Roni Lehrer, Nick Lin
Everything to everyone? Not when you are internally divided

Party Politics, 2020: 26, issue 6, pp. 783–794
ISSN: 1354-0688 (print), 1460-3683 (online)

Despite the normative importance of a clear party stance to political competition and representation, research has discovered that parties and candidates tend to employ the “broad-appeal” strategy to becloud their true policy intentions in order to expand their electoral support. Empirical work by Somer-Topcu demonstrates evidence that being ambiguous indeed helps political parties gain votes in elections since equivocal messages make voters underestimate the preference divergence between themselves and parties. In this article, we ask under what conditions would the “broad-appeal” strategy fail to work? We then propose internal unity of political parties as a critical condition for this strategy to work effectively. If a party is internally divided, conflict within the party accentuates the true policy intentions of the party and then counterbalances the discounting effect of being ambiguous on voters’ perceptions. Using survey data from the German Internet Panel, we show that voters underestimate policy distances to ambiguous parties only if they perceive them as internally united. Using a two-stage estimator, we also present evidence that the underestimation of policy distances affects voters’ vote choices.