Susumu Shikano, Franz Urban Pappi
The Positions of Parties in Ideological and Policy Space : the Perception of German Voters of their Party System

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Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung: Arbeitspapiere; 73
ISSN: 1437-8574

Left and right are the dominant criteria to position European parties ideologically and the capacity to order parties along this ideological dimension meaningfully is not restricted to political elites or the media. On the basis of research results on the capabilities of European voters to apply the ideological labels left and right either to parties or to their own ideological orientation, we ask the following more specific questions:

  1. Do German voters agree with each other about the left-right ordering of parties?
  2. If yes, to what extent is the common left-right placement of the parties capable to predict the policy positions of parties in various issue domains as perceived by individual voters?

As an answer to the first question, a common scale is identified for manifest left-right placements of parties which has to be supplemented by a second dimension on which established parties are distinguished from non-established parties. Whereas in West Germany the former Communist Party of Democratic Socialism and the two right-wing parties Republikaner and Deutsche Volksunion are perceived as radical, East Germans perceive the PDS as the leftmost party that is as extremist on the left-right scale, but not as a non-established or radical party. Concerning the second question, we find a close correspondence between ideological and policy spaces of parties which is mainly restricted to the established parties, whereas small extermist outsiders have problems to be recognized as possible suppliers of concrete policy options. But they are perceived at the same time in terms of their ideological leanings. In addition, the left-right distinction has a high absorptive capacity which means that in West Germany the Greens and not the PDS are seen as the leftmost party due to their pronounced position in new politics issues as e.g. atomic energy.