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Bringing representatives back in: How political parties moderate patterns of inequality in opinion representation

Abstract

Democratic theory argues that individuals should have their policy preferences equally represented in politics. Research on opinion congruence has often found, however, that political parties’ views are more likely to align with those of higher-income and higher educated citizens. We argue that this conclusion does not account for heterogeneity among parties. Based on an integrated dataset containing the positions of over 1,700 Belgian citizens and 11 Belgian parties on over 120 policy statements, we examine how opinion congruence inequality between privileged and underprivileged people varies between parties. We find that left-wing parties align more with underprivileged citizens than they do with privileged citizens on economic issues, while the opposite holds for right-wing parties. On cultural issues, however, both left- and right-wing parties better represent the preferences of privileged people. The exception is the radical right party Vlaams Belang, which on the cultural dimensions better represents the views of underprivileged voters.

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Notes

  1. While some have scholars have suggested that the difference between income and education matters (Werfhorst and Graaf 2004), robustness checks, voters were separated not on the basis of SES, but on the basis of education or income alone, confirm the results reported in the “Results” section. These robustness checks are reported in the Appendix.

  2. The models with all statements, including those that have non-significant preference gaps, can be found in the Appendix.

  3. The data utilized in this publication were made available by the CESPOL (UCLouvain), sponsored by the Belgian National Scientific Research Fund FNRS (CDR J.0141.14). The data were originally collected by Lieven De Winter, Audrey Vandeleene and Pierre Baudewyns. Neither the original collectors of the data nor the Centre bears any responsibility for the analysis or interpretations presented here.

  4. All codings were done by the author. The statements were also coded by a second coder and adequate levels of reliability were achieved (Krippendorf’s Alpha = 0.83).

  5. Statement ignorance was not found to differ between privileged and underprivileged respondents, with a correlation of r > 0.90.

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Lesschaeve, C. Bringing representatives back in: How political parties moderate patterns of inequality in opinion representation. Eur Polit Sci 21, 255–273 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41304-021-00332-y

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Keywords

  • Belgium
  • Inequality in representation
  • Opinion congruence
  • Radical right parties