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Restructuring the policy space in England: The end of the Left–Right paradigm?

Abstract

Political scientists often talk about ‘ideological dimensions’ that aggregate related policy issues into a single latent construct. Applying factor analysis and Mokken Scale Analysis to opinion data generated from a Voting Advice Application deployed in England in the run-up to the European parliamentary elections, I show how individual issues may be aggregated into two principal dimensions: an economic dimension that separates Left and Right in terms of the economy and a cultural communitarian–cosmopolitan dimension. I also identify a third (libertarian–authoritarian) dimension, but this appears to aggregate very few issues. By positioning party supporters on a two-dimensional map defined by the two principal dimensions, I show that United Kingdom Independence Party supporters are situated very near the ‘communitarian’ pole of the cultural communitarian–cosmopolitan dimension. Finally, I show that overall, the communitarian–cosmopolitan dimension forms a rather more coherent scale than the Left–Right dimension and this tendency is even more marked among younger voters and voters with little interest in politics. Overall, this would appear to show that the notion of (economic) Left and Right is losing its salience in English politics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Only responses from England were included as Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters were presented with a slightly different set of questions.

  2. 2.

    For cleaning I removed: (i) all cases in which the time taken to complete the 30 issue statements of the VAA was less than 120 seconds; (ii) all cases in which the time taken to respond to any one issue statement was less than 2 seconds; (iii) all cases in which the time taken to respond to three or more issue statements was less than 3 seconds; (iv) all cases in which the respondent answered 10 successive issue statements in the same way; (v) all cases in which the user completed the questionnaire by smart phone (this is because it may not have been intuitively obvious about how to register ‘no opinion’ by smart phone). I then (vi) sorted the data by an anonymized code that corresponded to the IP address, before removing all consecutive items with the same IP address unless it was obvious from date of birth or gender that they were different users. Finally I (vii) removed all those who self-identified with a citizenship other than UK citizenship and (viii) all those that claimed a date of birth before 1920 (on the grounds that they were probably fictitious entries).

  3. 3.

    Polychoric correlations are the correlations between two theorised normally distributed continuous latent variables, estimated from two observed ordinal variables.

  4. 4.

    Eigenvalues are measures of variance in the observed variables that is accounted for by one latent factor. If the variance (that is, the eigenvalue) is low, the corresponding latent factor is likely to be insignificant and can be discarded.

  5. 5.

    EFA is carried out using the ‘psych’ package in R, specifically the function fa.poly, while CFA is performed by using the lavaan package, specifically the function cfa for ordered variables.

  6. 6.

    The R package used for MSA is ‘Mokken’. Monotonicity is tested using the check.monotonicity function, while the H values are generated from the coefH function.

  7. 7.

    The precise formulations of the relevant supplementary questions are: ‘Which party do you feel closest to?’, ‘in the European elections, which party do you intend to vote for?’ and ‘if there were a national election tomorrow, which party would you vote for?’.

  8. 8.

    Density maps are generated in such a way that each contour line encloses areas in which the density of users is greater than outside. The 50 per cent contour line is identified using the Two-Dimensional Kernel Density Estimation function in the R-package MASS (Venables and Ripley, 2002).

  9. 9.

    For European Elections Survey data, see GESIS Data Catalogue 2.1 at <dx.doi.org/doi:10.4232/1.10202>, accessed 14 December 2014.

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Wheatley, J. Restructuring the policy space in England: The end of the Left–Right paradigm?. Br Polit 10, 268–285 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1057/bp.2015.35

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Keywords

  • ideological dimensions
  • Left
  • Right
  • communitarian
  • cosmopolitan
  • Voting Advice Applications (VAAs)