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How do the use of partisan issues fluctuate ? The role of competitive configurations

Open Panel

Abstract

This communication puts forward a model to explain the fluctuations of political issues in local politics. It is based on a detailed comparative diachronic (1970s-2000s) analysis of electoral competition in the municipality of Strasbourg, France. Local politics differs from national politics because electoral enrolment through the individual distribution of public goods is more efficient : the electors can more easily link an individual profit to the help of an elected representative. Like national politics though, local competition is based on two partisan categories, “left” and “right”, institutionalized by two centuries of political struggles. The number of themes may increase with the success of new political parties (“ecological”, “far-right”, etc.). We demonstrate that the use of these themes varies first according to the position occupied in the competition : oppositional or governmental. When oppositional, parties tend to emphasize the use of their core themes or issues. On the contrary, when governing, more consensual positions are encouraged. The level of antagonism of oppositional candidates is connected to whether nationally their party is governing or not. Second, it has been demonstrated that the use of partisan themes is also connected to the intensity of competition : mayors and their teams perceive a level of antagonism and anticipate accordingly their chances of re-election, as opponents do. We show that in intense competitive configurations, the elected representatives resort more to the politically “neutral” theme of “serving the electors”, to improve the efficiency of electoral enrolment. We also show that in competitive configurations, the elected oppositions, the media, associative or citizen mobilizations, define a system of constraint that builds debates and channels “leftist” or “rightist” labelling of municipal projects. This system may force the mayor’s team to maintain an average position, and “average” issues, minimizing criticisms and optimizing its main electoral support.