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Assimilation and contrast effects in voter projections of party locations: Evidence from Norway, France, and the USA

Abstract

In the standard Downsian model, voters are assumed to choose parties based onthe extent of ideological proximity between the voter's own position and that ofthe party. Yet it is also well known that there are rationalization and projectioneffects such that voters tend to misestimate the policy platforms of candidates orparties to which they are sympathetic by overstating the correspondence betweenthose positions and the voter's own preferences (see, e.g., Markus & Converse1979; Granberg & Brent 1980; Granberg & Holmberg 1988; Merrill & Grofman1999). Here we follow insights in the psychological literature on persuasion (Sherif& Hovland 1961; Parducci & Marshall 1962) by distinguishing between assimilationand contrast effects. Assimilation refers to shortening the perceived ideologicaldistance between oneself and parties whom one favors; contrast refers to exaggeratingthe distance to parties for whom one does not intend to vote. Using survey data on voterself-placements and party placements on ideological scales for the seven major Norwegianparties, five major French parties, and two major American parties we show that bothassimilation and contrast effects are present in each country to a considerable degree.We also investigate the possible effects of randomness in party placement and scaleinterpretation – effects that can easily be confounded with assimilation but not so easilywith contrast.

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Merrill, S., Grofman, B. & Adams, J. Assimilation and contrast effects in voter projections of party locations: Evidence from Norway, France, and the USA. European Journal of Political Research 40, 199–223 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1012975221087

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1012975221087

Keywords

  • Survey Data
  • Contrast Effect
  • Psychological Literature
  • Party Location
  • Policy Platform