Skip to main content Accessibility help

Policy Ideology in European Mass Publics, 1981–2016



Using new scaling methods and a comprehensive public opinion dataset, we develop the first survey-based time-series–cross-sectional measures of policy ideology in European mass publics. Our dataset covers 27 countries and 36 years and contains nearly 2.7 million survey responses to 109 unique issue questions. Estimating an ordinal group-level IRT model in each of four issue domains, we obtain biennial estimates of the absolute economic conservatism, relative economic conservatism, social conservatism, and immigration conservatism of men and women in three age categories in each country. Aggregating the group-level estimates yields estimates of the average conservatism in national publics in each biennium between 1981–82 and 2015–16. The four measures exhibit contrasting cross-sectional cleavages and distinct temporal dynamics, illustrating the multidimensionality of mass ideology in Europe. Subjecting our measures to a series of validation tests, we show that the constructs they measure are distinct and substantively important and that they perform as well as or better than one-dimensional proxies for mass conservatism (left–right self-placement and median voter scores). We foresee many uses for these scores by scholars of public opinion, electoral behavior, representation, and policy feedback.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Policy Ideology in European Mass Publics, 1981–2016
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Policy Ideology in European Mass Publics, 1981–2016
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Policy Ideology in European Mass Publics, 1981–2016
      Available formats


Corresponding author

*Devin Caughey, Associate Professor (without Tenure), MIT, Department of Political Science,
Tom O’Grady, Lecturer, University College London, Department of Political Science, t.o’
Christopher Warshaw, Assistant Professor, George Washington University, Department of Political Science,


Hide All

Replication files for this article are available at Caughey, O’Grady, and Warshaw (2018). We wish to thank the editors and three anonymous reviewers for their feedback, and particularly to acknowledge one reviewer whose detailed and extensive comments and questions pushed us to make major improvements to the paper. We are grateful to Elissa Berwick and Clara Vandeweerdt for their help extending the DGIRT model, and to James Dunham for his work on the dgo package. We also appreciate feedback from participations at the 2015 ECPR General Conference. All mistakes, however, are our own. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



Hide All
Adams, James, Clark, Michael, Ezrow, Lawrence, and Glasgow, Garrett. 2004. “Understanding Change and Stability in Party Ideologies: Do Parties Respond to Public Opinion or to Past Election Results?British Journal of Political Science 34 (4): 589610.
Adams, James, Clark, Michael, Ezrow, Lawrence, and Glasgow, Garrett. 2006. “Are Niche Parties Fundamentally Different from Mainstream Parties? The Causes and Consequences of Western European Parties’ Policy Shifts, 1976–1998.” American Journal of Political Science 50 (3): 513–29.
Adams, James, and Somer-Topcu, Zeynep. 2009. “Policy Adjustment by Parties in Response to Rival Parties’ Policy Shifts: Spatial Theory and the Dynamics of Party Competition in Twenty-Five Post-War Democracies.” British Journal of Political Science 39 (4): 825–23.
Adcock, Robert, and Collier, David. 2001. “Measurement Validity: A Shared Standard for Qualitative and Quantitative Research.” American Political Science Review 95 (3): 529–46.
Akker, Hanneke van den, van der Ploeg, Rozemarijn, and Scheepers, Peer. 2013. “Disapproval of Homosexuality: Comparative Research on Individual and National Determinants of Disapproval of Homosexuality in 20 European Countries.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 25 (1): 6486.
Andersen, Robert, and Fetner, Tina. 2008. “Economic Inequality and Intolerance: Attitudes toward Homosexuality in 35 Democracies.” American Journal of Political Science 52 (4): 942–58.
Bakker, Ryan, Jolly, Seth, Polk, Jonathan, and Poole, Keith. 2014. “The European Common Space: Extending the Use of Anchoring Vignettes.” The Journal of Politics 76 (4): 1089–101.
Bartle, John, Dellepiane-Avellaneda, Sebastian, and Stimson, James. 2011. “The Moving Centre: Preferences for Government Activity in Britain, 1950–2005.” British Journal of Political Science 41 (2): 259–85.
Bauer, Paul C., Barbera, Pablo, Ackermann, Kathrin, and Venetz, Aaron. 2017. “Is the Left–Right Scale a Valid Measure of Ideology? Individual-Level Variation in Associations with ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ and Left–Right Self-Placement.” Political Behavior 39 (3): 553–83.
Berwick, Elissa, and Caughey, Devin. 2018. “Multidimensional Latent Preferences from Sparse Survey Data: A Group-Level Dynamic IRT Model for Spanish Regions.” Poster presented at the summer meeting of the Society for Political Methodolgy, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.
Blais, André, and Bodet, Marc André. 2006. “Does Proportional Representation Foster Closer Congruence between Citizens and Policy Makers?Comparative Political Studies 39 (10): 1243–62.
Bonoli, Giuliano. 2000. “Public Attitudes to Social Protection and Political Economy Traditions in Western Europe.” European Societies 2 (4): 431–52.
Budge, Ian, Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, Volkens, Andrea, Bara, Judith, and Tanenbaum, Eric. 2001. Mapping Policy Preferences: Estimates for Parties, Electors and Governments 1945–1998 . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Caughey, Devin, O’Grady, Tom, and Warshaw, Christopher. 2018. Replication Data for: Policy Ideology in European Mass Publics, 1981–2016 .
Caughey, Devin, and Warshaw, Christopher. 2015. “Dynamic Estimation of Latent Opinion Using a Hierarchical Group-Level IRT Model.” Political Analysis 23 (1): 197211.
Ceobanu, Alin M., and Escandell., Xavier 2010. “Comparative Analyses of Public Attitudes toward Immigrants and Immigration Using Multinational Survey Data: A Review of Theories and Research.” Annual Review of Sociology 36 (1): 309–28.
Claassen, Christopher. 2019. “Estimating Smooth Country-Year Panels of Public Opinion.” Political Analysis 27 (1): 120.
Curini, Luigi. 2010. “Experts’ Political Preferences and Their Impact on Ideological Bias.” Party Politics 16 (3): 299321.
Dahl, Robert A. 1989. Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Dallinger, Ursula. 2010. “Public Support for Redistribution: What Explains Cross-National Differences?Journal of European Social Policy 20 (4): 333–49.
Dalton, Russell J. 2010. “Left–Right Orientations, Context, and Voting Choices.” In Citizens, Context, and Choice, eds. Dalton, Russell J. and Anderson, Christopher J.. New York: Oxford University Press, 103–22.
De Neve, Jan-Emmanuel. 2011. “The Median Voter Data Set: Voter Preferences across 50 Democracies.” Electoral Studies 30 (4): 865–71.
Dunham, James, Caughey, Devin, and Warshaw, Christopher. 2019. dgo: Dynamic Estimation of Group-Level Opinion. R package version 0.3.00.
Ellis, Christopher, and Stimson, James A.. 2012. Ideology in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Esarey, Justin, and Menger, Andrew. 2018. “Practical and Effective Approaches to Dealing with Clustered Data.” Political Science Research and Methods: 119. Pre-published online 19 January 2018.
Evans, Geoffrey. 2010. “Models, Measures and Mechanisms: An Agenda for Progress in Cleavage Research.” West European Politics 33 (3): 634–47.
Ezrow, Lawrence, De Vries, Catherine, Steenbergen, Marco, and Edwards, Erica. 2010. “Mean Voter Representation and Partisan Constituency Representation: Do Parties Respond to the Mean Voter Position or to Their Supporters?Party Politics 17 (3): 275301.
Ferland, Benjamin. 2016. “Revisiting the Ideological Congruence Controversy.” European Journal of Political Research 55 (2): 358–73.
Fox, Jean-Paul. 2010. Bayesian Item Response Modeling: Theory and Applications. New York: Springer.
Franklin, Mark N. 2010. “Cleavage Research: A Critical Appraisal.” West European Politics 33 (3): 648–58.
Franzen, Axel, and Vogl, Dominikus. 2013. “Two Decades of Measuring Environmental Attitudes: A Comparative Analysis of 33 Countries.” Global Environmental Change 23 (5): 1001–8.
Golder, Matt, and Stramski, Jacek. 2010. “Ideological Congruence and Electoral Institutions.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (1): 90106.
Häusermann, Silja, and Kriesi, Hanspeter. 2015. “What Do Voters Want? Dimensions and Configurations in Individual-Level Preferences and Party Choice.” In The Politics of Advanced Capitalism. Chap. 8, eds. Beramendi, Pablo, Häusermann, Silja, Kitschelt, Herbert, and Kriesi, Hanspeter. New York: Cambridge University Press, 202–30.
Heath, Anthony, Taylor, Bridget, Brook, Lindsay, and Park, Alison. 1999. “British National Sentiment.” British Journal of Political Science 29 (1): 155–75.
Huber, John D. 1989. “Values and Partisanship in Left–Right Orientations: Measuring Ideology.” European Journal of Political Research 17 (5): 599621.
Huber, John D., and Powell, G. Bingham. 1994. “Congruence between Citizens and Policymakers in Two Visions of Liberal Democracy.” World Politics 46 (3): 291326.
Inglehart, Ronald. 1984. “The Changing Structure of Political Cleavages in Western Society.” In Electoral Change in Advanced Industrial Societies: Realignment or Dealignment, eds. Dalton, Russell, Flanagan, Scott C., and Beck, Paul Allen. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2569.
Inglehart, Ronald. 1985. “Aggregate Stability and Individual-Level Flux in Mass Belief Systems: The Level of Analysis Paradox.” American Political Science Review 79 (1): 97116.
Inglehart, Ronald. 1990. Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society. New York: Princeton University Press.
Inglehart, Ronald. 1995. “Public Support for Environmental Protection: Objective Problems and Subjective Values in 43 Societies.” PS: Political Science and Politics 28 (1): 5772.
Inglehart, Ronald, and Klingemann, Hans-Dieter. 1976. “Party Identification, Ideological Preference and the Left–Right Dimension Amongst Western Mass Publics.” In Party Identification and beyond: Representations of Voting and Party Competition. Chap. 13, eds. Budge, Ian, Crewe, Ivor, and Fairlie, Dennis. London, UK: Wiley, 243–73.
Iversen, Torben, and Rosenbluth, Frances. 2006. “The Political Economy of Gender: Explaining Cross-National Variation in the Gender Division of Labor and the Gender Voting Gap.” American Journal of Political Science 50 (1): 119.
Jaeger, Mads Meier 2006. “Welfare Regimes and Attitudes towards Redistribution: The Regime Hypothesis Revisited.” European Sociological Review 22 (2): 157–70.
Jaeger, M. M. 2009. “United but Divided: Welfare Regimes and the Level and Variance in Public Support for Redistribution.” European Sociological Review 25 (6): 723–37.
Kenworthy, Lane, and McCall, Leslie. 2008. “Inequality, Public Opinion and Redistribution.” Socio-Economic Review 6 (1): 3568.
Kim, HeeMin, and Fording, Richard C.. 1998. “Voter Ideology in Western Democracies, 1946–1989.” European Journal of Political Research 33 (1): 7397.
Kim, HeeMin, Powell, G. Bingham Jr., and Fording, Richard C.. 2010. “Electoral Systems, Party Systems and Ideological Representation: An Analysis of Distortion in Western Democracies.” Comparative Politics 42 (2): 167–85.
Kitschelt, Herbert. 1994. The Transformation of European Social Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Kitschelt, Herbert, and Rehm, Philipp. 2014. “Occupations as a Site of Political Preference Formation.” Comparative Political Studies 47 (12): 1670–706.
Klingemann, Hans-Dieter. 1979. “Measuring Ideological Conceptualizations.” In Political Action: Mass Participation in Western Democracies, eds. Barnes, Samuel and Kaase, Max. London: Sage Publications, 215–54.
Knutsen, Oddbjorn. 1995. “Value Orientations, Political Conflicts and Left–Right Identification: A Comparative Study.” European Journal of Political Research 28 (1): 6393.
Knutsen, Oddbjorn. 1997. “The Partisan and the Value-Based Component of Left–Right Self-Placement: A Comparative Study.” International Political Science Review 18 (2): 191225.
Knutsen, Oddbjorn. 1998. “Europeans Move towards the Center: A Comparative Longitudinal Study of Left–Right Self-Placement in Western Europe.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 10 (4): 292316.
Kriesi, Hanspeter. 1998. “The Transformation of Cleavage Politics.” European Journal of Political Research 33: 165–85.
Kriesi, Hanspeter, Grande, Edgar, Lachat, Romain, Dolezal, Martin, Bornschier, Simon, and Frey, Timotheos. 2006. “Globalization and the Transformation of the National Political Space: Six European Countries Compared.” European Journal of Political Research 45 (6): 921–56.
Lipset, Seymour Martin, and Rokkan, Stein. 1967. “Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments: An Introduction.” In Party Systems and Voter Alignments Cross-National Perspectives. Chap. 1, eds. Lipset, Seymour Martin and Rokkan, Stein. New York: Free Press, 165.
Lipsmeyer, Christine, and Nordstrom, Timothy. 2003. “East versus West: Comparing Political Attitudes and Welfare Preferences across European Societies.” Journal of European Public Policy 10 (3): 339–64.
Lo, James, Proksch, Sven-Oliver, and Gschwend, Thomas. 2014. “A Common Left–Right Scale for Voters and Parties in Europe.” Political Analysis 22 (2): 205–23.
Malka, Ariel, Lelkes, Yphtach, and Soto, Christopher J.. 2017. “Are Cultural and Economic Conservatism Positively Correlated? A Large-Scale Cross-National Test.” British Journal of Political Science: 125. Pre-published 30 May 2017. doi: 10.1017/S0007123417000072.
Mayne, Quinton, and Hakhverdian, Armen. 2017. “Ideological Congruence and Citizen Satisfaction: Evidence from 25 Advanced Democracies.” Comparative Political Studies 50 (6): 822–49.
McDonald, Michael D., and Budge, Ian. 2005. Elections, Parties, Democracy: Conferring the Median Mandate. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
McGann, Anthony J. 2014. “Estimating the Political Center from Aggregate Data: An Item Response Theory Alternative to the Dyad Ratios Algorithm.” Political Analysis 22 (1): 115–29.
Medina, Lucía. 2015. “Partisan Supply and Voters’ Positioning on the Left–Right Scale in Europe.” Party Politics 21 (5): 775–90.
Meuleman, Bart, Davidov, Eldad, and Billiet, Jaak. 2009. “Changing Attitudes toward Immigration in Europe: A Dynamic Group Conflict Theory Approach.” Social Science Research 38: 825–50.
Mikhaylov, Slava, Laver, Michael, and Benoit, Kenneth R.. 2012. “Coder Reliability and Misclassification in the Human Coding of Party Manifestos.” Political Analysis 20 (1): 7891.
Mislevy, Robert J. 1983. “Item Response Models for Grouped Data.” Journal of Educational Statistics 8 (4): 271–88.
Papadakis, Elim, and Bean, Clive. 1993. “Popular Support for the Welfare State: A Comparison between Institutional Regimes.” Journal of Public Policy 13 (3): 227–54.
Pew Research Center. 2017. Religious Belief and National Belonging in Central and Eastern Europe. Available at:
Pontusson, Jonas, and Rueda, David. 2010. “The Politics of Inequality: Voter Mobilization and Left Parties in Advanced Industrial States.” Comparative Political Studies 43 (6): 675705.
Powell, G. Bingham. 2000. Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Powell, G. Bingham. 2004. “Political Representation in Comparative Politics.” Annual Review of Political Science 7: 273–96.
Powell, G. Bingham. 2009. “The Ideological Congruence Controversy: The Impact of Alternative Measures, Data and Time Periods on the Effects of Electoral Rules.” Comparative Political Studies 42: 1475–97.
Renwick, Alan, and Tóka, Gábor. 1998. “East Meets West?” In British - and European - Social Attitudes: The 15th Report: How Britain Differs, eds. Jowell, Roger, Curtice, John, Park, Alison, Brook, Lindsay, Thomson, Katarina, and Bryson, Caroline. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 149–71.
Schmitt, Hermann, and Thomassen, Jacques. 1997. “Policy Representation.” European Journal of Political Research 32 (2): 165–84.
Semyonov, Moshe, Raijman, Rebeca, and Gorodzeisky, Anastasia. 2008. “Foreigners’ Impact on European Societies: Public Views and Perceptions in a Cross-National Comparative Perspective.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 49 (1): 529.
Sjöberg, Ola. 2004. “The Role of Family Policy Institutions in Explaining Gender-Role Attitudes: A Comparative Multilevel Analysis of Thirteen Industrialized Countries.” Journal of European Social Policy 14 (2): 107–23.
Soroka, Stuart N., and Wlezien, Christopher. 2010. Degrees of Democracy: Politics, Public Opinion, and Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Stan Development Team. 2018. RStan: The R Interface to Stan. R package version 2.17.3.
Stevenson, Randolph T. 2001. “The Economy and Policy Mood: A Fundamental Dynamic of Democratic Politics?American Journal of Political Science 45 (3): 620–33.
Stimson, James A. 1991. Public Opinion in America: Moods, Cycles and Swings. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Stimson, James A. 2012. “On the Meaning & Measurement of Mood.” Daedalus 141 (4): 2334.
Stimson, James A., Thiébaut, Cyrille, and Tiberj, Vincent. 2012. “The Evolution of Policy Attitudes in France.” European Union Politics 13 (2): 293316.
Thorisdottir, Hulda, Jost, John T., Liviatan, Ido, and Shrout, Patrick E.. 2007. “Psychological Needs and Values Underlying Left–Right Political Orientation: Cross-National Evidence from Eastern and Western Europe.” Public Opinion Quarterly 71 (2): 175203.
Treas, Judith, and Widmer, Eric D.. 2000. “Married Women’s Employment over the Life Course: Attitudes in Cross-National Perspective.” Social Forces 78 (4): 1409–36.
Treier, S., and Hillygus, D. S.. 2009. “The Nature of Political Ideology in the Contemporary Electorate.” Public Opinion Quarterly 73 (4): 679703.
Vandeweerdt, Clara. 2018. “Worldwide Trends in Climate Change Opinions.” Unpublished manuscript, January 19.
Warwick, Paul V. 2002. “Toward a Common Dimensionality in West European Policy Spaces.” Party Politics 8 (1): 101–22.
Warwick, Paul, and Zakharova, Maria. 2012. “Measuring the Median: The Risks of Inferring Beliefs from Votes.” British Journal of Political Science 43 (1): 157–75.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Caughey et al. Dataset

Supplementary materials

Caughey et al. supplementary material
Caughey et al. supplementary material 1

 PDF (680 KB)
680 KB

Policy Ideology in European Mass Publics, 1981–2016



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.