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Political Research Exchange - PRX

When Do Parties Risk Politicizing Europe? How the Prospect of Losing Power Affects Issue Entrepreneurship

Comparative Politics
Political Competition
Political Parties
Tarik Abou-Chadi
University of Zurich
Tarik Abou-Chadi
University of Zurich

This paper investigates how the prospect of losing power affects parties’ willingness to act as issue entrepreneurs on the issue of European integration. While Euroscepticism has long been regarded as a “sleeping giant” in national politics (Van der Eijk and Franklin 2004), recent research has demonstrated how the success of issue entrepreneurs can politicize issues of European integration at the national level. A crucial question then is when parties start to act as issue entrepreneurs. Building on the idea of issue evolution, Hobolt and de Vries (2015, 2012) argue that parties are more likely to act as issue entrepreneurs when they can be regarded as losers on the dominant political dimension. This strand of research generally applies a retrospective perspective on whether parties feel that they are ‘losers’ – e.g. if they have lost votes at the last election. In contrast, we argue that parties should face incentives to adapt their behavior before actually losing at the polls. Parties have a prospective idea about how likely it is that they will lose power in upcoming elections. We argue that if a party believes that it will likely worsen its bargaining position in the legislature in an upcoming election, it is more likely to act as an issue entrepreneur on high-risk issues (e.g. European integration). Using a novel measure of the risk that parties will lose power in upcoming elections and analyzing data from the CHES and CMP, we find that parties are indeed more likely to act as issue entrepreneurs for European integration issues when this risk is high. Our findings have important ramifications for our understanding of party behavior and how parties adapt their behavior due to potential future outcomes instead of past events.
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