The Growing Importance of Issue Competition: The Changing Nature of Party Competition in Western Europe

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Abstract

Changes in Western European political parties in general have attracted considerable scholarly interest, whereas changes in party competition have been almost overlooked in an otherwise extensive literature. Using the party manifesto data set, this article documents that party competition in Western Europe is increasingly characterised by issue competition, i.e. competition for the content of the party political agenda. What should be the most salient issues for voters: unemployment, the environment, refugees and immigrants, law and order, the welfare state or foreign policy? This change is crucial because it raises a question about the factors determining the outcome of issue competition. Is it the structure of party competition itself or more unpredictable factors, such as media attention, focusing events or skilful political communication? The two answers to this question have very different implications for the understanding of the role of political parties in today's Western European democracies.

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