Party Competition in Multi-level Systems: An Analysis of Programmatic Strategy of Parties, Government Formation and Policy Making in European States

Research question/goal: 

The analytical focus of the research project was on the relationship between party competition, coalition formation and policy making in European states. The central research questions were, first, whether the policy preferences of parties differ (1) across regions and (b) between the regional level and the national level. Secondly, the project asked for the determinants of government formation in multi-level political systems. In order to analyse institutions and actors on the regional level, we constructed data sets that contain information on numerous elections, parties, coalitions and regional entities. In doing so, creating a database that includes the policy preferences of political actors on the regional and national level became one of the main goals of the project. We collected more than 1500 election manifestos from nine European countries and estimated the policy area-specific positions of political parties acting on the national and regional sphere by applying computerised methods of content analysis. With regard to parties’ policy preferences, we found that the patterns of party competition are similar across different levels, but that political parties at the regional level are at the same time able to adopt policy preferences that deviate significantly from the policy positions of the respective parties at the national level. The origins for deviating from the party line are structural characteristics of the regional electorate like the share of Roman-Catholics or Labour Union members as well as short-term economic constraints like the level of unemployment. With regard to coalition formation in European multi-level systems, we found that the ‘usual suspects’ like party strength and policy distances play a decisive role also at the regional level. However, parties on the regional level are generally more likely to form coalitions that are congruent to the partisan composition of government and opposition on the national level. Parties are, by contrast, less likely to form congruent coalitions in regions whose political institutions have a rather high authority in terms of policy making or if the party system clearly differs from the one on the national level. In addition, we found that the European classification system of regions (NUTS) establishes incentives to form similar coalition governments among regions that belong to the same NUTS area: Coalitions are more likely to form if the respective parties are also part of the government in regions that belong to the same NUTS area.

Fact sheet

Land Baden-Württemberg / Uni Mannheim
2008 to 2012
Data Sources: 
Programmatic documents such as election manifestos, coalition agreements and government declarations of political actors
Geographic Space: 
Western and Eastern European countries



Debus, Marc (Ed.) (2009): Estimating the Policy Preferences of Political Actors in Germany and Europe: Methodological Advances and Empirical Applications (Special Issue of German Politics, 18, 3). London: Routledge. more