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Is Anybody Listening? Evidence That Voters Do Not Respond to European Parties’ Policy Statements During Elections

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  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2008 “Politics of Change” Workshop at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, at the 2008 annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, and at the 2010 “Political Parties and Comparative Policy Agendas’ Workshop” at the University of Manchester. We thank John Bartle, Thomas Bräuninger, Gary Marks, Slava Mikhaylov, Randy Stevenson, Heather Stoll, Guy Whitten, and three anonymous reviewers for valuable comments. All three authors contributed equally to the article. The authors acknowledge the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for funding support (RES 000–22-2895, “Subconstituency Representation across Western Europe”). Data and supporting information for this project can be found on the website http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~ezrow/.

James Adams is Professor of Political Science, University of California at Davis, Davis, CA 95616 (jfadams@ucdavis.edu). Lawrence Ezrow is a Reader in European Politics, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, United Kingdom (ezrow@essex.ac.uk). Zeynep Somer-Topcu is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37235 (z.somer@vanderbilt.edu).

Abstract

Although extensive research analyzes the factors that motivate European parties to shift their policy positions, there is little cross-national research that analyzes how voters respond to parties’ policy shifts. We report pooled, time-series analyses of election survey data from several European polities, which suggest that voters do not systematically adjust their perceptions of parties’ positions in response to shifts in parties’ policy statements during election campaigns. We also find no evidence that voters adjust their Left-Right positions or their partisan loyalties in response to shifts in parties’ campaign-based policy statements. By contrast, we find that voters do respond to their subjective perceptions of the parties’ positions. Our findings have important implications for party policy strategies and for political representation.

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