Macro Opinion in Comparative Perspective

Parties and elections
Workshop Number
Workshop Director
John Bartle
University of Essex
Workshop Co-Director
Timothy Hellwig
Indiana University

Political scientists and policymakers alike have long been interested in understanding how macro opinion evolves over time and how these movements influence both election outcomes and public policy. There is now a well-established body of research findings about the dynamics of individual preference series (Stimson, 1999; Soroka and Wlezien, 2009) and the global policy mood (Stimson, 1999; Ellis and Stimson, 2012), together with presidential approval (Erikson et al., 2002; Carlin et al., 2016) and evaluations of party competence for the case of the United States (Green and Jennings, 2017). In the US, the landmark study, The Macro Polity, examined the simultaneous impact of variations in the policy mood and presidential approval on both election outcomes and public policy within a single system (Erikson et al., 2002).

The Macro Polity has inspired analysts to adopt a systems level approach to the study of opinion in other countries, including: Great Britain (Bartle et al., 2011; Green and Jennings, 2012), Germany (Norpoth and Gschwend, 2010; Weiss, 2011), Spain (Bartle et al., 2014) and Italy (Bellucci and Pellegata, forthcoming). There are grounds for suggesting, however, that the forces influencing macro-opinion may vary across systems, depending on the party system, the electoral system and differences in constitutional design, such as the degree of centralisation or federalism. And there are also reasons for believe that variations in opinion have different consequences for election outcomes and policy depending on similar factors (Soroka and Wlezien, 2009; McGann and Latner, 2013).
The proposed workshop will assess how and why macro opinion dynamics differ across systems. It will address three broad questions:

1. Do the forces that drive both the policy mood (public spending, legislative activity, policy and the economy) and executive approval or evaluations of party competence (economy, events and costs of ruling) vary across national contexts (Wlezien, 1995; Erikson et al., 2002; Soroka and Wlezien, 2009; Nannestad and Paldam, 2002)?
2. How does the impact of macro-opinion on election outcomes and public policy vary across countries (Wlezien, 1995; Erikson et al, 2002; Soroka and Wlezien, 2009; Hakhverdian, 2010; McGann and Latner, 2013)
3. Can we apply lessons from cross-national studies of individual opinions to aggregate time series data? Or does the shift from the micro to macro-level require us to revisit current understandings of what shapes political behaviour and public opinion (Erikson et al, 2002; Mackuen, 2002)?

We will invite scholars from across the continent and beyond to take advantage of several new cross-national data collection efforts and new techniques appropriate to measuring and analysing time series data. While several scholars have begun to examine these questions, they have largely proceeded in isolation or in separate groups such as the Executive Approval Project and the Comparative Mood Network. Thus, our proposed workshop will exploit the opportunities for cooperative comparative research by bringing together a range of scholars working on the measurement, causes and consequences of macro-opinion.

Our systems-level approach naturally compels us to consider the relationship between macro-opinion and other macro-level indicators. Accordingly, we will also explore links with other established projects, including the Comparative Agendas Project (CAP) (Baumgartner and Jones, 2009) and the Manifestos Research on Political Representation (MARPOR) analyses of party programmes (Budge et al, 2001). These research programmes assemble time series data to gauge what is on the public, parties and government’s agendas. Since attention is a precondition for policy activity and public opinion is structured by the choices that they are given, we will draw on the findings of these studies and seek to establish connections with our own work on macro-opinion.

The workshop will also consider the prospects for sharing and disseminating comparative macro public opinion data. Again, we will draw on the precedents provided by both the CAP and MARPOR.

Bartle, John; Sebastian Dellepiane Avellaneda and James A. Stimson. 2011. The Moving Centre: Preferences for Government Activity in Britain, 1950-2005, British Journal of Political Science, 41, 259-85.
Bartle, John, Agustí Bosch, and Lluís Orriols. 2014. The Spanish policy mood, 1978-2012. Paper presented to the 8th ECPR General Conference. University of Glasgow 3-6 September.
Baumgartner, Frank and Bryan D. Jones. 2009. Agendas and Instability in American Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Paolo Bellucci and Alessandro Pellegat. Nd. Citizens’ Policy Mood, Policies and Election Outcomes in Italy’, forthcoming in Italian Politics.
Budge, Ian; Hans Dieter Klingemann, Andrea Volkens, Judith Bara and Eric Tanenbaum. 2001. Mapping Policy Preferences: Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments 1945-1998. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Carlin, Ryan E., Gregory J. Love, Timothy Hellwig, Cecilia Martinez-Gallardo, and Matthew M. Singer. 2016. Executive Approval Database 1.0. Available for download at
Carmines, Edward and James A. Stimson. 1989. Issue evolution: Race and the transformation of American politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Erikson, Robert S.; Michael D. MacKuen and James A. Stimson. 2002. The Macro Polity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ellis, Christopher and James A. Stimson. 2012. Political Ideology in America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Green, Jane and Will Jennings. 2012. Valence as macro-competence: An analysis of mood in party competence evaluations in Great Britain, British Journal of Political Science. 42, 311–343.
Green, Jane and Will Jennings. 2017. The Politics of Competence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hakhverdian, Armen. 2010. Political Representation and its Mechanisms: A Dynamic Left-Right Approach for the United Kingdom, 1976-2006, British Journal of Political Science, 40, 835-56.
Mackuen, Michael D. 2002. Political Psychology and the Micro-Macro Gap in Politics in James H. Kuklinski, Thinking about Political Psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McGann, Anthony, and Michael Latner. 2013. The calculus of consensual democracy: Rethinking patterns of democracy without veto players. Comparative Political Studies. 46: 823-50.
Nannestad, Peter and Martin Paldam. 2002. The costs of ruling, in Han Dorussen and Michael Taylor, eds, Economic Voting. London: Routledge
Norpoth, Helmut and Thomas Gschwend. 2010. The Chancellor Model. International Journal of Forecasting. 26, 42-53.
Soroka, Stuart N. and Christopher Wlezien. 2009. Degrees of Democracy: Politics, Public Opinion, and Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stimson, James A. 1999. Public Opinion in America: Moods, Cycles and Sings. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Stimson, James A., Cyrille Thiebaut and Vincent Tiberj. 2012. The evolution of policy attitudes in France. European Union Politics. 13, 293-316.
Weiss, Steffen. 2011. The German macro polity: Essays on party identification, policy preferences, and elections. PhD thesis University of Essex, Colchester.
Wlezien, Christopher. 1995. The Public as Thermostat: Dynamics of Preferences for Spending. American Journal of Political Science. 39, 981-1000

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