Does ideological incongruence hurt parties in elections? Research on the representational relationship between parties and voters suggests that ideological congruence can boost a party’s electoral prospects. However, while the mechanism is at the individual-level, most of the literature focuses on the party-level. In this article, we develop a set of hypotheses based on a multi-issue conception of party-voter congruence at the individual-level, and examine the electoral consequences of these varying congruence levels in the 2014 European Parliament elections. Consistent with our expectations, comparative analysis finds that ideological and issue-specific incongruence is a significant factor in voting behavior in the European Parliament elections. Although the substantive effects of incongruence are understandably small compared to partisanship, government, or EU performance evaluations, party-voter disagreement consistently matters, and voters’ issue salience is an important moderator of the impact of incongruence on vote choice.
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We use expert survey data to place the parties because CHES and EES provide comparable placements for parties and the public across an array of issues. Reassuringly, Powell (2009) reports very similar measures of congruence using party manifestos, experts, or public placements of parties; recent comparisons of left- right placements by experts and mass survey respondents lend further support to the comparability of these sources (Adams et al. 2014; Dalton and McAllister 2015).
Hobolt and Tilley (2016) uses government experience as the distinguishing characteristic, while Hong (2015) relies on a niche party categorization largely based on the work of Meguid (2005, 2008). In this definition, niche parties, like Greens and Radical Rights, emphasize issues other than standard left–right.
Significantly, Hong (2015, 520) also directly considers protest voting in addition to ideologically motivated (sincere) vote switching, by including distrust in the system as an independent variable. The protest voting hypothesis is related theoretically to the sanctioning model proposed by Hobolt and Tilley (2016), wherein they use pocketbook economic variables (e.g., whether the respondent feels worse off after the crisis) to proxy for voter desire to sanction parties in power. Finally, in their analysis, Hobolt and Tilley (2016, 20) find that political (un)interest best explains abstention, rather than ideological positions, which is in line with research from the U.S. context reporting that uninformed voters are less likely to vote (Palfrey and Poole 1987). Though our primary focus is on the effects of ideological incongruence, we will incorporate these alternatives.
Our first hypothesis relates to the most general, overarching dimension of political competition within Europe, whereas the next two pertain to more particular policy areas. In order to protect against concerns that we are assessing incomparable types of congruence against one another, in the appendix, we investigate a more specific policy area related to left–right competition, redistribution. Our central findings hold in these alternate model specifications.
The question wordings for these items are included in Appendix 1.
Hong (2015, 523) measures incongruence using voters’ perceptions of each party’s positions rather than something like CHES or CMP ideological measures. That is a reasonable strategy; however, it is limited in a crucial way for our purposes. Understandably, the EES asks voters only to place parties on a very few issues, in 2014 we only have public placements of the parties on a general left–right scale, which means that we cannot use voter placements to assess the effects of incongruence on immigration or other particular issues.
The multidimensional Euclidian distance incongruence measure is the square root of the sum of the squares of the three individual incongruence measures.
In addition to the logit models shown, we also conducted multinomial logistic regression (with country fixed effects), available in Table 6 in the Appendix. The main effects are robust to alternative model specifications.
In the Appendix, we show the results for the Greens and Regionalists in Table 7.
In the appendix, we explore further this pattern with a set of models splitting the party supporters into government and non-government parties in Table 8. Similar to the models in Table 3, those models confirm that incongruence and protest variables motivate switching from mainstream parties, whereas only incongruence variables, not protest variables, affect challenger party switching.
Many thanks to the EES team for sharing a version of the survey with the MIP question translated and coded. We are particularly grateful since categorizing the open-ended responses given in the respondents’ native languages is an intense coding operation.
For immigration, the categories are immigration, labour migration/emigration, and national immigration policy. For the EU, the categories are European integration, EU political corruption, financing the EU, competences of the EU institutions, European Central Bank, membership in the EU of Eastern European countries and the Balkans, structural funds, single market, effect of the Euro, or European elections.
In the full EES dataset with 30,064 respondents, the percentages are similar, with 2.6% citing the EU and 9.8% immigration.
The simple slope for the conditional effect of EU incongruence is 0.15, p < 0.01.
This is not to say these voters are not interesting on their own. Of the 2008 people in our sample that listed immigration as the MIP, only 43% of them switched (876/2008). Of these, 56% of them abstained in the EP election. So while the immigration MIP individuals are less likely to switch, when they do defect from their national choice, they are more likely to abstain than vote for a new party.
Immigration voters are 5.5 compared to 5.1 for other voters. Their parties are 5.7 compared to 5.3. These differences are statistically significant at the p ≤ 0.001 level.
We rescaled this question (0–10) to facilitate comparison.
We reversed the scale of this question to facilitate comparison.
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We thank Keith Poole, Howard Rosenthal, Jan Rovny, Sara Hobolt, Ann-Kristin Kölln, and Jim Adams for helpful comments and criticisms on earlier drafts of this article, along with the anonymous reviewers at Public Choice. We would also like to thank the discussants and panels at the 2016 Midwest Political Science Association annual meeting, the 2016 European Political Science Association annual meeting, and the 2016 American Political Science Association annual meeting. Finally, we are grateful to the European Election Studies and Chapel Hill Expert Survey teams.
Chapel Hill Expert Survey 2014
General left–right Please tick the box that best describes each party’s overall ideology on a scale ranging from 0 (extreme left) to 10 (extreme right).
Immigration Position on immigration policy. (11 point scale: 0 = Fully opposed to a restrictive policy on immigration, 10 = Fully in favour of a restrictive policy on immigration).
European integration How would you describe the general position on European integration that the party leadership took over the course of 2014? (7 point scale: strongly opposed to strongly in favor).Footnote 18
European election study 2014
General left–right QPP12—In political matters people talk of “the left” and “the right”. What is your position? Please use a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means “left” and 10 means “right”. Which number best describes your position?
Immigration QPP17.6—Immigration. (11 point scale: 0 = You are fully in favour of a restrictive policy on immigration, 0 = You are fully opposed to a restrictive policy on immigration).Footnote 19
European integration QPP18—Some say European unification should be pushed further. Others say it already has gone too far. What is your opinion? Please indicate your views using a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means unification ‘has already gone too far’ and 10 means it ‘should be pushed further’. What number on this scale best describes your position?
Table 5 with redistribution incongruence.
Greens and regionalists.
Government and opposition parties.
For supporters of government parties, incongruence on the EU is associated with switching (Hobolt et al. 2009), but other forms of incongruence matter less. Instead, punishment and protest voting is the main story: government and EU disapproval are strong factors in explaining vote switching. In contrast, non-government party supporters are not more likely to switch if they disapprove of the government or EU. Rather, their voting behavior depends on incongruence on general left–right, EU, and immigration.
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Bakker, R., Jolly, S. & Polk, J. Multidimensional incongruence and vote switching in Europe. Public Choice 176, 267–296 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-018-0555-z
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