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IPSA World Congress, July 2006, Fukuoka, Japan
RC1 \u201cConcepts and Methods\u201d Panel
Chairs: Andrew Bennett and Sakura Yamasaki
What does the Government say, and why? A QCA-based study on Swiss
authorities' discourse.1
NAI ALESSANDRO[Alessandro.Nai@politic.u nige.ch]
Department of Political Science, Geneva University (Switzerland)

Political communication by the Government is a well known (and well studied) factor explaining the individual vote (Zaller 1992; Popkin 1994; Sciarini et Kriesi 2003: 289). However, no or only a few analytical models consider the Government discourse as a dependent variable, which fluctuations have to be explained by a set of exogenous factors. This is the aim of the present paper. Focusing on the ensemble of the official leaflets emitted before each ballot on foreign policy - which has been demonstrated as a key topic in Swiss political system (Marquis and Sciarini 1999; Sciarini and Listhaug 1997; Kriesi et al. 1993) - our research will provide for a conjunctural explanation of the impact of the specific context of each ballot on Swiss Government discourse. The latter will be empirically measured via three dependent variables (rhetoric, direction and didactic level). Further, four explicative factors will qualify each ballot\u2019s specific context: impulsion of the direct democratic instrument, opposition form, complexity of the topic and conflict level of the campaign before the vote. Our dependent indicators, summing up the Government\u2019s discourse in the official leaflets, will be constructed on the basis of atwo - step s content analysis of the leaflets. In this analysis, an inductive phase (construction of the indicators) is followed by a quantitative and accurate measurement of the indicators emerged from the first phase. The conjunctural impact of the context on the Government\u2019s discourse will be tested with a QCA-based study (Ragin 1987), perfectly in line with the characteristic of our database and our desire to provide for a conjunctural analysis. More, in order to propose a less deterministic view, our results shall integrate a probabilistic approach (essentially based on a particular form of contradictions\u2019 resolution). Our exploratory results shall generally show a non-neglecting effect of the context on the official discourse.

Switzerland, Government official discourse, foreign policy, content
analysis, Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), probabilistic QCA-approach.
Introduction: Government discourse as a dependent variable

The communication between the Government and its citizens lies in the very core of political decision process (Zaller 1992; Popkin 1994; Sciarini et Kriesi 2003: 289), these being one of the main elements of each political system. This is particularly important in the Swiss case, mainly because of the great importance of direct democratic procedures (Kriesi 1998: 90-139 and 2005; Papadopoulos 1997: 133; Suksi 1993: 47-56). As a confirmation, some authors


An earlier version of the present paper was presented in the ECPR Joint Sessions, Nicosia, April 2006, in the workshop Truth, Representation and Politics (directed by Dr. A. Herzog and Dr. T. Parvikko) under the title: "Foreign Policy: What does the Government say, and why? An analysis of Swiss Government

Discourse in Federal Ballots' Leaflets."

have shown that at the federal level the authorities' emission of political information before the ballots has a significant importance for the formation of individual opinion on the topics presented (Trechsel and Sciarini 1998: 115).

This being, the present paper will present an opposite causal logic; we shall effectively consider the Government\u2019s discourse not as an independent factor explaining the citizens\u2019 attitudes in the political system, but rather as a dependent variable influenced by the contextual situation of each political campaign.

Focusing on foreign policy as analytical field - hugely demonstrated as a key topic in Swiss political system (Marquis and Sciarini 1999; Sciarini and Listhaug 1997; Kriesi et al. 1993) - the present research will provide for a study of the Government discourse before the popular votes, held about 3 or 4 times per year. The aim of the present paper will be to demonstrate that the authorities\u2019 official discourse knows some important variations, and that the latter can be explained with an analysis of the particular context of each ballot.

For this, we shall examine, via atwo-steps content analysis (in which an inductive and creative phase is followed by a quantitative and accurate measurement of the indicators emerged from the first phase), the ensemble of the official leaflets emitted by the Government before each popular vote at federal level related to the foreign topic. We rely on a database on the vote discourses of the Swiss Government from 1981-20032 (Nai 2005). We use the 30 foreign policy ballots of the totally 201 cases. Thetwo-steps content analysis will allow us to create three empirical indicators summing up the authorities\u2019 discourse in the leaflets:rhetoric (moderated vs. militant),direction (defensive vs. offensive) and didactic level (didactic vs. non-didactic).

In our analytical model, these three factors will be explained via several conjunctural
combinations of four independent variables (resuming the specific context of each ballot):
impulsion of the direct democratic instrument (governmental vs. non-governmental),
opposition form (moderated vs. radical), complexity of the topic (complex vs. non-complex)

and conflict level of the campaign before the vote (high conflict vs. low conflict). Our desire to provide for an exploratory conjunctural explanation of the context\u2019s impact on the discourse, along with the small size of our database (only 30 cases) will compel us to apply a Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), as developed by Ragin (1987). We shall therefore propose an alternative way to solve the contradictions (one of the QCA\u2019s central tasks),

Originally created by analysing the ensemble of leaflets emitted before each federal ballot between 1981 and
2003 (about 200 leaflets for 70 ballots).
essentially through a probabilistic inclusion as a tool for fighting against the excessive
determinism of this kind of procedures.

Our paper will be structured as follows: first, an historical chapter will briefly give an overview on the political communication by the Swiss Government, its implications and legal basis (1). Then, we shall briefly discuss the reasons that made us choose the foreign policy as focus topics (2), before presenting a methodological chapter in which the key notions of our two-steps content analysis will be resented (3.1), as well as the main elements of the QCA procedure applied in the present research (3.2). The operationalisation of the variables composing our conjunctural-shaped explicative model will be presented in the following chapter (4.1 and 4.2). Chapter 5 presents the main results, following an exploratory optic, and last chapter concludes.

Swiss Government's communication today and in the past: an overview

Today, the Swiss Government (the federal Council) takes an active participation in the political campaign before each popular vote. This is essentially done through the distribution to each citizen of an official leaflet presenting an overview of the topic (its implications, developments, and consequences) and describing the Government's position and its recommendation for the vote (Germann 1996: 256). Additionally, the members of the executive express themselves in the mass-medias on the political topics regularly before the ballots, defending the Government's position3.

However, if the authorities' active participation in the political debate is today a reality, this has not always been the case. In the beginning of the past century, the preponderant doctrine was to consider the Government\u2019s engagement in the political campaign as potentially dangerous for a healthy deliberation and individual opinion formation (Conseil federal FF 2005: 4151; GT CSIC 2001: 5)4. So, the Swiss executive\u2019s communication activities were strictly limited in preparing the documentation on the topics, without giving directly any information on his points of view.

Against this conservative conception, a radical shift is made at the beginning of the second half of the century. Since the 1950s, the Government starts to publish a series of explicative leaflets on political topics, intended to inform citizens on relevant events in the domestic


The Ministers' necessity of this attachment to Government's general view (the so calledco lleg ia lity) is however today frequently criticized, mainly from the populist-right movements. Recently, the UDC Minister Blocher has been severely criticized for proposing arguments in open and strong contradiction with the Government's position (Altwegg 2004: 136).

See also La Roche et al. 1942.

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