How parties’ issue emphasis strategies vary across communication channels: The 2009 regional election campaign in Belgium

Abstract

Issue ownership theory expects political parties to focus their campaigns on ‘owned’ issues for which they have a reputation of competence and a history of attention, and to avoid issues that play to the advantage of their opponents. However, recent empirical studies show that parties often campaign on the same issues. The literature has suggested several factors to account for this behavior, but has mostly neglected that issue emphasis strategies can vary across campaign communication channels and parties. Based on a quantitative content analysis of the manifestos and press releases of all seven parties competing in the 2009 regional elections in Flanders (Belgium), we make two contributions. First, we show that while there is some consistency in parties’ issue priorities, they do not necessarily set the same issue priorities in their different campaign communication channels. Second, it appears that parties follow different strategies depending on their standing in the polls, and, to a lesser degree, according to their position in government or in opposition.

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

Figure 1

Note: Estimates based on Model 4 in Table 3. Dotted lines denote 95 per cent confidence intervals

Figure 2

Note: Estimates based on Model 4 in Table 3. Dotted lines denote 95 per cent confidence intervals

Figure 3

Note: Estimates based on Model 6 in Table 3. Lines denote 95 per cent confidence intervals

References

  1. Banda, K. (2013). The dynamics of campaign issue agendas. State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 13(4), 446–470.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Baumgartner, F. R., and Jones, B. D. (1993). Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  3. Brouard, S., Grossmann, E., and Guinaudeau, I. (2012). La compétition partisane française au prisme des priorités électorales: compétition sur enjeux et appropriations thématiques. Revue française de science politique, 62(2), 255–276.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Budge, I. (1982). Electoral volatility: Issue effects and basic change in 23 post-war democracies. Electoral Studies, 1(2), 147–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Budge, I. (2015). Issue emphases, saliency theory and issue ownership: A historical and conceptual analysis. West European Politics, 38(4), 761–777.

  6. Budge, I. and Farlie, D. (1983a). Party competition – selective emphasis or direct confrontation? An alternative view with data. In H. Daalder & P. Mair (Eds.), Western European Party Systems. Continuity and Change (pp. 267–305). Beverly Hills: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Budge, I. and Farlie, D. (1983b). Explaining and Predicting Elections. London: George Allen & Unwin.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Damore, D. F. (2004). The dynamics of issue ownership in presidential campaigns. Political Research Quarterly, 57(3), 391–397.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Damore, D. F. (2005). Issue convergence in presidential campaigns. Political Behavior, 27(1), 71–97.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Deschouwer, K. (2009). The Politics of Belgium: Governing a Divided Society. Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Deschouwer, K., Delwit, P., Hooghe, M., and Walgrave, S. (2010). De verkiezingen van 2009. Resultaten en algemene tendensen. In K. Deschouwer, P. Delwit, M. Hooghe, & S. Walgrave (Eds.), De Stemmen van het Volk. Een analyse van het kiesgedrag in Vlaanderen en Wallonië op 7 juni 2009 (pp. 7–28). Brussels: VUB Press.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Dolezal, M., Ennser-Jedenastik, L., Müller, W. C., and Winkler, A. K. (2014). How parties compete for votes: A test of saliency theory. European Journal of Political Research, 53(1), 57–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Google Scholar 

  14. Elmelund-Præstekær, Ch. (2011). Mapping parties’ issue agenda in different channels of campaign communication: A wild goose chase? Javnost – the Public, 18(1), 37–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Geys, B. (2012). Success and failure in electoral competition: Selective issue emphasis under incomplete issue ownership. Electoral Studies, 31(2), 406–412.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Green, J. (2011). A test of core vote theories: The British Conservatives, 1997–2005. British Journal of Political Science, 41(4), 735–764.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 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 

  18. Greene, Z. (2015). Competing on the issues: How experience in government and economic conditions influence the scope of parties’ policy messages. Party Politics. doi:10.1177/1354068814567026.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Green-Pedersen, Ch. and Mortensen, P. B. (2010). Who sets the agenda and who responds to it in the Danish parliament? A new model of issue competition and agenda-setting. European Journal of Political Research, 49(2), 257–281.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Green-Pedersen, Ch. and Mortensen, P. B. (2015). Avoidance and engagement: Issue competition in multiparty systems. Political Studies, 63(4), 747–764.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hopmann, D. N., Elmelund-Præstekær, Ch., Albæk, E., Vliegenthard, R., and de Vreese, C. H. (2012). Party media agenda-setting: How parties influence election news coverage. Party Politics, 18(2), 173–191.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Iyengar, S. and Kinder, D. R. (1987). News That Matters: Television and American Opinion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Jacobs, L. R. and Shapiro, R. Y. (1994). Issues, candidate image, and priming: The use of private polls in Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. American Political Science Review, 88(3), 527–540.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kaplan, N., Park, D. K., and Ridout, T. N. (2006). Dialogue in American political campaigns? An examination of issue convergence in candidate television advertising. American Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 724–736.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Kleinnijenhuis, J., and Takens, J. (2011) Het politieke nieuwsaanbond van dagbladen en televisie: Objectief en pluriform? In J. Thomassen and R. Andeweg (Eds.), Democratie doorgelicht. Het functioneren van de Nederlandse democratie (pp. 407–424). Leiden: Leiden University Press.

  26. Lachat, R. (2014). Issue ownership and the vote: The effects of associative and competence ownership on issue voting. Swiss Political Science Review, 20(4), 727–740.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Lefevere, J. (2011) Campaign effects on voter decision making, Unpublished PhD thesis, Department of political science, University of Antwerp.

  28. Maddens, B. (2010). Election Spendings of 2009 in Perspective (De verkiezingsuitgaven van 2009 in perspectief). Vives Briefings (p. 6). Leuven: K.U. Leuven.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Meyer, T. M. and Wagner, M. (2016). Issue engagement in election campaigns: The impact of electoral incentives and organizational constraints. Political Science Research and Methods. doi:10.1017/psrm.2015.40.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Norris, P., Curtis, J., Sanders, D., Scammel, M., and Semetko, H. A. (1999). On Message. Communicating the Campaign. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Riker, W. H. (1993). Introduction. In W. H. Riker (Ed.), Agenda Formation (pp. 1–12). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Robertson, D. (1976). A Theory of Party Competition. London: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Sides, J. (2006). The origins of campaign agendas. British Journal of Political Science, 36(3), 407–436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Sigelman, L. and Buell, E. H., Jr. (2004). Avoidance or engagement? Issue convergence in U.S. presidential campaigns, 1960–2000. American Journal of Political Science, 48(4), 650–661.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Simon, A. (2002). The winning message: Candidate behavior, campaign discourse, and democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Spiliotes, C. J. and Vavreck, L. (2002). Campaign advertising: Partisan convergence or divergence? The Journal of Politics, 64(1), 249–261.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Spoon, J.-J., Hobolt, S. B., and de Vries, C. (2014). Going green: Explaining issue competition on the environment. European Journal of Political Research, 53(2), 363–380.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Stimson, J. A., Mackuen, M. B., and Erikson, R. S. (1995). Dynamic representation. American Political Science Review, 89(3), 543–565.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Stubager, R., and Slothuus, R. (2013). What are the sources of political parties’ issue ownership? Testing four explanationa at the individual level. Political Behavior, 35(3), 567–588.

  41. Van Aelst, P. and Lefevere, J. (2012). Has Europe got anything to do with the European elections? A study on split-ticket voting in the Belgian regional and European elections of 2009. European Union Politics, 13(1), 3–25.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Vliegenthart, R. and Walgrave, S. (2011). When the media matter for politics: Partisan moderators of the mass media’s agenda-setting influence on parliament in Belgium. Party Politics, 17(3), 321–342.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Wagner, M. and Meyer, T. M. (2014). Which issues do parties emphasise? Salience strategies and party organisation in multiparty systems. West European Politics, 37(5), 1019–1045.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Walgrave, S. and de Swert, K. (2007). Where does issue ownership come from? From the party or from the media? Issue–party identifications in Belgium, 1991–2005. International Journal of Press/Politics, 12(1), 37–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Walgrave, S. and van Aelst, P. (2006). The contingency of the mass media’s political agenda setting power: Toward a preliminary theory. Journal of Communication, 56(1), 88–109.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Walgrave, S., Lefevere, J., and Tresch, A. (2012). The associative dimension of issue ownership. Public Opinion Quarterly, 76(4), 771–782.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Walter, A. S., van der Brug, W., and Van Praag, Ph. (2014). When the stakes are high: Party competition and negative campaigning. Comparative Political Studies, 47(4), 550–573.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the PARTIREP Consortium, an IAP Attraction Pole that is funded by the Belgian Science Policy [P6/37 to Kris Deschouwer, Stefaan Walgrave, Marc Hooghe, and Pascal Delwit], and the Swiss National Science Foundation (PP00P1_150451).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anke Tresch.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Tresch, A., Lefevere, J. & Walgrave, S. How parties’ issue emphasis strategies vary across communication channels: The 2009 regional election campaign in Belgium. Acta Polit 53, 25–47 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-016-0036-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • saliency theory
  • issue ownership
  • political parties
  • communication channels
  • election campaigns
  • Belgium