Everything to Everyone: The Electoral Consequences of the Broad-Appeal Strategy in Europe

The forthcoming article, “Everything to Everyone: The Electoral Consequences of the Broad-Appeal Strategy in Europe” by Zeynep Somer-Topcu is now available on Early View and is summarized here: 

Political pundits, commentators, and scholars alike expect clarity and consistency from political parties and often criticize parties for not taking clear and distinguishable positions. However, when political parties aim to increase their vote shares, appealing broadly to attract different groups of voters with diverse preferences may be a winning strategy electorally. In my article, I examine the electoral consequences of this broad-appeal strategy. I show that the strategy helps parties win votes in the multiparty elections of West Europe by convincing voters that the party is ideologically closer to their preferences.

There are several ways that a party may attempt to broaden its appeal, each being a different means to the same end: to improve the party’s electoral standing by casting a wider net rather than presenting an ideologically clear and coherent (and thus limiting) party platform. Political parties, for instance, may take moderate positions on some salient issues while appealing to more extreme voters on other issues; they may compete in elections with multiple leaders/senior politicians with diverse ideological profiles; or they may be silent and vague on some of their issue positions in order not to alienate some groups of voters. Yet, to date, we lack an understanding of whether such broad appeals are electorally successful. I argue that a political party benefits from the broad-appeal strategy, provided it can simultaneously (1) convince its existing party supporters that the party is still the same one they have earlier supported and (2) attract new voters to the party by convincing them that the party is close to their ideological preferences. On the other hand, the strategy may fail if party supporters and/or other voters do not buy into the party’s campaign promises.

Using data from nine West European multiparty systems, I first show that the strategy helps parties increase their vote shares in parliamentary elections. Next, using survey data I demonstrate that voters on average perceive the party that appeals broadly as closer to their ideological preferences. These findings indicate that political parties in West Europe have been quite successful in convincing voters that they are ideologically closer to their interests, and may offer a potential recipe for electoral success in multi-party democracies.


This article is part of the AJPS Virtual Issue:  Most Cited, 2015-16.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.