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Political parties and perceptual agreement - The influence of party related factors on voters’ perceptions in proportional electoral systems

Journal article
Authors Stefan Dahlberg
Published in Electoral Studies
Publication year 2009
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Keywords elections, representation, perceptual agreement, left-right ideology, political parties
Subject categories Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified


A normative ideal of political representation is that governmental policy should reflect the will of a majority of the voters. The responsible party model (RPM) emphasizes a number of conditions that must be fulfilled in order to achieve meaningful representation. The model presumes that parties will present stable and divergent policy programs – that is, prospective mandates - during election campaigns, thereby giving voters meaningful electoral choices. An underlying assumption that can be deduced from the RPM is that an elec¬torate with clear and shared per¬cep¬¬tions of the party spa¬ce is an im¬portant prerequisite for suc¬¬cess¬ful poli¬ti¬cal re¬pre¬sen¬¬ta¬tion. This article is focused on how the extent of agreement in voters’ perceptions of parties’ policy positions is affected by 1) the behavior of the parties in terms of the degree of stability and divergence in their policy positions and 2) by various party characteristics such as the electoral size, the age and the labels of the parties. The study is based on data from election studies in Norway, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands with 26 parties covered in 35 elections. The results show that both the degree of stability and divergence in parties left-right positions are of considerable importance for the perceptual agreement among voters, while electoral size of parties has a negative effect. In contrast to the vast literature on voting behavior that emphasizes the role of well-informed and knowledgeable voters as an important ingredient in effective policy representation, this article shows that responsible parties that present stable and divergent policy positions are needed as well.

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