Where Is My Party? Determinants of Voter Agreement about the Ideological Positions of Political Parties

Research question/goal: 

This project explores why voters are better able to understand the policy positions of some parties than others. Answering this question is crucial for understanding the functioning of representative democracies. Political parties act as mediators between public preferences and policy outcomes by offering voters a choice of policy positions. For the eventual voter choice, however, what matters is not necessarily what the actual positions of parties are but what voters think they are. Since perceptions determine voter actions, disagreement about party positions can have significant negative consequences to the quality of representation. Addressing this question is all the more urgent because this topic has received little scholarly attention, and what attention has been paid to it has focused mainly on how individual differences influence perceptions. In this project, we argue that information environment, which is shaped by party behaviour and actions, significantly influences voters’ perceptions of party policies. Thus, the variance in the level of perceptual agreement of party policy offerings depends on the extent to which party-provided messages about their offerings are clear, consistent and available. The main sources of information for our analysis are election surveys, party manifestos, expert surveys of party policies, party media campaigns, and data about grassroots organizations. The results of the proposed project will have direct implications for better understanding the functioning of representative democracy. They can shed light on (1) why there sometimes are discrepancies between voter preferences and election outcomes, (2) how party strategies on different arenas can have adverse consequences to the quality of representation, and (3) whether, when and how voters are capable of making reasoned choices over alternative parties and candidates.

Current stage: 

We finished the coding of the media analysis in the ten countries under study and presented first papers at the annual meeting of the Analytical Politics group of the German Political Science Association and at the annual conference of the American Political Science Association.  These papers are currently under review at international journals. A descriptive presentation of the coding scheme and the dataset was published in the MZES Working Paper series. Currently, we are preparing an expert survey and further research papers, which will be presented at the second project meeting and at international conferences during 2017.

Fact sheet

Funding: 
DFG
Duration: 
2015 to 2018
Status: 
ongoing
Data Sources: 
Election survey data, media analysis, online expert survey, content analysis of political texts
Geographic Space: 
Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK

Publications