Political Legitimacy in Times of Crisis


“Political Legitimacy in Times of Crisis” (short: PolLegKris) is a research project investigating the crisis of political legitimacy in Germany and across European democracies. PolLegKris is part of "Change Through Crises? Solidarity and De-solidarization in Germany and Europe" (short: SoliKris), a collaborative research project bringing together more than a dozen social scientists from the GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, the University of Heidelberg, and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

Research Questions

Citizens’ legitimacy beliefs are considered a crucial element of sustaining democracy. This project examines changes in legitimacy beliefs in Germany and other established democracies. It investigates the extent to which the economic and financial crises, mass migration, and other severe societal and democratic challenges affect political legitimacy, with a special focus on a possible relationship between a crisis of legitimacy beliefs and the emergence of populism. The project is guided by two different perspectives on this relationship which can be formulated as research questions:

  • Is populism the consequence of the decline of political legitimacy and, thereby, maybe a reaction to a representational gap?

  • Or, is populism causing a crisis of political legitimacy and, thereby, threatening democracy?


PolLegKris applies a multi-level and supply-demand approach by linking citizens’ behavior and evaluations (micro level) to party behavior (meso level), and to crises and system legitimacy (macro level). This perspective on democratic politics relies on in-depth quantitative data analyses, which can explain the decline of political legitimacy in Germany and in comparative perspective.  
The project draws on the theoretical and methodological expertise of the team who is closely cooperating with all partners involved in SoliKris and other researchers at the WZB. It relies on the team members’ prior works on parties, public opinion, populism, migration, survey research, and political text analysis.


PolLegKris’ core activity is high-quality empirical research. In addition, PolLegKris produces a range of publications and activities targeting a wider audience including citizens and stakeholders.

  • The PolLegKris Lecture Series (starting in 2018) at the WZB seeks to broaden the dialogue between experts, citizens, and stakeholders. German and international renowned experts present evidence-based research.

  • The SoliKris Policy Briefs (in cooperation with the other members of SoliKris) summarize research that is relevant for policy-makers and practitioners on topics like political legitimacy, changes on party systems and the raise of populism, and shifts in public opinion and political behavior.