The Left-Right Ideology: Its Meaning Across Countries and Over Time
The study investigated the meaning components of the political codes “left” and “right”, and more in particular how these meaning components are determined, and how they vary across time and space. It started out from the assumption that meaning components of the main dimension of ideological contestation – this is the left-right dimension at least throughout the Western world – are not static but dynamic, and that party competition is the main socio-political mechanism capable of defining those meaning components. While this assumption is derived from previous scholarship (e.g. Fuchs and Klingemann 1990), it is largely ignored in recent leading empirical studies based on the CMP database (and its time and space invariant RILE index intending to measure the left-right positions of political parties). The measurement of both manifesto content and left-right positions of political parties are controversial issues. As regards the former, the study started out from the original CMP expert codes (as made available by Mapping Policy Preferences II data sets) and utilized factor analytic routines to identify the latent content dimensions of these party manifestos. Regarding the latter, the average perception (identified by arithmetic means) of the left-right location of relevant political parties by entire national electorates (partisans and non-partisans of the relevant parties) was used as identified in representative post-election surveys. The study established that the relation between (the latent dimensions of) manifesto content and the left-right position of political parties is not a constant but a variable. Where parties are perceived to be located in terms of left and right does depend on their emphasis regarding salient issues and on their position regarding relevant policies in different countries and at different points of time. The degree of party system consolidation has also a role to play: the more consolidated, the greater the “impact” of manifesto content on voters’ perceptions of party location.