The literature on party competition suggests that traditional conflict lines have either become obsolete or been replaced by new, less stable, ones.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.
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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).
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.
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.
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).
(1) Immigration (in general) + (2) Labour immigration + (3) Asylum seekers and refugees + (4) Family reunification + (5) Unaccompanied minors + (6) Student migration + (7) Retirement migration.
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.
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.
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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.
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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
- issue ownership
- party competition
- comparative manifestos