Who Emphasizes and Who Blurs? Party Strategies in Multidimensional Competition

Article · May 2012with45 Reads
DOI: 10.1177/1465116511435822
Abstract
Most studies of party competition consider the presentation of ambiguous positions a costly strategy. This literature, however, does not study party strategies in multiple issue dimensions. Yet multidimensionality may play an important role in parties’ strategic calculus. Although it may be rational for a party to emphasize a certain issue dimension, it may be equally rational to disguise its stance on other dimensions by blurring its position. This article argues that parties employ strategies of issue emphasis and position blurring in various dimensional contexts. Who emphasizes and who blurs thus depends on the actors’ relative stakes in different issue dimensions. The paper makes its case by performing cross-sectional analyses of 132 political parties in 14 West European party systems using Comparative Manifesto Project data, the 2006 Chapel Hill expert survey and the 2009 European Election Study.
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DOI: 10.1177/1465116511435822
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Jan Rovny
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Who emphasizes and who blurs? Party strategies in multidimensional
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DOI: 10.1177/1465116511435822
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Article
Who emphasizes and who
blurs? Party strategies
in multidimensional
competition
Jan Rovny
University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Abstract
Most studies of party competition consider the presentation of ambiguous positions a
costly strateg y. This literature, however, does not study party strategies in multiple issue
dimensions. Yet multidimensionality may play an important role in parties’ strategic
calculus. Although it may be rational for a party to emphasize a certain issue dimension,
it may be equally rational to disguise its stance on other dimensions by blurring its
position. This article argues that parties employ strategies of issue emphasis and posi-
tion blurring in various dimensional contexts. Who emphasizes and who blurs thus
depends on the actors’ relative stakes in different issue dimensions. The paper makes
its case by performing cross-sectional analyses of 132 political parties in 14 West
European party systems using Comparative Manifesto Project data, the 2006 Chapel
Hill expert survey and the 2009 European Election Study.
Keywords
ambiguity, dimensionality, obfuscation, party competition, party strategy
Introduction
The literature on party competition extensively considers how various parties
choose their political issues and issue positions, and how adopting ambiguous
issue positions is predominantly a costly strategy. However, it rarely studies
party strategies in reference to multiple issue dimensions. Yet, multidimensionality
likely plays an important role in parties’ strategic calculus. Although it may be
rational for a party to emphasize a certain issue dimension and unequivocally
Corresponding author:
Dr Jan Rovny, Center for European Research, Department of Political Science, University of Gothenburg,
Spra
¨
ngkullsgatan 19, Box 711, SE-405 30, Go
¨
teborg, Sweden
Email: jrovny@gmail.com
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advertise its position on it, it may be equally rational and rewarding to disguise its
stance on another dimension by blurring its position. Political strategy thus may
not only dier across parties, it may also dier across issue dimensions. Who
emphasizes issue positions and who blurs them may thus crucially depend on the
dimensional context.
This article contributes to this special issue by addressing the internal logics of
party strategies in multiple issue dimensions, following the deductive methodolog-
ical approach and the strategic theoretical approach to dimensionality (De Vries
and Marks, 2012). It argues that party strategies are determined by a party’s
attachment to political issues, which implies that dierent political parties have
varying interests in issue dimensions. Consequently, parties employ the strategies of
issue emphasis and position blurring in various dimensional contexts.
The study operationalizes dimensional attachment as a function of distance
from the centre of a given dimension. Outlying parties are expected to be more
invested in the issues they stand out on. Inversely, parties blur issues that are
secondary to them, that is, on which they do not hold outlying positions. The
article thus explains issue emphasis and position blurring by the relative dimen-
sional positions parties hold. By analysing the logical association between parties’
issue positioning, issue salience, and positional ambiguity, this work stands at the
theoretical crossroads between spatial theory, issue salience, and the directional
theory of voting.
Additionally, this article engages the ‘obfuscation’ literature, studied mainly in
the context of US politics, which argues that ambiguous issue positioning is a costly
strategy. The article demonstrates that, in multidimensional competition, position
blurring may be beneficial. In doing so, this study complements the ongoing work
on niche parties by highlighting that who emphasizes and who blurs does not
depend on the party family, but rather on partisan interest in various issue
dimensions.
The article makes its case by performing cross-sectional analyses of 132 political
parties in 14 West European party systems on three major issue dimensions: eco-
nomic issues, non-economic or social issues, and the issue of European integration.
It utilizes data from the Comparative Manifesto Project, the 2006 Chapel Hill
expert survey and the 2009 European Election Study. The findings suggest that
political parties that stand further from the centre of a particular dimension tend to
emphasize that dimension. Furthermore, parties engage in position blurring on
secondary dimensions where they do not hold outlying positions, which allows
them to attract broader voter coalitions on these issues.
Party strategies in a multidimensional context
The most broadly analysed party strategy is position taking, formalized by spatial
theory (Hotelling, 1929; Downs, 1957). Parties respond to voters’ preferences and
position themselves on continuous issue scales, simplified into issue dimensions.
Originally, spatial theory conceptualized party competition along one dimension.
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Later models have relaxed the assumption of unidimensionality; their aim, how-
ever, was only to test whether and under what conditions equilibrium solutions
hold in multiple dimensions (Chappell and Keech, 1986; Enelow and Hinich, 1989;
McKelvey, 1976; Schofield, 1993). For spatial theory, the dimensional structure
and the salience of the various dimensions are an assumed context within which
competition occurs. Consequently, the spatial tradition sees competition as a con-
test over party positioning with respect to voters, who minimize the aggregate
distance between themselves and the party they vote for in an n-dimensional space.
Some parties, however, may have an advantage or be more competent on some
political issues than others, and consequently seek to shift the political focus
toward their strengths. Issue ownership theory and salience theory suggest that
parties do not merely respond to voter preferences, but that they aect vote
choice through their actions in political campaigns (Budge and Farlie, 1983;
Budge et al., 1987; Petrocik, 1996). Another party strategy is thus to increase the
salience of those political issues on which a party holds an advantageous position,
or on which it has better credentials. Inversely, parties ignore or try to mute those
issues that do not benefit them.
This is consistent with the spatial theory of voting. By emphasizing one issue
over others, political parties increase the dominance of one dimension over others,
making the spatial distances on this dimension more important determinants of
vote choice.
1
This is very much in line with Riker’s heresthetics where parties tac-
tically shift dimensional salience to issue scales on which they attract a greater
proportion of voters (1986).
The logical corollary to position taking is position avoiding, or position blurring.
Position blurring is understood here as the deliberate misrepresentation of party
positions on the part of party leaders. Rather than taking a clear position on an
issue, parties may take vaguely broad positions on this issue, or present a mixture
of positions. Position blurring has received considerable attention in the US politics
literature under the label of ‘obfuscation’ or ‘ambiguity’.
2
However, this literature
studies exclusively unidimensional contexts, common to formal theories simplifying
the political world to one theoretical dimension.
In the unidimensional context of US politics, the strategy of position blurring or
obfuscation has been seen as disadvantageous to political parties or candidates.
The literature generally agrees with Alvarez that ‘the more uncertain a voter is
about candidate positions, the less likely she is to support the candidate’ (1998:
204). Consequently, the winning strategy is to clarify issue positions.
Earlier works conclude similarly on both formal and empirical grounds. Shepsle
(1972) demonstrates that ambiguity decreases the appeal of a candidate. An equiv-
ocal candidate is disadvantaged, as long as at least a majority of voters is risk
averse. Similarly, Enelow and Hinich (1981) develop a formal model showing that
voters move away from the position where there is greater positional variance (that
is, where there is uncertainty). Bartels (1986) empirically applies the Enelow and
Hinich model, illustrating that voter uncertainty is detrimental to candidates and
that this eect is comparable to the eect of issue distance between voters and the
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candidate. Gill (2005) reports similar findings using a dierent measure of uncer-
tainty. This suggests that position blurring may deter voters as acutely as does
spatial distance.
Moreover, the ‘obfuscation’ literature frequently presents position blurring as
primarily a structural factor. Alvarez stresses that uncertainty varies across candi-
dates as a function of incumbency, previous experience, and national prominence,
and that uncertainty generally diminishes across the course of campaigns in
response to issue and substantive information (1998: 204). This suggests that uncer-
tainty is a candidate characteristic rather than a strategy. It is less a subject of
candidate or party agency, but rather an exogenous context that can change only
slowly and almost independently from the candidate or the party. An alternate
view is that of Franklin (1991), who underlines how political institutions are insuf-
ficient tools in providing clear messages to the electorate. He finds that candidates
can aect the clarity of their perceived positions through their campaign strategies.
Clarity, nonetheless, remains the strategic aim.
In the US context, analysts logically consider candidate rather than party strat-
egies. Theoretically, however, either agent can engage in position blurring.
Candidates, as well as parties, may choose to strategically blur their stance on
certain issues. Moreover, deliberate position blurring may be even easier for indi-
vidual candidates than for political parties, since many of the parties have extensive
histories and established records often beyond an individual’s lifetime.
On the other hand, political parties may consist of internal factions that hold
somewhat dierent positions on the same issue. Position blurring, understood here
as the deliberate misrepresentation of party positions on some dimensions, is con-
ceptually distinct from intra-party dissent. An ambiguous party position may,
however, result from multiple party stances presented by internally divided parties.
Unlike position blurring, vagueness caused by intra-party divisions and backbench
dissent is clearly costly to political parties (Cox and McCubbins, 2007; Kam, 2009).
This article thus concentrates on party leaderships and their strategies over various
political issues.
The party strategic literature has underemphasized that political competition is
not merely a struggle over where a party stands. Once issue salience is taken into
account, political competition becomes a contest over which issues prevail in polit-
ical discourse and voter decision-making. The works of Schattschneider (1960),
Carmines and Stimson (1989), and Stimson (2004) highlight the importance of
considering the dimensional structure of political competition when studying
party strategies (see also Stimson et al., 2012). The authors demonstrate that the
structure of political competition is itself the subject of political strategizing. Parties
do not merely respond to voter preference distributions. They shape the impor-
tance of these distributions by emphasizing or muting various political topics. They
reshape political competition by raising new political issues that do not neatly fold
into the standing dimensional structure, thereby creating new dimensions of com-
petition (see also De Vries and Hobolt, 2012, for a similar argumentation). Once
party strategies are considered in this dimensional context in the context of party
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competition played out over a number of issue dimensions that may be indepen-
dent the strategy of issue emphasis becomes crucial and the strategy of position
blurring becomes viable.
Who emphasizes and who blurs?
The core argument of this study is that, given their histories, constituencies, ideo-
logical outlooks, and varying institutional entrenchments, political parties are
invested in a limited number of political issues. This ideological investment impor-
tantly determines party strategy. On the one hand, parties that hold outlying posi-
tions on certain issue dimensions are expected to emphasize these issues over others.
On the other hand, parties are expected to de-emphasize and strategically blur their
position on issue dimensions that are somehow detrimental to them, on which they
do not take outstanding positions. This section outlines the logic of issue emphasis
and position blurring in detail, and generates hypotheses that are tested in the
subsequent sections of the article.
Political parties primarily invest in issues that lie at the core of their identity.
These issues traditionally define and unite the party’s main support base and tend
to be the issues on which the party is viewed as competent. Conversely, parties may
be uninterested in or disadvantaged on other issue dimensions. This is either
because they have poor reputation on these issues; they hold unpopular positions;
they are crowded out by other proximate parties on these issues; or their core
constituencies are divided over them.
This varied investment in issue dimensions consequently determines party strat-
egies. Political parties seek to shift political competition to their preferred issue
dimensions. This is achieved by taking outlying positions on these issues and by
emphasizing them over others. To attract attention to their preferred issue dimen-
sion, parties increase the salience of the relevant issues by presenting them as cru-
cial in their documents, speeches, public meetings, and debates. To further
highlight these issues, parties take outlying positions on them. Outlying positions
are more distinguishable and capture attention, making the issue more prominent
and the party more visible.
In contrast, parties aim to downplay those issue dimensions that are somehow
detrimental to them. They first achieve this by de-emphasizing these issues not
mentioning them in party manifestos, policy papers, leaders’ speeches, etc. Many
issues, however, cannot be simply avoided. The political debate, voter concerns, or
media interest may induce a party to engage with a troublesome issue and present
some position on it (for additional discussion, see Steenbergen and Scott, 2004).
This leads parties to a second positional strategy aiming to mitigate the eects of
undesired political issues.
This positional strategy is position blurring, which strives to present vaguely
broad or multiple party positions on an issue dimension. The goal of the strategy
is to misrepresent the distance between the party and its potential voters on the
critical dimension. By providing a blurred stance, a party may more easily adjust its
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political message to varied audiences or dierent segments of the electorate. This is
particularly crucial when a party’s constituencies are connected by their common
preferences on one issue dimension but divided over another. In such cases, the
party is especially hard pressed to amalgamate the disparate views on the latter
dimension, and position blurring provides a useful tool for accomplishing this.
In multidimensional competition it may thus be beneficial for parties to empha-
size their positions on their preferred dimensions while blurring their stances on
those issue dimensions that do not figure prominently in their ideological profiles.
Although a vague or duplicitous position on a dimension is unlikely to attract
voters, it allows parties to collect broader voter followings and not deter potential
supporters. This is often crucial on secondary issue dimensions where parties face
divided constituencies or where they stand to benefit from combining disparate
voter support. The following hypothetical example underlines the logic of issue
emphasis and position blurring:
Consider a political party that ideologically invests in an outlying position
on issue dimension A. Assume further that this party does not invest in dimension
B because either dimension B does not play a role in its ideological profile; it has
poor reputation on dimension B; or its constituency is divided over dimension B.
The party will logically emphasize issue dimension A. However, on dimension
B the party faces a dilemma. If it adopts and communicates a position on this
dimension, it risks increasing the salience of issue dimension B, and faces potential
defection by those voters who find themselves a long way from the party’s position.
A rational strategy for this party is thus to compete on issue dimension A with an
unambiguous and emphasized position. Simultaneously, it is rational for the party
to mute issues connected with dimension B, while blurring its position on them.
Consequently, the party will attract voters who are close to its position on dimen-
sion A. However, owing to its blurred position on dimension B, the party has a
better chance of receiving support from (or not deterring) voters on dimension B.
Ultimately the party is supported by voters who are close to its position on dimen-
sion A, regardless of their position on dimension B.
This is a rather dierent conclusion from that of the ‘obfuscation’ literature.
Shepsle (1972: 567), searching for the conditions under which position ambiguity is
advantageous, finds that deliberate position blurring may be a winning strategy
only when the majority of voters are risk-acceptant and possess strong preferences
on an issue, thus rendering it ‘critical’. My argument, which considers multidimen-
sional competition, is the opposite. The strategy of position blurring is adopted on
those dimensions that are less salient to a given party.
This argument is sensitive to varying party behaviour on dierent political
issues. By studying salience and positioning on dierent issue dimensions, it accom-
modates the possibility that parties use dierent competitive logics on dierent
issues. The argument suggests that parties may combine ideological politics on
one set of issues with strategic positioning (or rather positional avoidance)
on dimensions that are not central to their ideological profile. Consequently,
parties may ideologically assume outlying positions on some dimensions, while
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simultaneously trying to attract broad electoral support through pragmatic posi-
tion blurring on dimensions they do not care so much about.
3
By theorizing a connection between issue positioning and issue salience, my
argument presents a middle ground between spatial and directional theory. In
their seminal article introducing directional theory, Rabinowitz and Macdonald
(1989) stress the idea that political actors emphasize a set of issues by taking
‘intense’ positions on them:
By taking clear, strong stands, candidates [or parties] can make an issue central to
judgments about themselves. At the same time candidates [or parties] who can suc-
cessfully evade an issue are able to make that issue far less relevant for judgments
about themselves. Thus in a multiissue election candidates [or parties] are likely to be
intense on issues that benefit them and silent on issues that are potentially damaging.
(Rabinowitz and Macdonald, 1989: 98–9)
This article understands ‘intensity’ in the sense of both salience and outlying
positioning. A ‘clear, strong stance’ on the part of a political actor is understood to
entail a strong emphasis on the issue, together with taking a distinctive position
away from the centre of the issue. As suggested by Rabinowitz and Macdonald, the
aim of issue ‘intensity’ is political visibility. Parties that particularly invest in cer-
tain issues take outlying positions on these issues relative to other parties and to
their own position on other issues. Of course, taking extreme positions entails the
potential costs of deterring moderate voters on these issues. In this sense, parties
face a trade-o between visibility and acceptability (see Rabinowitz and
Macdonald, 1989: 108). As a result, parties are extreme on only some issues and
not on others.
Consequently, parties adopting extreme positions on one dimension are likely to
prefer competing on this dimension. Historically or ideologically they have invested
in this dimension and thus are likely to emphasize the political issues associated
with it. On the other hand, these parties tend to find other dimensions less useful
for their competitive aims and are thus prompted to de-emphasize them and blur
their position on them. This leads to two hypotheses:
H1: Parties that hold extreme views on one dimension are more likely to emphasize
their views on that dimension and to de-emphasize their views on other dimensions.
H2: Parties that hold extreme views on one dimension are more likely to present a
clear position on this dimension and to blur their position on other dimensions.
Put another way, the more extreme a party’s placement on a given dimension,
the more likely it is to emphasize this dimension, and the less likely it is to blur its
position on it. These hypotheses consequently point to a curvilinear relationship
between position and issue salience on the one hand, and position blurring on the
other.
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Historical or ideological investment in dierent issues, however, is not the only
determinant of a party’s tactics. Participation in government is an important con-
ditioning factor in party strategy as well. First, parties that have been in govern-
ment become somewhat constrained in their strategic employment of salience and
blurring. While in oce, their representatives are likely to take positions on many
issues, and these positions are more visible owing to their governmental profile.
This establishes a clearer positional reputation of the party, and blurring becomes a
futile strategy. The strategy of de-emphasizing and blurring economic issues is
likely to be particularly limited by government participation. Economic issues
tend to be the dominant concerns of mainstream party competition (see Lipset
and Rokkan, 1967), and every government becomes responsible for concrete eco-
nomic decisions. Second, parties that aspire to join government coalitions are likely
to be circumscribed in their capacity to emphasize uncommon usually non-
economic issues that risk driving a wedge between the coalition partners (see
also De Vries and Hobolt, 2012). In short, government participation shifts issue
salience toward economic, rather than non-economic, issues:
H3: Government participation increases party emphasis on economic issues and
decreases party emphasis on non-economic issues.
Finally, voters are likely to be responsive to parties’ dimensional strategies.
According to the argument presented here, parties take outlying positions and
emphasize a given issue dimension in order to induce voters to consider this dimen-
sion when voting. Inversely, parties de-emphasize and blur their positions on other
dimensions in order to make these dimensions less relevant in voters’ electoral
calculus, thus inviting broader support on them. Although it is unclear whether
voters respond to parties or parties respond to voters, I expect an association
between party strategies and voter support:
H4: Parties holding outlying positions on a dimension are likely to receive electoral
support from voters who consider this dimension (but not other dimensions) in their
electoral calculus.
H5: Voters supporting parties that blur one dimension significantly more than others
have more dispersed positions on the blurred dimension than do voters for parties that
do not blur.
Various kinds of parties may employ the strategies of salience and blurring,
according to their relative dimensional stakes. This theoretical account does not
rely on any party typology. It simply sees party strategies as a function of dimen-
sional investment, where a clear indicator of preferring a dimension is holding an
intense, visible position away from the centre. This argument complements the
literature on issue entrepreneurship discussed by De Vries and Hobolt (2012).
Issue entrepreneurs, who tend to emphasize and take outstanding positions on
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the issues they champion, are expected to de-emphasize and blur their positions on
mainstream issues.
On the other hand, this argument contrasts with the niche party literature. This
literature suggests that electorally small, marginal parties pursue dierent strategies
than do larger mainstream parties by seeking to highlight new or resuscitated
political issues (Meguid, 2005, 2008; Rovny and Edwards, 2012). Although this
literature provides a theoretical definition of niche parties, it invariably operatio-
nalizes them as radical right, green, radical left and, occasionally, ethnic and regio-
nal parties (Adams et al., 2006; Ezrow, 2008; Meguid, 2005, 2008; Rovny and
Edwards, 2012). This combines parties that are likely to dier significantly in
their dimensional outlooks and consequently in their strategies, and simultaneously
omits other parties equally likely to attempt to shift political salience to their pre-
ferred issue dimensions while blurring their positions on other dimensions.
The niche party literature, concentrating on electorally marginal parties, in eect
provides an alternative explanation, suggesting that issue salience and position
blurring are a function of party size. Party size is thus a relevant control variable
in this analysis.
Electoral systems are another important control variable, because their rules aid
or hinder minor competitors in gaining representation. Furthermore, Kam (2009),
studying Westminster-style democracies, demonstrates that the incentives for back-
bench members of parliament to dissent from their party and cater to constituency-
specific interests are closely associated with majoritarian electoral systems (Kam,
2009: 22). Controlling for electoral system thus provides a partial and indirect
control for intra-party dissent. Finally, I use average issue salience at the country
level to control for system-specific characteristics.
Data and measurement
To test the above hypotheses, I conduct a cross-sectional study of West European
party systems in the 2000s. The ideal data set for testing the above theory is the
2006 Chapel Hill expert survey (CHES), which measures party positions on eco-
nomic issues, on non-economic or social issues, and on European integration
(Hooghe et al., 2010). The data set covers 132 political parties in 14 West
European countries: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France,
Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
To assess the relationship between party strategies and voter considerations on
dierent issue dimensions, I use the 2009 European Election Study, which provides
information on voter preferences on a number of political issues.
I follow the recommendations of Benoit and Laver (2012) by conducting my
analyses using three deductively derived issue dimensions. These dimensions are (1)
the economic dimension, (2) the non-economic/social dimension,
4
and (3)
European integration. As many scholars attest, these dimensions capture core
political conflicts in Western Europe (Hooghe et al., 2002; Kitschelt, 1992, 1994,
2004; Kriesi et al., 2008; Laver and Hunt, 1992; Marks et al., 2006; Stoll, 2010).
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Although these dimensions do not exhaust the complex concerns faced by
advanced industrial societies, they are sucient to capture the strategic dynamics
of issue emphasis and position blurring.
The measure of economic and non-economic issue salience is taken from the
Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP) data set, which codes quasi-sentences of
party manifestos as belonging to one of 56 issue categories (Budge et al., 2001;
Volkens et al., 2011). The salience of an issue dimension is thus measured as the
sum of proportions of quasi-sentences pertaining to issues belonging to the given
dimension. For details on which issues are considered a part of which dimension,
please see Table A5 in web appendix 5. The measure of EU salience is taken from
the CHES data set, where it is measured with a direct question on a four-point
scale.
5
The concept which is most dicult to operationalize is position blurring.
Lacking a direct measure, I assess this concept using the standard deviation (SD)
of expert judgement on party placement. The measure takes advantage of the
CHES data set, which provides measures both on expert positioning of political
parties on dierent issues and issue dimensions, and also on expert uncertainty over
this positioning in the form of expert standard deviations.
It is important to note that the CHES data explicitly ask about the positioning
of party leadership. The experts are led to consider the apex of party organization
and not the party as a whole. Consequently, the standard deviations of expert
placement of parties reflect expert uncertainty over the leadership positions,
rather than uncertainty over the positions of the entire party, which may reflect
backbench defections. Table A4 in web appendix 5 summarizes party positions and
expert standard deviations on their placement on all three dimensions.
This operationalization is imperfect in that expert standard deviations capture
more than position blurring. First, expert standard deviations tap expert (lack of)
knowledge of certain parties. This lack of knowledge is likely to be related to party
vote share, since experts have better knowledge of the positions of large parties
(Marks et al., 2007). If this were the case, small parties should receive uniformly
higher scores on blurring. Consequently, the statistical models control for party
vote share. Expert lack of knowledge is also likely to be related to the salience of
the dimension evaluated, because experts tend to have better knowledge of the
positions of parties on highly salient dimensions. To alleviate this concern, the
statistical models control for the salience at the party system level of the evaluated
issue dimension. Second, expert standard deviations may also capture dissent
among party leaders. Where party leadership is divided, a party may project mul-
tiple positions and experts may thus disagree on its placement. In order to address
this alternative explanation, the statistical models control for internal dissent.
Unfortunately, the CHES data set includes a measure on party dissent only for
the European integration dimension and not for the other two dimensions. Web
appendix 1 addresses the connection between expert standard deviations and dis-
sent in greater detail, presenting analyses highlighting the appropriateness of using
expert standard deviations as a measure of position blurring.
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Analysis and results
The theoretical framework stresses that the use of particular strategies depends
primarily on party placement. Parties farther from the centre of a dimension
tend to emphasize this dimension, while blurring their position on the others.
Figures 1 and 2 present descriptive statistics concerning issue emphasis and
position blurring depending on the dimensional position of parties.
6
Figure 1
shows the extent to which parties emphasize economic, non-economic, and
European issues. As expected, economic outliers concentrate on economic issues,
non-economic outliers overemphasize non-economic and EU issues, and EU out-
liers greatly stress EU issues. Similarly, Figure 2 demonstrates position blurring,
supporting my theoretical claims. Economic outliers tend to extensively blur their
non-economic positions, and non-economic outliers blur their economic stances.
Outliers on EU integration slightly blur the other two dimensions while presenting
very clear positions on the EU.
Turning from descriptive to inferential statistical analysis, Table 1 presents six
OLS regression models assessing party strategies of issue salience and position
Figure 1. Issue salience.
Notes: Outlier parties are the most extremely placed 30 percent of parties on each dimension
(15 percent on each end) that simultaneously are not outliers on the other dimensions.
Mainstream parties are those that do not stand out on any dimension. Economic and non-
economic salience are measured as the proportion of quasi-sentences in party manifestos
(CMP data). EU salience is measured by CHES 2006, transformed to range 0 to 100.
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blurring. It uses combined party-level data from the CHES and CMP data sets. The
first three models predict position blurring on the three dimensions, measured as
standard deviations of expert placements in the CHES data set. The last three
models predict the salience of the three issue dimensions. The issue salience of
economic and non-economic issues is measured as the proportion of quasi-sen-
tences in party manifestos from the CMP data set, while the issue salience of the
EU is measured with a direct question in CHES 2006. All models use robust
standard errors clustered by country in order to account for the clustering of
parties within national party systems.
The theory suggests that issue salience and position blurring are a curvilinear
function of party positioning. Consequently, the key predictors in the models are
position and position-squared on each dimension, as measured by CHES 2006.
Furthermore, government participation is measured as the number of months a
party spent in government since 1990. The rationale behind this measure is to
capture not just temporary presence in government in 2006, but rather the
party’s characteristic of being a major party or a governing coalition partner
with the routine aim and expectation of entering government. Vote percentage
measures the vote share that each party received in the most recent election prior
to 2006. Average electoral district magnitude is an institutional variable capturing
the proportionality of the electoral system. The measure is taken from Johnson and
Figure 2. Position blurring.
Note: Outliers are the most extremely placed 30 percent of parties on each dimension (15
percent on each end) that simultaneously are not outliers on the other dimensions.
Mainstream parties are those that do not stand out on any dimension. Source: CHES 2006.
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Wallack (2007). Finally, to control for the salience levels of each dimension, aver-
age party system salience measured as the average salience of the given dimension
in each party system is included in the models. In addition, the models predicting
EU salience and blurring further control for intra-party dissent on the EU, as
measured by a direct question in CHES 2006.
The results presented in Table 1 support my theoretical expectations. To better
illustrate the major findings, Figure 3 summarizes some key results graphically. The
top three panels of Figure 3 depict the eect of issue positioning on position blur-
ring, while other predictors are held at their means. The first panel demonstrates
that economic position blurring is increasingly performed by parties positioned at
the extremes of the non-economic dimension, whereas parties at the extremes of the
economic dimension present clearer economic positions. The opposite is true for
non-economic position blurring. Panel 2 of Figure 3 shows that non-economic
position blurring is enacted by parties standing at the extremes of the economic
dimension, whereas parties at the extremes of the non-economic dimension present
clear positions on it. Finally, as seen in panel 3 of Figure 3, non-economic outliers
blur their EU positions, whereas outliers on the EU present clear positions. Given
the possible collinearity between the predictors, web appendix 3 presents further
statistical tests supporting the discussed relationships.
These results demonstrate that expert confidence about party placement
including the placement of small, fringe parties diers across dimensions. First,
the models control for vote share. Second, experts demonstrate greater certainty
about the economic positions of economic fringe parties and about the non-eco-
nomic positions of non-economic fringe parties. Simultaneously, they are signifi-
cantly less certain about the economic positions of the non-economic outliers, as
well as about the non-economic positions of economic outliers. This discrepancy
cannot be simply attributed to expert lack of knowledge about small or fringe
parties (Marks et al., 2007). Similarly, these results remain significant when con-
trolling for mean national economic, non-economic, and EU salience, as well as
intra-party dissent on the EU.
7
This suggests that the dependent variables of expert
uncertainty do not merely tap expert (lack of) knowledge but also reflect party
strategies on dierent dimensions. Party strategizing position blurring is con-
siderably reflected in expert placement standard deviations.
A concern may be that the cohesive placement of extreme parties, and dispersed
placement of centrist parties, is a function of the expert survey methodology. Web
appendix 2 provides evidence on the eect of the bounded nature of the dimen-
sional scales, indicating that the results are a product of the theory rather than the
method.
Another strategy that political parties employ is issue salience. The bottom three
panels of Figure 3 illustrate the eects of issue position on issue salience, while
other predictors are held at their means. As expected, parties on the fringes of the
economic dimension emphasize economic issues, whereas outliers on non-economic
issues tend to de-emphasize economic issues (panel 4). In contrast, parties at the
extremes of the non-economic dimension tend to emphasize non-economic issues,
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Table 1. Regression analysis of party strategies
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Economic
blurring
Non-economic
blurring
EU
blurring
Economic
salience
Non-economic
salience
EU
salience
Economic position 0.539*** !0.183 0.052 !5.918** 6.397*** 0.071
(0.101) (0.143) (0.078) (2.027) (2.116) (0.082)
Economic position
2
!0.052*** 0.024* !0.007 0.537** !0.628** !0.003
(0.009) (0.012) (0.007) (0.214) (0.213) (0.007)
Non-economic position !0.184** 0.508*** !0.157** 5.919** !5.345*** !0.151*
(0.077) (0.119) (0.069) (2.057) (1.140) (0.075)
Non-economic position
2
0.019* !0.052*** 0.014* !0.562** 0.498*** 0.009
(0.009) (0.010) (0.007) (0.204) (0.112) (0.007)
EU position !0.124 !0.290 0.878*** 4.124 !1.874 !0.845***
(0.116) (0.201) (0.066) (2.814) (1.514) (0.182)
EU position
2
0.002 0.023 !0.112*** !0.355 0.076 0.097***
(0.016) (0.022) (0.010) (0.332) (0.150) (0.023)
Vote percentage !0.001 !0.009 !0.001 !0.006 !0.052 0.004
(continued)
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Table 1. Continued
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)
Economic
blurring
Non-economic
blurring
EU
blurring
Economic
salience
Non-economic
salience
EU
salience
(0.004) (0.005) (0.004) (0.076) (0.053) (0.003)
Government participation !0.000 0.001 0.001* 0.023 !0.056** 0.000
(0.001) (0.001) (0.000) (0.013) (0.019) (0.001)
Electoral district magnitude !0.002*** 0.003*** 0.000 !0.011 0.009 0.001**
(0.001) (0.001) (0.000) (0.007) (0.011) (0.000)
Mean economic salience !0.003 0.956***
(0.004) (0.067)
Mean non-economic salience !0.020** 0.942***
(0.009) (0.138)
Mean EU salience !0.209* 0.933***
(0.097) (0.068)
EU intra-party dissent !0.037* 0.001
(0.020) (0.026)
Constant 1.030*** 2.087*** 0.442 !9.856 12.241* 1.785***
(0.243) (0.506) (0.382) (7.474) (6.779) (0.446)
No. of observations 96 96 96 83 83 96
R
2
.509 .415 .670 .585 .640 .655
Note: Robust standard errors clustered by country in parentheses.
***p < .01, **p < .05, *p < 0.10.
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Figure 3. The effects of position on blurring and salience.
Notes: Based on results in Table 1. All predictors other than position are held at their means. The graphs show predicted values with 95 per-
cent confidence intervals. EU position is a 0–7 scale and EU salience is a 1–4 scale. For tests of statistical significance see web appendix 3.
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whereas parties at the extremes of the economic dimension de-emphasize non-
economic issues (panel 5). Finally, parties that are at the extremes of the EU
dimension emphasize EU issues (panel 6).
In addition to party strategies, H3 suggests that government participation also
aects issue salience. Model 5 in Table 1 indicates that participation in government
significantly decreases party emphasis on non-economic issues. Although the eect
of government participation on economic salience is in the hypothesized direction,
it just passes below the acceptable threshold of statistical significance (model 4). As
suggested by the theoretical framework, government participation inhibits the
politicization of alternative, non-economic issues.
H4 asserts that voters who support parties outlying on one dimension consider
primarily this (and not another) dimension when casting their vote. To test this
expectation, I perform a multinomial logit analysis of vote choice. It predicts voter
support for three groups of parties: economic outliers; non-economic outliers; and
mainstream parties. The main predictors in the analysis are voter preferences on
economic and non-economic issues,
8
and the model controls for gender, age, edu-
cation, and wealth. The results of the analysis, supporting H4, are summarized in
Figure 4; the details are available in Table A3 in web appendix 4.
Figure 4 shows the probability of voters supporting parties outlying on eco-
nomic and non-economic issues, given voter distance from the mean on each
dimension (while gender, age, education, and income are held at their means).
The first panel shows that voters for economically outlying parties consider eco-
nomic issues when voting, whereas voter preferences over non-economic issues do
not significantly determine their choice. This is demonstrated by the steep eect of
voter economic positioning, compared with the flat line associated with voters’
non-economic positioning. Inversely, the steep curve in the second panel indicates
that voters for parties outlying on non-economic issues base their votes on their
non-economic preferences and do not consider economic issues.
Finally, H5 expects an association between a party’s position blurring and the
dispersion of voter preferences. Parties blurring their position significantly more on
one dimension over others are expected to attract voters with more dispersed pref-
erences on the blurred dimension than do parties that do not blur. To test this
hypothesis, I perform four variance ratio tests of the positions of voters who sup-
port dierent types of party across the economic and the non-economic dimension.
The tests use the same operationalization as the analysis of H4 (see endnote 8). All
tests consider party-specific voter dispersions measured from the mean voter of
each individual party thus removing the natural dierences in party positions.
The first two tests compare the dispersion of voters who support parties that blur
on either dimension with the dispersion of voters who support parties that do not
blur.
9
The last two tests compare the dispersions of voters who support parties that
blur either the economic or the non-economic dimension with each other.
Table 2 summarizes the results, which generally support H5. Parties that blur
their placement on one issue dimension significantly more than on the other attract
voters with greater dispersion on the blurred dimension than do parties that do
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not blur. These dierences in dispersion are statistically significant in all cases, with
the exception of the second test. This test suggests that the dierence in dispersion
on the non-economic dimension between voters for parties that blur their non-
economic placements and voters for parties that do not blur is not significant. This
may be caused by the fact that mainstream parties that do not blur tend primarily
to attract voters on economic issues. This produces greater dispersions among
mainstream party supporters on the non-economic dimension, thus reducing the
tested dispersion dierences.
The results supporting H4 and H5 demonstrate an association between the
dimensional strategies of political parties and voter considerations when casting
votes. Voters’ electoral calculus is based on the issue dimensions on which parties
hold outstanding positions, rather than on other dimensions. Simultaneously, par-
ties that present ambiguous positions on an issue dimension are generally able to
attract a broader coalition of voter preferences on this dimension.
Examples: The Austrian FPO
¨
and the Greek KKE
To highlight the general argument about the relationship between party placement,
issue emphasis, and position blurring, this section briefly considers two specific
Figure 4. Vote choice for outlying parties.
Notes: Based on multinomial logit analysis detailed in Table A3 in web appendix 4. Shows the
probability of voters supporting parties outlying on economic and non-economic issues, based
on voter distance from the mean voter on each dimension (measured in standard deviation
units), while gender, age, education, and income are held at their means. Includes 95 percent
confidence intervals.
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political parties, the Austrian FPO
¨
and the Greek KKE. These parties are the most
extreme outliers on the non-economic and economic dimensions respectively, and
are consequently expected to blur their positioning on the other dimension.
The Austrian FPO
¨
is an extreme outlier on the non-economic liberal–authori-
tarian dimension, where experts place it at 9.67 on the 0–10 scale (with a standard
deviation of 0.52). Simultaneously, the experts disagree on the party’s economic
placement, where its standard deviation is 2.99. This uncertainty is indeed reflected
in the party’s ideological profile. Since Jo
¨
rg Haider assumed leadership of the FPO
¨
in the late 1980s, the party’s primary agenda turned towards the non-economic
dimension, stressing tough law and order measures, anti-immigrant views, and,
later, anti-Islamic views. The party has presented consistent and extreme positions
Table 2. Variance ratio tests of voter placements
N SD
Variance ratio test on economic dimension
Voters for parties that blur the economic dimension
(significantly more than the non-economic dimension)
129 0.516
Voters for parties that do not blur 5679 0.462
Variance ratio test F ¼ 0.800 (5678, 128) p ¼ .031
Variance ratio test on non-economic dimension
Voters for parties that blur the non-economic dimension
(significantly more than the economic dimension)
445 0.687
Voters for parties that do not blur 5845 0.709
Variance ratio test F ¼ 1.065 (5845, 444) p ¼ .811
Variance ratio test on economic dimension
Voters for parties that blur the economic dimension
(significantly more than the non-economic dimension)
129 0.516
Voters for parties that blur the non-economic dimension
(significantly more than the economic dimension)
437 0.455
Variance ratio test F ¼ 1.305 (128, 436) p ¼ .034
Variance ratio test on non-economic dimension
Voters for parties that blur the non-economic dimension
(significantly more than the economic dimension)
445 0.687
Voters for parties that blur the economic dimension
(significantly more than the non-economic dimension)
134 0.571
Variance ratio test F ¼ 0.654 (133, 444) p ¼ .006
Notes: Parties that blur their position on one of these dimensions over the other are defined as those with a
difference in expert SD across the two dimensions greater than 1.5. Parties that do not blur are defined as
those with expert SD on both dimensions smaller than 1.5. Alternative specifications produce substantively
comparable results.
Source: European Election Study 2009.
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on this dimension. On economic issues, however, the FPO
¨
struggled to integrate
liberal and nativist outlooks (Mudde, 2007: 123). Since the departure of Haider in
2005, the party has further abandoned its originally liberal economic profile
(Meret, 2010: 191). What characterizes the party’s economic views is in
Mudde’s words their ‘purely instrumental nature’ (2007: 134). The FPO
¨
combines
economic liberalism with calls for low taxes and privatization with support for
the Austrian welfare state (Meret, 2010: 192). This amounts to blurred economic
positioning, which Mudde refers to as a ‘schizophrenic socio-economic agenda’
(2007: 135).
The Greek KKE provides a similar example, only with a dierent dimensional
strategy. Given its Marxist-Leninist origins, it is not surprising that the KKE is an
extreme economic outlier. The experts place it at 0.11 on the 0–10 economic left–
right scale (with a standard deviation of 0.33), whereas its non-economic placement
is highly ambiguous, with a standard deviation of 2.41. The KKE has ideologically
invested in economic issues where it remains on the left fringe, retaining its com-
munist rhetoric. On non-economic issues, however, Kalyvas and Marantzidis
(2002) suggest that the party on the one hand promotes nationalism which
finds resonance with its older, less educated electorate while simultaneously spon-
soring social protest aimed at younger, more educated groups. This blurred mar-
riage of social conservatism and liberalism is veiled by a label of anti-capitalism
and anti-globalization (Kalyvas and Marantzidis, 2002: 679–80, 682).
Conclusion
This article argues that the choice of party strategy is determined by varying party
involvement in political issue dimensions. The well-studied fact that political par-
ties are endowed with varying core constituencies, ideological heritages, and orga-
nizational structures has an important implication. Given these characteristics,
specific parties are invested in dierent issue dimensions. Some parties are better
placed to compete primarily over economic issues, some over non-economic issues,
others over EU issues, or a combination of the three. These relative stakes in
dierent issue dimensions determine a party’s choice of strategies.
Consequently, parties employ the strategies of issue emphasis and position blur-
ring in various dimensional contexts. The primary indicator of issue emphasis and
position blurring is the intensity with which parties contest a given dimension.
Political parties that stand further from the centre of a particular dimension tend
to emphasize that dimension. It is, after all, a dimension on which they hold an
outstanding position. In contrast, on the dimensions where parties do not take
eccentric positions they tend to de-emphasize the issues and blur their stances.
This dynamic holds across multiple party families, including those not considered
to be marginal niche parties.
Most importantly, by studying party strategies across multiple dimensions, this
study theorizes the conditions under which political parties blur or ‘obfuscate’ their
ideological positions. The analyses demonstrate that political parties engage in
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position blurring, and that they do so in accordance with the theoretical predic-
tions. Position blurring is carried out on secondary issue dimensions on which
parties do not hold outlying positions. Furthermore, there is an association
between parties’ position blurring and voter support. Projecting ambiguous posi-
tions can be advantageous because it tends to attract voters with more disparate
stances, creating broader political coalitions. Position blurring thus may be a
beneficial strategy, if applied on the appropriate issue dimension.
This finding is consistent with the spatial paradigm. It highlights the utility of
mapping positions of political actors in an n-dimensional space. It is, however,
inconsistent with spatial theory, which suggests that political actors compete
through position taking. On the contrary, this article theorizes and demonstrates
the logic of political competition through position non-taking, or position
blurring.
Finally, this article outlines how strategic political actions are directed at the
reframing of political competition. To be sure, party leaders are concerned with
concrete political issues. In the aggregate, however, their actions lead to systemic
change. Emphasizing particular policy issues aims at increasing these issues’ prom-
inence in political competition, whereas the blurring of positions on specific issues
seeks to disguise their relevance in political decision-making. Because party strat-
egies follow dierent stakes in dierent issue dimensions, it is the structure of
political competition that is the central subject of political contest.
Notes
1. I am grateful to George Rabinowitz for this insight. Formally, this amounts to multiply-
ing the scales with different weight coefficients.
2. I use the terms blurring, obfuscation, and ambiguity of positioning interchangeably.
3. On the idea of strategy-splitting by dimension, see Kedar (2005).
4. The non-economic/social dimension is described by Kitschelt (1994: 9/12) as a commu-
nitarian dimension of politics, contrasting self-organized community values with pater-
nalism. Marks et al. (2006) call this dimension ‘gal/tan’, juxtaposing ‘green, alternative,
libertarian’ values with ‘traditionalist, authoritarian, and nationalist’ outlooks.
5. It should be stressed that, although experts are asked to place parties on 11-point,
7-point, or 4-point scales, expert judgements are aggregated to form the actual placement,
dispersion, and salience variables. Consequently, the values of the resulting variables
(some of which are used as dependent variables in the analysis) are real (rather than
whole) numbers, reasonably continuous, and normally distributed.
6. For demonstrative purposes, these figures define parties as outliers when they belong to
the most extremely placed 30 percent of parties (15 percent on each end) on each dimen-
sion, while simultaneously not being outliers on other dimensions. Mainstream parties
are those that do not stand out on any dimension.
7. It should be noted that the model predicting position blurring on European integration
which explicitly controls for intra-party dissent returns significant results in favour of
the theory. This result should lend further credibility to the operationalization of position
blurring.
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8. The analysis uses the 2009 European Election Study, available at: http://www.piredeu.eu/
public/EES2009.asp. Economic voter placement is measured as a principal factor based
on four issue components: q57 ‘Private enterprise is the best way to solve [country’s]
economic problems’; q59 ‘Major public services and industries ought to be in state own-
ership’; q61 ‘Politics should abstain from intervening in the economy’; q63 ‘Income and
wealth should be redistributed towards ordinary people’. Non-economic voter placement
is measured as a principal factor based on seven issue components: q56 ‘Immigrants
should be required to adapt to the customs of [country]; q58 ‘Same-sex marriages
should be prohibited by law’; q60 ‘Women should be free to decide on matters of abor-
tion’; q62 ‘People who break the law should be given much harsher sentences’; q64
‘Schools must teach children to obey authority’; q66 ‘A woman should be prepared to
cut down on her paid work for the sake of her family’; q67 ‘Immigration to [country]
should be decreased significantly’.
9. This analysis considers only the economic and the non-economic dimensions. Parties that
blur their position on one of these dimensions over the other are defined as those with a
difference in expert SD across the two dimensions greater than 1.5. Parties that do not
blur are defined as those with expert SD on both dimensions smaller than 1.5. Alternative
specifications produce substantively comparable results.
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    • Unlike radical right and Green parties, which tend to focus on non-economic issues (Mudde, 2007;Wagner 2012), issues such as unemployment and redistribution play a central role in the discourse of the radical left, even for those parties that have adopted a new left agenda based on socio-cultura l cosmopolitan/libertarian values (Gomez et al. 2016). Not only do RLPs emphasize economic issues significantly more than any other party (Rovny 2012), but they also adopt more extreme positions than their mainstream counterparts – a strategy that helps smaller parties enjoy the benefits of policy differentiation and issue ownership (Wagner 2012). While economic policy competence may be argued to disadvantage parties that lack enough government experience, that does not mean such parties cannot benefit from issue ownership at all.
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: One of the most striking political developments occurring during the Great Recession has been the growth of the radical left in some European countries. Though the literature is far from conclusive, it has generally been argued that the economy is not a main reason driving people’s support for non-mainstream parties (particularly the Greens and the radical right). In this article, we contend that this is not the case for radical left parties, which despite pursuing other agendas do still compete very strongly on economic issues. Using individual-level data for 56 elections taking place between 1996 and 2016 in 15 European countries, we find a positive effect of unemployment on support for radical left parties, and only very weak evidence that this effect depends on voters’ ideology or whether the mainstream left (Social Democrats) is in office. We conclude that unemployment enables the radical left to increase its support regardless of the political context, but does not significantly change by itself the ideological makeup of its electorate.
    Article · Jun 2018
    • Eventually, all German parliamentary parties sent positive cues on bailouts, albeit with different clarity: CDU/CSU (conservatives), FDP (liberals), the Green Party, and SPD (social democrats) voted for the ESM, which can be taken as indicative of these parties' positions on EU bailouts. The Left Party voted against the ESM, but blurred its position (Rovny, 2012) by putting forth an alternative bill that proposed a debt cut for struggling EU members and it supports Eurobonds. While without seats in parliament, the Eurosceptic AfD received attention by rejecting bailouts and the Euro altogether.
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Previous research finds citizens' attitudes towards international redistribution in the European sovereign debt crisis to be related to party preferences. This article further reveals the nature of this link. We show that citizens follow party cues on international bailouts, rather than having merely ideologically congruent positions. By employing an original survey experiment that exposes respondents to elite cues, we additionally uncover underlying dynamics. First, party cues mobilize support for bailouts even in the face of salient elite dissent and, second, even a strong elite consensus does not affect citizens without PID and low levels of political sophistication. The findings of the experiment are cross-validated with data from the voter survey of European Election Study 2014. The results suggest that current debates about international bailout packages deepen a polarization between politicized and non-politicized Europeans.
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    • Together with the ideological features of political parties, competition in the political arena might also play a role in explaining the importance of environmentalism in party manifestos. According toRovny (2012), " in multidimensional competition it may be beneficial for parties to emphasize their positions on their preferred dimensions while blurring their stances on those issue dimensions that do not figure prominently in their ideological profiles " (p. 274).
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Why do parties offer environmental policies in their political programs? While a number of papers examine the determinants of citizens’ pro-environmental behaviour, we know little about the extent to which political parties adjust their platform towards environmentalism. We investigate this process through data provided by the Manifesto Project Dataset (CMP) for 20 European countries over the period 1970-2008. Following the literature on public concern towards environment, we examine economic, environmental and political determinants. Our findings provide evidence that political parties’ environmental concern is strongly correlated with their political ideology and with country-level economic conditions.
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    • Consequently, positions of the two major parties become less distinct, and they are strongly encouraged to emphasize selective issues. However, under multiparty systems, political parties have different campaign strategies according to size (Calvo & Hellwig, 2011;Green-Pedersen & Mortensen, 2014;Meguid, 2005;Wagner, 2012), party organization (Wagner & Meyer, 2014), and ideological position (GreenPedersen & Mortensen, 2014;Rovny, 2012). Therefore, presidential candidates use different issue emphasis strategies to attract voters through presidential debates and campaigns according to the characteristics of their parties.
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Which issues do political parties emphasize in campaigns? Selecting the issues to emphasize in campaigns is treated with the same importance as policy positioning. Nevertheless, little attention has been paid to understanding parties’ strategies of issue competition in presidential elections under multiparty systems. By analyzing statements of presidential candidates in the 2002, 2007, and 2012 Korean presidential debates, we find that presidential candidates use their issue emphasis strategies differently in presidential elections according to party size and ideological relationships with other parties. Specifically, a small party’s candidates have been more likely than mainstream parties’ candidates to pursue their issue ownership advantage. In addition, a mainstream party’s candidates have emphasized the issues of a small party more than those of his own party when the two parties have had a similar ideological foundation, whereas, when there were no such ideological similarities, a mainstream party’s candidate has only focused on issues of the mainstream party. Our results imply that the political communication used by political parties and candidates is conditioned not only by political contexts such as electoral systems or party systems but also by the size and ideology of parties.
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    • 4 Furthermore, by spreading attention across numerous issues, parties' positions on individual issues likely become ambiguous or blurred (e.g. Shepsle 1972; Rovny 2012 Rovny , 2013 Somer-Topcu 2014;). 5 Log rolls or policy trades on relatively unimportant issues they addressed in their platforms become possible because the parties do not fear appearing unaccountable.
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Issue salience and diversity direct a range of outcomes such as voting behavior and public policy. Studies, however, have yet to fully integrate theoretical or empirical expectations for the effect of issue salience on coalition stability. By focusing on the mechanism linking parties’ preferences to policy-making, I propose that parties with more diverse platforms provide coalitions greater room to negotiate, whereas parties focusing on a small number of issues exacerbate ideological tensions. Issue diversity becomes important once parties exhaust opportunities to make the initial, easy policy compromises. Using evidence from 299 coalitions in 24 European countries, I find that issue diversity in parties’ platforms moderates the effect of disagreement. Using a non-proportional hazard analysis, I find that the effect of issue diversity varies over the coalition’s lifecycle. Governments with parties willing to negotiate over a larger range of issues decrease the risk that disagreements will result in coalition termination.
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    • 2 Ideological cohesion, positional ambiguity, and voter perceptions of party positions in nine European countries Party behaviour and actions of parties, especially during election campaigns, are supposed to influence voter perceptions of party policies. However, several studies show that voters differ in these perceptions which can be attributable to at least four reasons: (i) voters can misinterpret party statements due to a lack of political knowledge (Bartels 1996; Converse 1964; Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996; Stevenson 2013a, 2013b; Kuklinski and Quirk 2000); (ii) parties can be unclear and inconsistent in their statements, either intentionally or unintentionally by sending " mixed signals " to voters as a result of intraparty ideological differences (Rovny 2012; Somer-Topcu 2015); (iii) parties can intentionally vary other parties' policy statements for the purpose of blaming them for being " unclear " and " unreliable " concerning specific policy issues; (iv) the framing of party statements by journalists strongly shapes voter perceptions of party positions, as the media are the main communication channel through which voters take notice of party statements. It is the last three aspects this working paper and the introduced data sets will focus on by analysing election campaigns of parties and the media's framing of party statements in nine European countries: The Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden , and the United Kingdom.
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Political parties change their policy positions throughout the course of an election campaign. They reinforce some of their campaign statements by articulating them more prominently while simultaneously downplaying other issues that may harm their election results. Party statements in the media and the framing of the statements by the media are at the centre of election campaigns. The most promising way to assess the clarity and consistency of party-provided messages is a media content analysis. In this working paper, we introduce new data sets on ideological cohesion and ambiguity of party positions in the media coverage of nine European countries. The data sets are divided in different aspects: (i) parties talking about themselves; (ii) parties talking about other parties; (iii) journalists talking about parties. Each of these data sets further distinguishes between three different kinds of information: (i) party/journalist talking about an issue area; (ii) party/journalist talking about the valence of that issue area; (iii) party/ journalist talking about general valence characteristics, such as the competence or performance of party leaders. These measures of party campaign contents, differentiating between policy-centred and leadercentred campaigns and media framing, may serve as a basis for several future studies focusing on election campaigns and media impact in a cross-national way.
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