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According to spatial models of elections, citizen perceptions of party policy positions are a key determinant of voting choices. Yet recent scholarship from Europe suggests that voters do not adjust their perceptions according to what parties advocate in their campaigns. This article argues that voters develop a more accurate understanding of parties’ ideological positions following a leadership change because a new leader increases the credibility of party policy offerings. Focusing on Western European parties in the 1979–2012 period, it shows that having a new leader is a necessary condition for voters to more accurately perceive the left–right placements of opposition parties. Voters do not use party platforms to form perceptions of incumbent parties’ positions, regardless of whether the leader is new or veteran. These results have important implications for models of party competition and democratic representation.
Adams and Merrill have developed a model of policy-seeking parties in a parliamentary democracy competing in a PR electoral system, in which party elites are uncertain about voters’ evaluations of the parties’ valence attributes such as competence, integrity and charisma. This article extends that model to situations where voters hold coalitions of parties collectively responsible for their valence-related performances, such as how voters evaluate governing parties’ competence in handling issues like the economy, crime and foreign policy crises. It may also be relevant to voters’ evaluations of proto-coalitions of opposition parties. Computations suggest the central substantive conclusions reported in Adams and Merrill extend to this generalized model, and that collective responsibility enhances coalition members’ incentives to converge to similar policy positions but depresses their prospects of achieving their policy objectives.
Bargaining theory predicts that as a political system’s polarization increases, parties have fewer opportunities to form coalitions without resorting to elections, inducing constraints on the management of political crises. This study tests the hypothesis that political polarization has a positive effect on cabinet duration, and draws on Social Networks Analysis to conceptualize and measure political polarization. Combining information about party ideology, inter-party distances and party size, this polarization index measures the structure of political systems in terms of possible and actual coalitions, and identifies proto-coalitions ex ante. The propositions regarding the effect of the bargaining environment on cabinet survival are tested with data covering sixteen European states in 1945–99, and are fairly robustly supported. The measure of political polarization outperforms alternative measures of this concept.
Although spatial theory posits that political parties adjust their policies in response to rival parties’ policy strategies, there is little comparative research that evaluates this hypothesis. Using the Comparative Manifesto Project data, we analyse the relationship between parties’ policy programmes and the policies of their opponents in twenty-five post-war democracies. The authors conclude that parties tended to shift their policy positions in the same direction that their opponents had shifted their policies at the previous election; furthermore, parties were particularly responsive to policy shifts by other members of their ‘ideological families’, i.e. leftist parties responded to other leftist parties while right-wing parties responded to right-wing parties. Their findings have important implications for spatial models of elections, for the dynamics of party systems and for political representation.
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