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Not so responsive after all: European parties do not respond to public opinion shifts across multiple issue dimensions


O’Grady, Tom; Abou-Chadi, Tarik (2019). Not so responsive after all: European parties do not respond to public opinion shifts across multiple issue dimensions. Research and Politics, 6(4):online.

Abstract

Many studies have found that European parties change their policy positions in response to changes in public opinion. This is both theoretically and normatively appealing, suggesting that European party politics operates in a way that is consistent with spatial models. Nonetheless, virtually all previous studies are based on a single, uni-dimensional measure of public opinion: left–right self-placement from the Eurobarometer surveys. This measure has a number of flaws, including the fact that political conflict in Europe now occurs across multiple issue dimensions beyond the classic divide on state involvement in the economy. We used new measures of Europeans’ ideological positions across four different issue dimensions and 26 countries from 1981–2016, together with data on parties’ policy positions from their manifestos, to re-evaluate findings on responsiveness. Across many different model specifications, samples and outcome measures, we found virtually no evidence that European political parties respond to public opinion on any issue dimension. Our findings suggest that scholars may require better measures of party positions, more nuanced theories of responsiveness (for example to sub-groups, or across longer time horizons), or may need to refocus their attention towards responsiveness via policy outcomes rather than parties’ policy commitments.

Abstract

Many studies have found that European parties change their policy positions in response to changes in public opinion. This is both theoretically and normatively appealing, suggesting that European party politics operates in a way that is consistent with spatial models. Nonetheless, virtually all previous studies are based on a single, uni-dimensional measure of public opinion: left–right self-placement from the Eurobarometer surveys. This measure has a number of flaws, including the fact that political conflict in Europe now occurs across multiple issue dimensions beyond the classic divide on state involvement in the economy. We used new measures of Europeans’ ideological positions across four different issue dimensions and 26 countries from 1981–2016, together with data on parties’ policy positions from their manifestos, to re-evaluate findings on responsiveness. Across many different model specifications, samples and outcome measures, we found virtually no evidence that European political parties respond to public opinion on any issue dimension. Our findings suggest that scholars may require better measures of party positions, more nuanced theories of responsiveness (for example to sub-groups, or across longer time horizons), or may need to refocus their attention towards responsiveness via policy outcomes rather than parties’ policy commitments.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Political Science
Social Sciences & Humanities > Public Administration
Social Sciences & Humanities > Political Science and International Relations
Uncontrolled Keywords:responsiveness, political parties, Europe
Language:English
Date:October 2019
Deposited On:16 Dec 2019 15:02
Last Modified:22 Apr 2020 21:49
Publisher:Sage Publications
ISSN:2053-1680
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1177/2053168019891380

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