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Over the past quarter, significant progress has been made across various work streams of the AUTHLIB (Neo-Authoritarianisms in Europe and the Liberal Democratic Response) project, focusing on illiberalism, authoritarianism, and populism in Europe. The SWPS University team finalized the selection of a research agency for a multi-country survey to be conducted in seven languages. Concurrently, the Sciences Po team refined a large language model to analyze political texts for illiberal content. The Vienna University team contributed media data for a related study, while Sciences Po fed new questions into the upcoming CHES survey on illiberalism. In Oxford, the AUTHLIB team designed lab experiments to study emotional and rhetorical appeals by illiberal parties. The Scuola Normale Superiore team explored the transnational spread of illiberalism through content and social network analyses. Charles University started planning forums to assess the impact of illiberal ideologies. The Central European University team started preparations for the development of an interactive visual platform to synthesize project findings and initiated a historical analysis of illiberalism’s 20th century antecedents, with a workshop scheduled for November 2024. At the beginning of July, AUTHLIB researchers will gather in Lyon to present their ongoing research at the conference of the Council of European Studies.

 

Work continued under the leadership of the SWPS University team to prepare for launching a survey to assess individual attitudes toward illiberalism, authoritarianism, and populism in the seven countries covered by the AUTHLIB project: Austria, Czechia, France, Hungary, Italy, Poland, and the United Kingdom. In spring, the team concluded a tender for selecting a research agency that will conduct the survey in seven languages using two different data collection methods: computer-assisted web interviewing (CAWI) in Austria, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, and a combination of computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) and CAWI in Czechia, Hungary, and Poland. The survey will be conducted together with a conjoint experiment developed by the Sciences Po team that will test how voters perceive political parties that offer diverse forms of illiberal, populist, authoritarian, and liberal proposals. The fieldwork is set to begin in the coming weeks, scheduled to accommodate the parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom following Rishi Sunak’s surprise decision to hold them on July 4 and the even more unexpected early parliamentary elections in France.

Working on exploring the impact of illiberal political actors on public discourse, the Sciences Po team has spent the last quarter refining the large language model it developed for text analysis. First, the team refined its working definition of illiberalism in collaboration with AUTHLIB consortium lead Zsolt Enyedi and the SWPS University team. As a result, the team now focuses on three dimensions of the concept: executive expansion, partisan state, and closed society. In the second step, Sciences Po hired two research assistants who started reviewing political texts and annotating them based on the new three-concept definition of illiberalism. At this stage, the team is iteratively working on the most effective operational ways to identify the three aspects of illiberalism in real political text. The goal is to have ChatGPT learn from these human annotations to then carry out the annotations of additional texts automatically. The Vienna team has been contributing to this work on investigating the impact of illiberal political actors on public discourse and focused on gathering media data for an upcoming study. In parallel, capitalizing on cooperation between the Sciences Po and Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES) teams, Sciences Po is preparing for the launch of the CHES, which will include additional questions focusing on illiberalism, populism, and authoritarianism added by AUTHLIB researchers.

There has been considerable action in Oxford on many fronts over the past three months. The team contributed to the design of the survey overseen by the SWPS University that was timed to gather data on the European elections, on voting intentions in the United Kingdom, and on support for European integration. Second, after extensive and intensive discussions with colleagues across the consortium, Stephen Whitefield’s team has arrived at the initial design for the lab experiments that will shortly be piloted in Oxford to investigate the rhetorical and emotional appeals made by illiberal parties and elites toward citizens, and their receptions by their supporters and opponents. Third, work on the analysis of the emotional content of tweets continues with Giuliano Formisano’s invaluable input, using large language modeling. Finally, with the huge assistance of the Central European University’s team in Budapest, especially Zoltan Miklósi, Andres Moles, and Zsolt Enyedi, the Oxford team has moved forward with preparing the ground for the research exploring normative issues arising from the defense of liberalism in a soon-to-be-launched work package.

In the second quarter of 2024, the Scuola Normale Superiore team investigated the dynamics of transnationalization and diffusion of illiberalism in Europe. The team’s focus was on developing an analytical and theoretical framework for pathways and mechanisms of transnationalization of the illiberal political parties, social movements, and NGOs. The preliminary findings of a dictionary-based content analysis of common frames used by illiberal actors on their Facebook accounts and two separate theoretical articles published by team members have formed the basis of this novel framework. In the meantime, the team conducted a protest event analysis and social network analysis investigating the connection between illiberal actors from different countries, the preliminary findings of which have established a foundation for further exploration of the dynamics of transnationalization processes of illiberalism. While the initial findings offer valuable insights into the linkages between illiberal actors, the ongoing task of archiving events containing interactions between these actors has started to reveal the dynamics of their relationships. The team is also preparing for in-depth interviews with key figures and supporters of various illiberal political parties and movements across Europe. Following initial contact with the potential interviewees, interviews are scheduled to commence this summer.

Meanwhile, the team at the Charles University in Prague concentrated on planning and preparing interventions to assess the impact of illiberal ideologies in specific interaction formats. The team is preparing for the organization of three forums—the Ideological Opponents’ Forum, the Professionals of Democracy Forum, and the Citizens’ Forum—aimed at different stakeholders to facilitate deliberative discussions by defining the criteria for the deliberative processes, preparing recruitment questionnaires, and gathering political and civic data on selected cities considered for the Ideological Opponents’ Forum. The fora will serve to develop policy recommendations and will be supported by an online e-learning platform.

Over the spring, the Central European University team worked on laying the groundwork for a visual platform that will synthesize the AUTHLIB project’s main findings coming from the various work streams on an interactive website where users will be able to visualize data generated by AUTHLIB, as well as upload their own data to be scored along the indicators developed in the project. There has also been considerable progress in the work package assessing the historical manifestations of illiberalism, where a team of historians had their kickoff meeting. They will explore the historical antecedents of current illiberalisms in the 20th century and will present their findings at a workshop in November 2024.

Researchers across teams have been working on publications, many of which will form part of a thematic issue of the Politics and Governance journal titled “Illiberal Politics in Europe”, to be issued next year and will be presented in three panel discussions—“The Transnational Diffusion of Illiberal Politics”, “Autocratic Attitudes and Discourse”, “Illiberal Challenges in Central and Eastern Europe”—at the Council of European Studies Conference in Lyon on 3-5 July.

Over the past quarter, a paper written by Franziska Wagner and Zsolt Enyedi titled “They can do it. Positive Authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary” has been published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Political Science. Dorottya Szikra’s working paper titled Illiberalism and Social Policy: A Four-Country Comparison has been published on the AUTHLIB website, along with a blog post that presents its main findings in a more accessible form. Further articles on the AUTHLIB Blog, managed by the Transatlantic Foundation, covered the polarization underlying the presidential election in Slovakia; how populism and EU-skepticism shape party support for Ukraine; what impact the European Parliament elections has on the EU’s democracy and rule of law agenda; the creeping influence of the radical right in the EU and the emergence of a new cleavage around the center’s cooperation with it; and the role of state-funded disinformation campaigns in Hungary’s elections.

 

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