Hermann Schmitt
National party systems and the policies of the European Union. First results from the 1994 European Elections Study

Il Politico, 1995: 90, issue 1, pp. 93-107

Party system change is described as a consequence of representation failures. Such failures are particularly consequential at times of second-order elections. The thresholds for new parties to get elected are especially low then. Experience shows that European Parliament elections in the past have served as midwifes for party system change. Based on a very first view on the results of the European Elections Study 1994, this paper addresses the question of whether national party systems do represent the European policy preferences of their electorates, or whether party positions and voters views on the policies of the European Union are at odds. Thelatter result would lead us to expect transformations of the structure of national party competition based on the politics of the European Union.
Questions of political representation are translated, for the level of individual voting behaviour, into the language of issue voting. Two routes of issue effects on the vote are discussed, the position-issue mechanism and its valence-issue counterpart. The preconditions of position issue effects on the vote are tested. It is found that voters do take a stand in questions of European Union matters, and that the corresponding issue domains are of above-average salience to them; however, problems arise if it comes to cognitions of party positions in these questions - with regard to ones own party already, and more severly so regarding other parties.
For those who do know the policy position of their party, policy congruence is assessed according to four criteria: extension, distance, fit and deviation. We find policy distances between major parties to be smaller than generalised left-right distances are - the extension of EU policies in national party systems is smaller. We also find the policy distance between voters and parties to be somewhat larger than the left-right distance is: the national party systems generally do represent the European policy concerns of their electorates a little less accurate than they do represent their left-right orientations.