Meaning Components of Left and Right: A Comparative Analysis of the Impact of Party Manifestos on Voter Left-Right Cognitions Across Four Decades and 10 European Countries
20 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 13 Sep 2010
Date Written: 2010
This paper pursues two broad research questions. One of them relates to citizens’ perceptions of the policy profile of political parties. Many theories of issue voting, for example, take for granted that these perceptions reflect to some degree the policies and issue stands of parties. What generates these perceptions, and how well they actually reflect what parties stand for is one of our main concerns. Anthony Downs (1957) already highlighted the information costs that are involved here, and referred to ideology as a cost saving device. We will analyse whether and how political – and more in particular, electoral – communications of parties are translated in ideological positions which, in European contexts at least, are related to the left-right dimension. By doing so, we will explore the substantive meaning, or policy content, of the left-right dimension. What is it that defines whether a party is located somewhat more to the left or to the right in the perception of citizens? And are those “definitions” constant or dependent upon the socio-political context (including variations across systems, and over-time) in which parties and voters operate? We will demonstrate that these questions can be answered by referring to the issue emphases and policy positions that parties advocate in their manifestos. We will show that voters’ left-right perceptions of political parties are, to a considerable degree, associated with the content of these parties’ election manifestos. Our general approach to address these questions will confront voter perceptions of political parties’ left-right position as secured in National Election Studies’ surveys with the latent dimensions of these parties’ programmatic issue and policy statements. The structure of the paper then is straightforward. We will first review the available scholarship in this area and formulate two broad hypotheses that will guide our data analysis. We will proceed by discussing our data base and the design and the methodology of our analysis. This will be followed by the presentation of our empirical findings. A conclusion will review the main findings and specify some directions for further research.
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