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Keywords:

  • party systems;
  • cleavages;
  • ideology;
  • elite agency

Research focusing on several post-communist countries has found evidence of social cleavage effects on political behaviour similar to those found in Western Europe. In some post-communist countries, however, social cleavage effects appear far weaker (if at all). To understand why this is the case, I perform a case study of Romania, focusing on the religious–secular cleavage. Drawing upon research that emphasises the role of parties in forming cleavages, I argue that the reason for the absence of social cleavage effects is due to party competition for the same group of voters by parties from opposing ends of the ideological spectrum. By shifting their positions, some parties have prevented the appearance of cleavages by shaping individuals' perceptions of the parties and, in doing so, have even altered individuals' own left–right self-placements.