomed John Francis to the Oxford team as the new project administrator.

The Scuola Normale Superiore team working on the examination of the international cooperation of illiberal actors continued its work on reconstructing the transnational linkages among European illiberal actors by finalizing—with the help of other consortium members—the list of more than 100 illiberal actors and organizations per country, classifying them (for example, as anti-gender, radical right, or anti-immigration ) based on the conceptual work conducted in the project beforehand, and identified their media outlets and official accounts to retrieve their meta data using crowdtangle and other R applications. To assess the diffusion of frames and ideas among European illiberal actors, the team analyzed the social media (Facebook) data of the most important illiberal actors (mainly political parties and social movements) across the countries the project focuses on and conducted formalized content analysis of their posts and re-posts. This identified the saliency of the illiberal frames common to European illiberal actors. The preparation of keywords lists and preset dictionaries in the seven languages concerning the typical tropes and issues of radical-right and illiberal ideology (that is, nationalism, law and order, conservative values, and anti-system critiques) is also underway. The team continued its protest-event analysis on the transnational mobilization events of illiberal actors in the six remaining countries after having finished its assessment of Italy.

Finally, our consortium continued its commentary, coordinated by the Transatlantic Foundation team, on current developments affecting the state of liberal democracy in Europe and beyond. We discussed the implications of Slovakia’s parliamentary elections and its consequences on the country’s foreign policy. In a series focusing on the decisive elections in Poland, we covered electoral integrity, the referendum called by the Law and Justice-led government and the economic implications of its rule, the consequences of its defeat on Hungarian-Polish relations, and the challenges ahead for returning the country to a democratic path. Looking beyond Europe, we also discussed how referendums are used by Venezuela’s authoritarian regime to stabilize its grip on power. In cooperation with the Review of Democracy magazine of the CEU Democracy Institute, we recorded a podcast with Cas Mudde in which he discussed the relationship between illiberalism and populism, autocratization trends around the world, the rise of the radical right in Europe ahead of the upcoming European Parliament elections, and the development of international linkages between radical-right actors in Europe and the United States.

In 2024, we will continue to explore the ideological configurations of the alternatives competing with liberal democracy, gather individual-level data to discern the profiles of people who are most inclined to support specific illiberal configurations across Europe, and analyze the rhetorical and emotional appeals of illiberal actors as well as their international cooperation and diffusion. We are also excited to start looking into the ideational-historical contexts of illiberalism, integrating the results of all work packages into a comprehensive map of the ideological challenges to liberal democracy, investigating the normative limits that liberals should impose on themselves, and developing a toolkit for policymakers to respond to illiberal challenges. We will be testing out some of these interventions in various deliberative fora involving experts, decision-makers, and citizens. Naturally, we will keep an eye on current developments in Europe and beyond in a year full of significant elections that will be battlegrounds for defenders and challengers of liberal democracy.

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