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The times they are a‐changin': An experimental assessment of the causes and consequences of sudden policy U‐turns


Nasr, Mohamed; Hoes, Emma (2023). The times they are a‐changin': An experimental assessment of the causes and consequences of sudden policy U‐turns. European Journal of Political Research:Epub ahead of print.

Abstract

Past research has long documented that voters dislike parties and leaders who reverse their policy positions. But would they tolerate (principled) policy U‐turns if they are motivated by external events, such as a large‐scale crisis or scientific evidence? In this study, we explore whether the motivation behind positional shifts affects voter evaluations of political parties. To do so, we seek to connect the causes and consequences of policy shifts, a synergy still unexplored in the literature. We suggest that, while U‐turns, in general, can be damaging to a party's reputation, principled changes brought about by new scientific evidence or major crises should not necessarily have negative implications, because these changes can be necessary for the public good. We conducted a nationally representative survey experiment in Germany (n = 3127) featuring two classes of policy reversals: strategic and principled. Surprisingly, however, we find that voters by and large hold negative views of different types of policy U‐turns, thus including when external circumstances suggest change may be necessary. Interestingly, our empirical analysis reveals intriguing patterns. First, voters are willing to tolerate all sorts of policy reversals if the party ends up adopting their positions, suggesting that proximity matters even in the event of exogenous events. Second, voters with high levels of political trust tolerate different types of policy reversals, even when the party changes for mere strategic office‐seeking motivations. Coming from the premise that political and societal change is imperative, these findings have direct implications for democracies.

Abstract

Past research has long documented that voters dislike parties and leaders who reverse their policy positions. But would they tolerate (principled) policy U‐turns if they are motivated by external events, such as a large‐scale crisis or scientific evidence? In this study, we explore whether the motivation behind positional shifts affects voter evaluations of political parties. To do so, we seek to connect the causes and consequences of policy shifts, a synergy still unexplored in the literature. We suggest that, while U‐turns, in general, can be damaging to a party's reputation, principled changes brought about by new scientific evidence or major crises should not necessarily have negative implications, because these changes can be necessary for the public good. We conducted a nationally representative survey experiment in Germany (n = 3127) featuring two classes of policy reversals: strategic and principled. Surprisingly, however, we find that voters by and large hold negative views of different types of policy U‐turns, thus including when external circumstances suggest change may be necessary. Interestingly, our empirical analysis reveals intriguing patterns. First, voters are willing to tolerate all sorts of policy reversals if the party ends up adopting their positions, suggesting that proximity matters even in the event of exogenous events. Second, voters with high levels of political trust tolerate different types of policy reversals, even when the party changes for mere strategic office‐seeking motivations. Coming from the premise that political and societal change is imperative, these findings have direct implications for democracies.

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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
Uncontrolled Keywords:position changing, policy reversals, party behaviour, voter perceptions
Language:English
Date:12 December 2023
Deposited On:04 Jan 2024 09:39
Last Modified:30 Apr 2024 01:45
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, Inc.
ISSN:0304-4130
OA Status:Hybrid
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6765.12650
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)