Changing the issues of the electoral arena: do parties and voters move together?

Abstract

Electoral dynamics are linked to a set of cleavages that divide the electorate among groups of voters. These cleavages are theorized to be behind the electoral coalitions formed, and their change is supposed to trigger electoral realignments. That said, not much is known about the ways in which these cleavages change beyond studies analysing big, drastic and unusual realignments. Combining a wide array of data sources, this paper is able to test, in a cross-sectional and dynamic way, the relationship between the cleavages emphasized at the party debate and the cleavages associated with voters’ behaviour. It proves that the links between the two spheres are more complicated than sometimes assumed. The finding has important implications for the understanding of party competition dynamics and electoral mandates.

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Fig. 1

From the comparative manifesto proejct

Fig. 2

Several public opinion polls.

Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium-Wallonia and Belgium-Flanders.

  2. 2.

    For a list of the exact years included for each of the countries, see appendix, Sect. 3.3.

  3. 3.

    Results of robustness checks with similar measures calculated with data from the Chapel Hill Expert Survey for all available years appear in appendix, Sect. 1.

  4. 4.

    For a list of categories added to each cleavage, see online appendix, Sect. 3.1.

  5. 5.

    See appendix, Sect. 3.1.1.

  6. 6.

    A list of questions included for each cleavage and the surveys from which they originated appears in online appendix, Sects. 3.2.1. and 3.1.2.

  7. 7.

    Multinomial logit models are not used in order to avoid unnecessary complications that go beyond the scope of the research. Since the analysis is limited to the aggregated party–system level, party coefficients are unnecessary.

  8. 8.

    Because the measure captures the ratio of the overall variation of the sample and the variation within groups, it primarily measured the extent to which groups are homogeneous in comparison with how homogeneous the population is. As a result, it is less dependent on the number of categories than on how those categories aggregate the variation. In any case, the focus on within-country changes means that the number of parties is quite stable and, consequently, that any change can be attributed to changes in the logic of competition among parties in the country.

  9. 9.

    For an explanation of the algorithm and its effect, see online appendix, Sect. 3.2.3.

  10. 10.

    Gini index values for the countries and years have been downloaded from the Quality of Government database. When possible, missing cases have been filled with data from the All Gini Dataset created by Branko Milanovic (http://go.worldbank.org/9VCQW66LA0, accessed 13 October 2014).

  11. 11.

    Secularization is measured as the percentage of respondents who reported attending church at least several times per year according to questions included in the surveys included in the study.

  12. 12.

    Data were downloaded from the Quality of Government database (Teorell et al. 2013).

  13. 13.

    As recommended by the UCLA Institute for Digital Research and Education- https://stats.idre.ucla.edu/other/mult-pkg/faq/general/faqhow-do-i-interpret-a-regression-model-when-some-variables-are-log-transformed/ (accessed 10-12-2018).

  14. 14.

    Complete models with all coefficients appear in online appendix, Sect. 2.

  15. 15.

    Remember that the association predicted is not purely linear but convex due to log-transformation of party strategies’ measures.

  16. 16.

    The dynamic of polarization’s being more clearly associated with alignment in relation to the issue than emphasis appears again when using data from the Chapel Hill Expert Survey.

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Barbet, B. Changing the issues of the electoral arena: do parties and voters move together?. Comp Eur Polit 18, 21–44 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-019-00153-w

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Keywords

  • Elections
  • Party competition
  • Electoral behaviour
  • Agenda-setting
  • Political space