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Voters' Perceptions of Party Politics - A Multilevel Approach

Doctoral thesis
Authors Stefan Dahlberg
Date of public defense 2009-05-20
ISBN 978-91-89246-40-9
Publication year 2009
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Keywords Policy representation, voter perceptions, voting behavior, left-right ideology, perceptual agreement, political parties, party systems, electoral systems, institutions, multilevel
Subject categories Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


Modern representative democracies are often described as government by the consent of the governed rather than government by the people. Elections play a central role in this context and several theorists of modern democracy have struggled to determine the circumstances under which effective political representation can exist. One thing that is clear is that voters’ perceptions of parties’ policy positions are essential, since these views are important determinants of the outcomes of electoral processes and thus the extent to which voters are meaningfully represented in a political system. This book focuses on the agreement in voters’ perceptions of party positions and circumstances under which high levels of perceptual agreement can be obtained. The book contributes to existing research by addressing three sets of research questions. Firstly, the project draws the electoral and institutional context into the research on perceptions and perceptual agreement. Secondly, the research brings the political parties into the equation and thirdly, the study investigates how factors related to both individual voters and political parties interact with the institutional context and so affect voters’ perceptual agreement. The book draws on election study data from 34 countries in a total of 58 elections and is one of the most comprehensive comparative studies of voters’ perceptual agreement hitherto. Whereas earlier studies of the causes of perceptual agreement argued that perceptions of party positions among voters result mainly from endogenous individual level factors such as education, party sympathy and the ideological distance between parties and voters, this study shows that voters’ perceptions also are also affected by exogenous factors related to the electoral systems and the political parties. The book concludes that political representation, as defined by the responsible party model, seems to work best in multiparty parliamentary systems with proportional representation and a strong left-right dimensional structure, in which parties maintain stable and divergent policy positions.

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