Political Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 659–687 | Cite as

Dead Man Walking: The Affective Roots of Issue Proximity Between Voters and Parties

  • Elias DinasEmail author
  • Erin Hartman
  • Joost van Spanje
Original Paper


Do voters like the party they already agree with or do they agree with the party they already like? Previous studies have suggested a link from preferences to perceptions. However, such a causal link has not been convincingly demonstrated. Most issue voting studies have adopted the basic premise of spatial models of voting—that voters compare parties’ positions with their own ideal points and apply a rule to choose among these parties. Drawing on a natural experiment, this study shows that perceptual agreement between parties and voters is endogenous to voters’ party affect. We use the murder of a Dutch politician amidst the data collection period of the 2002 Dutch election study. The death increases respondents’ feelings for his party without providing information about its issue stances. This upward shift in feelings translates into a significant increase in the perceived level of proximity with the party. The design also allows us to explore the mechanism bringing parties and voters closer. Rather than taking up the party’s stances, voters move a party’s positions closer to their own views when their feelings for that party increase. The findings challenge established assumptions about the theoretical underpinnings of spatial models of voting. They support classic notions of voter projection and lend credence to recent theories of attitudinal change, which are based on coarse thinking and uninformative updating.


Projection Persuasion Issue proximity Perception bias Party placement Pim fortuyn Netherlands 



The authors wish to thank panel participants from the 2011 ECPR Annual Meeting, seminar participants in the University of Oxford and the University of Bath as well as Cees van der Eijk, Mark Franklin, Sendhill Mullainathan, Pedro Riera, Jas Sekhon, Laura Stoker and Adam Ziegfeld for very useful discussions and comments on previous versions of the paper.

Supplementary material

11109_2016_9331_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (488 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 488 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brasenose CollegeUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Princeton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  3. 3.University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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