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Friction and Party Manifesto Change in 25 Countries, 1945–98


  • The authors wish to warmly thank Stijn Helsen for his invaluable help with calculating the L-kurtosis scores.

Stefaan Walgrave is professor of political science, University of Antwerp, Sint-Jacobsstraat 2, B-2000 Antwerp, Belgium ( Michiel Nuytemans is research assistant in the research group Media, Movements and Politics (M2P) at the University of Antwerp, Sint-Jacobsstraat 2, B-2000 Antwerp, Belgium (


Political processes are affected by “friction.” Due to cognitive limitations and institutional delays, political agendas do not adapt smoothly to real-world impulses; political agendas either ignore them or overreact. The first question this article tackles is whether the same punctuated change process can be observed in party manifestos. Secondly, it examines whether there are differences across political systems and across party lines. Thirdly, the study tries to account for differences in the degree of “punctuatedness” of party manifestos. Drawing on the vast dataset of the Manifesto Research Group, the article shows that party manifestos are indeed characterized by friction and resistance to change; it also establishes that there are considerable differences in frictional patterns between parties and political systems; and it finds that electoral fragmentation, government participation, and electoral volatility are key to understanding these differences.