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Policy congruence and distributive politics: matching voter preferences and party positions on distributive issues


Geering, Dominik; Häusermann, Silja (2012). Policy congruence and distributive politics: matching voter preferences and party positions on distributive issues. CIS Working Papers 78, Center for Comparative and International Studies (CIS) University of Zurich and ETH Zurich.

Abstract

Do parties still represent their voters’ preferences with regard to distributive policies? Three negative answers can be found in the literature: first, parts of welfare state research see distributive policies increasingly determined by exogenous constraints (globalization), rather than voter preferences. Second, recent research on party system realignment argues that party competition today is structured by cultural, rather than economic issues. Third, an even more far-reaching party organization literature questions democratic representation altogether, seeing current party politics as purely elite-based and detached from voter preferences. All three arguments are have been underlined empirically by studies showing that parties have changed their positions on economic policies as compared to the post-war past. We argue that such an approach may underestimate party-voter congruence since it does not take shifting electoral configurations and shifting policy agendas into account, as parties may advocate different policies, because they represent different voters with different interests. Hence, voters and parties may still be congruent in their positions, even though policy positions have changed. We test our arguments with regard to labor market policy in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s. We rely on a newly compiled data set on party positions in electoral campaigns and compare them to voter preferences on the basis of micro-level survey data. Our results show that there still is a reasonable amount of congruence with regard to labor market policies, especially in countries with proportional representation.
We also find evidence that left parties represent their voters’ labor market policy preferences more congruently than right parties. Finally and in contrast to widespread assumptions in the recent cleavage literature, we find no evidence for a trade-off between congruence on cultural and economic issues: countries with a salient cultural conflict perform no different in terms of overall economic congruence than countries without. At the same time, however, our results show that right-wing populist parties are particularly incongruent with their voters’ preferences regarding labor market policies.

Abstract

Do parties still represent their voters’ preferences with regard to distributive policies? Three negative answers can be found in the literature: first, parts of welfare state research see distributive policies increasingly determined by exogenous constraints (globalization), rather than voter preferences. Second, recent research on party system realignment argues that party competition today is structured by cultural, rather than economic issues. Third, an even more far-reaching party organization literature questions democratic representation altogether, seeing current party politics as purely elite-based and detached from voter preferences. All three arguments are have been underlined empirically by studies showing that parties have changed their positions on economic policies as compared to the post-war past. We argue that such an approach may underestimate party-voter congruence since it does not take shifting electoral configurations and shifting policy agendas into account, as parties may advocate different policies, because they represent different voters with different interests. Hence, voters and parties may still be congruent in their positions, even though policy positions have changed. We test our arguments with regard to labor market policy in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s. We rely on a newly compiled data set on party positions in electoral campaigns and compare them to voter preferences on the basis of micro-level survey data. Our results show that there still is a reasonable amount of congruence with regard to labor market policies, especially in countries with proportional representation.
We also find evidence that left parties represent their voters’ labor market policy preferences more congruently than right parties. Finally and in contrast to widespread assumptions in the recent cleavage literature, we find no evidence for a trade-off between congruence on cultural and economic issues: countries with a salient cultural conflict perform no different in terms of overall economic congruence than countries without. At the same time, however, our results show that right-wing populist parties are particularly incongruent with their voters’ preferences regarding labor market policies.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Language:English
Date:2012
Deposited On:14 Feb 2013 13:06
Last Modified:26 Jan 2017 08:53
Series Name:CIS Working Papers
Number of Pages:39
Additional Information:Presented at the Annual Conference of the American Political Science Association, Seattle, USA
Official URL:http://www.cis.ethz.ch/publications/publications

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