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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - Coalition Expansion


Now is it to lower the price of corn or isn't it? It is not much matter which we say, but mind, we must all say THE SAME.

Lord Melbourne to his Cabinet, circa 1835, reported in Bagehot's The English Constitution

The cases of party position change I have discussed in previous chapters have related to partisan constituencies. The preferences of groups and/or their party affiliations have changed. Yet there are important shifts in policy areas that shape parties' images that are not attributable to the movements or targeting of identifiable groups. These issue positions may affect parties' electoral fortunes by winning (or losing) them support across the board, even if they do not alter the group basis of the parties.

The politics of these issues is distinctive. Where groups are absent, party politicians' autonomy is enhanced. They have maximum leeway to take positions and sell them to their traditional supporters while hoping to win over other voters in a process I call coalition expansion. Since these positions are not inspired by party-linked groups, they may be unstable, and since party position changes in such cases are not linked to the gradual movement of groups into party coalitions, reversals can be rapid. Two examples are the politics of defense spending and the politics of fiscal balance and taxes.

Defense spending fits the criteria for a classic issue evolution. Party elites have changed their stands. The topic has figured prominently in campaigns. The parties in the electorate have shifted.