Party competition and positions on immigration: Strategic advantages and spatial locations

Abstract

The literature on party competition suggests that traditional conflict lines have either become obsolete or been replaced by new, less stable, ones. This development points to how political conflict has changed but also to how certain policy positions can be problematic to explain when these are linked to parties’ location on ‘Old’ and ‘New’ conflict dimensions. A particularly difficult issue has been party position(s) on immigration. Solely focusing on parties’ spatial location – on either conflict dimension – is insufficient for understanding the position that parties adopt. The article argues that a more fruitful approach is to simultaneously consider the degree of ownership – the strategic advantage – that parties have on particular conflict dimensions and parties’ spatial location therein. Comparing parties in Britain and Sweden, the article explores the extent to which this framework explains party positioning in two institutionally different contexts.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    Spatial theory contains a number of ‘ifs’ and if one or more of these assumptions are violated, the expected convergence results tend to disappear (Grofman, 2004).

  2. 2.

    Other, equally important, measurement techniques include ‘mass surveys of party voters, elite surveys of party politicians, dimensional analysis of the roll call voters of party legislators’ (Benoit and Laver, 2007, p. 90). It should also be noted that determining party position from manifestos is notoriously difficult (Bartolini and Mair, 1990; Franzmann and Kaiser, 2006; Dinas and Gemenis, 2010). However, the article's main aim is to analyse the determinants behind adopted positions on immigration since these prove to be problematic for previous studies that link ideological position to that of immigration. Although the use of, especially, the CMP data are ‘comforting but insufficient’ (King, 1990, p. 1), the inclusion highlights the often overlooked complexities of reading party position on immigration from parties’ ideological position.

  3. 3.

    The article's approach differs from that of the CMP and the ESG (Benoit and Laver, 2007; see also Laver and Hunt, 1992). While the CMP data directly reflect the stated party position and generates a rich time-series set (Budge and Pennings, 2007), it also contains significant methodological ‘noise’ since it conflates economic and social policy positions into one, unified left-right dimension, thus exaggerating the ideological move that parties make (Benoit and Laver, 2007). The ESG data try to avoid the ‘mathematically constrained nature of the saliency-based CMP left-right measure’ (ibid, p. 103) by asking country experts to classify parties on four substantive dimensions – economic, social, loci of decision-making and environmental policy – plus a ‘direct measure of party positions on a general left-right scale’ (ibid, p. 91). Although the ESG allows for more flexibility in its measurements, the survey is limited by its current lack of comparative time points. Furthermore, the survey's key finding suggests that ‘the substantive meaning of left-right is not constant’ (ibid, p. 103) and appears to be highly context dependent. This raises further questions as to what type of comparative conclusions can actually be drawn about parties left-right position if the concept is not able to ‘travel’ between cases.

  4. 4.

    Note: for the question on national identity, the Swedish manifestos tend to frame it as a cultural understanding of the issue, that is, is it seen as important to preserve national identity (+1) or not (−1) whereas the British manifestos relate to devolution (−1) versus national unity (+1).

  5. 5.

    (1) Immigration (in general) + (2) Labour immigration + (3) Asylum seekers and refugees + (4) Family reunification + (5) Unaccompanied minors + (6) Student migration + (7) Retirement migration.

  6. 6.

    Although ‘Law and order’ does not form part of the 7-point scale used for the ‘New’ politics dimension it nevertheless fits with the scale's libertarian/authoritarian element.

  7. 7.

    The calculations show a general directional fit with the CMP and ESG data. That is, the British and Swedish parties are placed in the same ideological space as the two comparative benchmarks. Furthermore, none of the parties fall into the ‘CMP says “Right”, ESG says “Left”- category’. However, this article does, by and large, allocate parties a higher score. When party positions are compared, this article's ranking corresponds to the ESG with one exception; the Liberals are here placed further to right of the Christian Democrats. The ranking of the British parties is, however, identical to both data sets. This would indicate that the calculations done here give a reasonably accurate view of the location of the Swedish and British parties. One reason for the differing figures is that this article defines the ‘Old’ Left-Right in strictly economic terms. For the CMP, it is ‘a general scale dealing with social-economic policy positions’ (Benoit and Laver, 2007, p. 100) and since party position is the sum of right-wing categories minus left-wing categories, then, if the proportion of both categories goes down, a party will tend to move towards the middle. An additional issue with the CMP data is that it conflates what this article calls ‘Old’ and ‘New’ politics dimensions. Consequently, if a party devotes a significant proportion of its’ manifesto to positive mentions of ‘Free enterprise’ but spends a lesser proportion on ‘Environmental protection’, it skews party position even though the latter may be just as important as the presence of the former. This means that what the CMP is telling us is how salient certain issues are for parties rather than their policy positions as such.

References

  1. Adams, J., Clark, M., Ezrow, L. and Glasgow, G. (2004) Understanding change and stability in party ideologies: Do parties respond to public opinion or to past election results? British Journal of Political Science 34 (4): 589–610.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Adams, J. and Merrill, S. (1999) Modelling party strategies and policy representation in multiparty elections: Why are strategies so extreme? American Journal of Politics Science 43 (3): 765–791.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Bakker, R., Edwards, E. and de Vries, C. (2006) Fickle Parties of Changing Dimensions? Testing the Comparability of the Party Manifesto Data Across Time and Space. Paper presented at the MPSA Conference, Chicago.

  4. Bartolini, S. and Mair, P. (1990) Policy competition, spatial distance and electoral instability. West European Politics 13 (4): 1–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Benoit, K. and Laver, M. (2007) Estimating party policy positions: Comparing expert surveys and hand-coded content analysis. Electoral Studies 26 (1): 90–107.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Benoit, K., Laver, M. and Mikhaylov, S. (2008) Treating words as data with error: Uncertainty in text statements of policy positions. American Journal of Political Science 53 (2): 495–513.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Breunig, C. and Luedtke, A. (2008) What motivates the gatekeepers? Explaining governing party preferences on immigration. Governance 21 (1): 123–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Budge, I. (1994) A new spatial theory of party competition: Uncertainty, ideology and policy equilibria viewed comparatively and temporally. British Journal of Political Science 24 (4): 443–467.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Budge, I. (2001) Validating the manifesto research group approach. Theoretical assumptions and empirical confirmations. In: M. Laver (ed.) Estimating the Policy Positions of Political Actors. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Budge, I. and Farlie, D.J. (1983) Explaining and Predicting Elections. Issue Effects and Party Strategies in Twenty-three Democracies. London: George Allen and Unwin.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Budge, I. et al (2001) Mapping Policy Preferences. Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments 1945–1998. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Budge, I. and Pennings, P. (2007) Do they work? Validating computerised word frequency estimates against policy series. Electoral Studies 26 (1): 121–1219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Clark, M. (2009) Valence and electoral outcomes in Western Europe, 1976–1998. Electoral Studies: 28 (1): 111–122.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Dalton, R. (2002) Political cleavages, issues and electoral change. In: L. LeDuc, R.G. Niemi and P. Norris (eds.) Comparing Democracies 2: New Challenges in the Study of Elections and Voting. London: Sage, pp. 189–209.

    Google Scholar 

  15. De Lange, S.L. (2007) A new winning formula? The programmatic appeal of the radical right. Party Politics 13 (4): 411–435.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Dinas, E. and Gemenis, K. (2010) Measuring parties’ ideological positions with manifesto data: A critical evaluation of the competing methods. Party Politics 16 (4): 427–450.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Downs, A. (1957) An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Dummett, A. (2005) United Kingdom. In: R. Baubock, E. Ersboll, K. Groendijk and H. Waldrauch (eds.) Acquisition and Loss of Nationality, Volume 2: Comparative Analyses. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: University of Amsterdam Press, pp. 551–580.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Franzmann, S. and Kaiser, A. (2006) Locating political parties in policy space: A reanalysis of party manifesto data. Party Politics 12 (2): 163–188.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Freeman, G. (1997) Immigration as a source of political discontent and frustration in Westerns democracies. Studies in Comparative International Development 32 (3): 42–64.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Golder, M. (2003) Explaining variation in the success of extreme right parties in Western Europe. Comparative Political Studies 36 (4): 432–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Green, J. (2007) When voters and parties agree: Valence issues and party competition. Political Studies 55 (3): 629–655.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Green, J. and Hobolt, S.B. (2008) Owning the issue agenda: Party strategies and vote choices in British elections. Electoral Studies 27 (3): 460–476.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Green-Pedersen, C. (2007) The growing importance of issue competition: The changing nature of party competition in Western Europe. Political Studies 55 (3): 607–628.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Green-Pedersen, C. and Krogstrup, J. (2008) Immigration as a political issue in Denmark and Sweden. European Journal of Political Research 47 (5): 610–634.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Grofman, B. (2004) Downs and two-party convergence. Annual Review of Political Science 7 (25): 25–46.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Hobolt, S., Klemmensen, R. and Pickup, M. (2008) The Dynamics of Issue Diversity in Party Rhetoric. OCSID Working Paper OCSID_03, http://ocsid.politics.ox.ac.uk/publications/index.asp.

  28. Hobolt, S.B. and Klemmemsen, R. (2005) Responsive government? Public opinion and government policy preferences in Britain and Denmark. Political Studies 53 (2): 379–402.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Holmberg, S., Gilljam, M. and Oscarsson, H. (1991) Svensk Valundersökning, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Göteborgs universitet.

  30. Holmberg, S., Gilljam, M. and Oscarsson, H. (1994) Svensk Valundersökning, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Göteborgs universitet.

  31. Holmberg, S., Gilljam, M. and Oscarsson, H. (1998) Svensk Valundersökning, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Göteborgs universitet.

  32. Holmberg, S., Gilljam, M. and Oscarsson, H. (2002) Svensk Valundersökning, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Göteborgs universitet.

  33. Holmberg, S., Gilljam, M. and Oscarsson, H. (2006) Svensk Valundersökning, Statsvetenskapliga institutionen, Göteborgs universitet.

  34. Hooghe, L., Marks, G. and Wilson, C. (2002) Does left/right structure party positions on European integration? Comparative Political Studies 35 (8): 965–989.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Inglehart, I. (1971) The silent revolution in post-industrial societies. American Political Science Review 65: 991–1017.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Inglehart, R. (1977) The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles among Western Publics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Inglehart, R. (1987) Value change in industrial societies. American Political Science Review 81 (4): 1290–1303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Inglehart, R. (1990) Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Inglehart, R. (1997) Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Ipsos-Mori (2009) Best party on key issues, http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive.aspx?keyword=Best+Party+on+key+issues.

  41. Jennings, W. (2009) The public thermostat, political responsiveness and error-correction: Border control and asylum in Britain, 1994–2007, Brirish Journal of Political Science 39 (4): 847–870.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Jennings, W. and Green, J. (2009) Macro-competence: A Measurement of Mood in Issue Competence and a Test of Its Effects on Party Support. Paper prepared for the European Consortium for Political Research Conference; 9–12 September 2009, Potsdam, Germany.

  43. Jones, B. and Baumgartner, F. (2005) The Politics of Attention: How Government Prioritizes Attention. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. King, G. (1990) On political methodology. Political Analysis 2: 1–29.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Kitschelt, H. (2004) Diversification and Reconfiguration of Party Systems in Postindustrial Democracies. Bonn, Germany: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Kitschelt, H. and McGann, A.J. (1995) The Radical Right in Western Europe. A Comparative Analysis. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Klingemann, H.-D. (1987) Electoral programmes in West Germany 1949–1980: Explorations in the nature of political controversy. In: I. Budge, D. Robertson and D. Heard (eds.) Ideology, Strategy, and Party Change: Spatial Analyses of Post-War Election Programmes in 19 Democracies. New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 294–323.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Klingemann, H.-D., Volkens, A., Bara, J., Budge, I. and Macdonald, M. (2006) Mapping Policy Preference II: Estimates for Parties, Electors and Governments in Eastern Europe, the European Union and the OECD, 1990–2000. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Kriesi, H., Grande, E., Lachat, R., Dolezal, M., Bornschier, S. and Frey, T. (2006) Globalisation and the transformation of the national political space: Six European countries compared, European Journal of Political Research 45 (6): 921–956.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Lahav, G. (1997) Ideological and party constraints on immigration attitudes in Europe. Journal of Common Market Studies 35 (3): 307–406.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Laver, M. and Hunt, B. (1992) Party and Policy Competation. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Pelizzo, R. (2003) Party positions or party direction? An analysis of party manifesto data. West European Politics 26 (2): 67–89.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Pellikaan, H., an der Meer, T. and de Lange, S.L. (2003) The road from a depoliticized to a centrifugal democracy. Acta Politica 38 (1): 23–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Petrocik, J. (1996) Issue ownership in presidential elections with a 1980 case study. American Journal of Political Science 40 (3): 825–850.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Rabinowitz, G. and Macdonald, S.E. (1989) A directional theory of issue voting. The American Political Science Review 83 (1): 93–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Riker, W. (1996) The Strategy of Rhetoric: Campaigning for the American Constitution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Rydgren, J. (2005) Movements of Exclusion: Radical Right-wing Populism in the Western World. New York: Nova Science.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Schattschneider, E. (1960) The Semi-sovereign People: A Realist's View of Democracy in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Somerville, W. (2007) Immigration under New Labour. Bristol: The Policy Press.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Spencer, S. (2007) Immigration. In: A. Seldon (ed.) Blair's Britain 1997–2007. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 341–360

    Google Scholar 

  61. Stokes, D.E. (1963) Spatial models of party competition. American Political Science Review 57: 368–377.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Van der Brug, W. (2004) Issue ownership and party choice. Electoral Studies 23 (2): 209–233.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Walgrave, S. and Nuytemans, M. (2009) Friction and party manifesto change in 25 countries. American Journal of Political Science 53 (1): 190–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Research support under the Economic and Social Research Council's First Grant Scheme (Grant reference: RES-061-25-0195) is gratefully acknowledged. The author would also like to thank Mark Aspinwall, Wilfried Swenden, Martin Schain, Tariq Modood, Paul Statham and the two anonymous referees for their extensive comments which greatly improved the article's focus and analysis.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Odmalm, P. Party competition and positions on immigration: Strategic advantages and spatial locations. Comp Eur Polit 10, 1–22 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1057/cep.2010.20

Download citation

Keywords

  • issue ownership
  • party competition
  • immigration
  • comparative manifestos