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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Caught in a Dilemma? Heterogeneous Party Electorates and Economic Realignment in Western Europe

Silja Häusermann
University of Zurich
Silja Häusermann
University of Zurich
Dominik Geering
University of Zurich

In this paper we argue that a complete assessment of economic realignment needs to take into account both changes at the constituency- and at the party-level: First, electorates have changed since the 1970s resulting in more heterogeneous party constituencies. Secondly, parties may have aligned to their new voters by stressing different aspects of social and economic policy (e.g. social investment instead of redistribution). rather than just claiming more or less state intervention. Only if we analyse electorates and party positions jointly can we assess to what extent economic realignment has taken place in Western Europe. In our analysis we focus on the specific situation of a dilemma in which parties may be caught if the new core voters have different economic preferences form the old core voters. We expect that in these cases, party competition and structural change explain parties’ positioning on economic issues: Parties realign with those sub-electorates who are either most competed for by other parties or who are members of as socio structurally growing class.
Empirically, we focus on voter preferences and party positions on labour market policies in Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK. We use two sources of data: To identify voters and their preferences on labour market policies we rely on the 2006 International Social Survey Project-data. In addition, we rely on a newly compiled data set on party positions during several electoral campaigns around the year 2000 (coded data from newspaper analysis). In a first step, we identify the core constituencies of parties and their preferences on labour market policies. In a second step, we identify the positions of political parties on labour market policies, focusing on those parties who are in an electoral dilemma. In a third step, we explain party-voter congruence across parties and countries.
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