Universität Mannheim / Sowi / LSPOL3 / english / Research / Where Is My Party

Where Is My Party? Determinants of Voter Agreement about the Ideological Positions of Political Parties

This project explores why voters are better able to understand the policy positions of some parties
than others. Answering this question is crucial for understanding the functioning of representative
democracies. Political parties act as mediators between public preferences and policy outcomes by
offering voters a choice of policy positions. For the eventual voter choice, however, what matters is not
necessarily what the actual positions of parties are but what voters think they are. Since perceptions
determine voter actions, disagreement about party positions can have significant negative
consequences to the quality of representation. Addressing this question is all the more urgent because
this topic has received little scholarly attention, and what attention has been paid to it has focused
mainly on how individual differences influence perceptions. In this project, we argue that information
environment, which is shaped by party behavior and actions, significantly influences voters
perceptions of party policies. Thus, the variance in the level of perceptual agreement of party policy
offerings depends on the extent to which party-provided messages about their offerings are clear,
consistent and available. The main sources of information for our analysis are party manifestos, expert
surveys of party policies, party media campaigns, and data about grassroots organizations. The
project will result in novel dataset, the most valuable parts of which include information on party
campaigns and organizations of 12 European states. Systematic, cross-national, and up-to-date data
on these fundamental features of party politics do not currently exist, but there is a great need for
these data in order to advance our understanding of elections, parties, and representative democracy.
The results of the proposed project will have direct implications for better understanding the
functioning of representative democracy. They can shed light on (1) why there sometimes are
discrepancies between voter preferences and election outcomes, (2) how party strategies on different
arenas can have adverse consequences to the quality of representation, and (3) whether, when and
how voters are capable of making reasoned choices over alternative parties and candidates.