The Shifting Issue Content of Left-right Identification: Cohort Differences in Western Europe

27.09.2021 - 12:00 to 13:30
Location : 
online via Zoom
Type of Event : 
AB B-Kolloquium
Dr. Nils Steiner
Lecturer affiliation: 
Universität Mainz

What do citizens make of “left” and “right” when new contested issues emerge? This study extends previous single-country studies on the shifting issue content of citizens’ left-right positions in times of realignment to a cross-national European level. Drawing on theories of political socialization and the idea that left-right identities are sticky, I argue that the issue content of citizens’ left-right positions varies with the salience of and polarization around issues at the party level during their formative years. The empirical analysis draws on cumulative data from the ESS for 12 Western European countries from 2002 to 2018. I find that caring for the environment and immigration attitudes are more strongly associated with left-right positions among those born later. In contrast, attitudes towards redistribution are less relevant within more recent cohorts, suggesting a moderate crowding out of old issues. These general patterns are nuanced by differences across countries, in line with historical and persistent cleavage constellations. These findings have several important implications—for understanding the changing lines of political conflict in Europe and their future evolvement, for potential conflicts within the “left” and the “right”, for the relation between socioeconomic characteristics and left-right orientations, and for the usage of the left-right scale in empirical research.