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ECPR Rising Star Award

Hard Times and Go(o)d Politics? The Turn to Morality Issues under Economic Stress

Political Competition
Political Parties
Policy Change
Isabelle Engeli
University of Exeter
Isabelle Engeli
University of Exeter

This paper investigates the factors that drive governments and political parties to pay attention to morality issues and place them upon political agendas across Western Europe. In line with studies of the dynamics of issue attention, which demonstrate the importance of investigating variability in the attention policy makers and political parties give to issue demands across policy domains, this paper argues that issues related to morality politics are multidimensional and that patterns in party and executive attention vary across the different types of morality issues, time and space.
The paper investigates under which conditions morality issues rise up and fall off the agenda. The multidimensionality of morality issues reflects different dynamics in agenda-setting as different issues invoke contrasting constellations of party competition according to levels of secularization and the presence of Christian Democrats in the party system, institutional friction and veto points. Nevertheless, as policy agenda scholars have demonstrated, the trajectory of individual policy issue cannot be separated from the systemic dynamic of the overall agenda and the trajectories of related policy issues. On the one hand, it is often said that in hard economic times, agendas tend to contract around core issues related to the economy. On the other hand, it could be argued that in hard times governments may shift focus at strategic time points to non-economic related issues such as morality issues to divert public attention from intractable economic problems while the opposition may keep maintaining pressure on economic issues.
Drawing on executive and political party attention datasets from the Comparative Agendas Project, the paper proposes to assess the validity of these three sets of explanations related to party competition, secularization and impact of the economy on party and executive agendas for explaining morality policy trajectory.
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