Marc Debus
Education, political sophistication, intra-party policy cohesion and proximity voting: Do voters choose the ‘right’ party?

11th ECPR General Conference, Oslo, September 06th to September 09th, 2017

Are voters with a high degree of formal education or politically more sophisticated voters more likely to choose the party closest to their policy positions? Do contextual features matter for proximity voting, so that politically less sophisticated or educated voters are less likely to decide on the basis of the perceived distances towards parties if the party representatives do not send clear programmatic signals before the election? We test these expectations on the basis of voter survey data and a novel dataset that covers information on the policy statements of party representatives before the 2009 and 2013 German Bundestag elections. The results show that, first, voters are more likely to vote for a party that is ideologically close to them, regardless of their degree of education and political sophistication. When shifting the focus to policy area-specific dimensions, we find, however, that political sophistication and also education matters: politically sophisticated voters are more likely to vote for a party that is located closer to them on an economic and societal policy dimension compared to less sophisticated voters. Furthermore, there is some evidence that the proximity model does not explain voting behaviour if the respective parties did not appear programmatically united during the election campaign.