Lena Maria Huber, Martin Haselmayer
Promising links: how parties combine policy issues with group appeals

West European Politics, In Press: (publ. online before print)
ISSN: 0140-2382 (print), 1743-9655 (online)

Despite growing interest in how parties use social group appeals to reach out to different groups within society, the combination of policy issues and social groups in parties’ campaign strategies remains poorly understood. Building on existing theories of issue competition, this study develops and tests new hypotheses about the relationship between policy appeals and group appeals. It proposes that the use of group appeals in policy communication depends on parties’ perceived issue competence and the public salience of the issue. It is hypothesised that parties frequently employ appeals to social groups to improve the communication about their owned issues and about issues that are important to voters. However, if their best issues lack public salience, parties will link them with appeals to related groups to increase their relevance. Conversely, when parties lack competence for salient issues, they will try to reframe these weaker issues using appeals to unrelated groups. These expectations are tested by combining new data on issue emphasis and social group appeals from election manifestos (1990–2019) with public opinion data on public issue salience and perceived party competence in Austria. The results confirm that group appeals in party communication about policy issues are shaped by issue salience and competence perceptions. These findings have key implications for our understanding of issue competition and voter representation.