The forthcoming article “The Company You Keep: How Citizens Infer Party Positions on European Integration from Governing Coalition Arrangements” by James Adams, Lawrence Ezrow, and Christopher Wlezien is summarized by the authors here:
Democratic accountability requires citizens to inform themselves about political parties’ issue positions. Citizens may employ heuristic “shortcuts” to update their perceptions of parties’ positions, for a number of reasons, for example because collecting detailed political information is costly or because the political landscape is uncertain.
Our paper examines how citizens infer parties’ policies on European integration based on the set of parties participating in the coalition government. Recent studies document that voters infer that coalition partners’ Left-Right policy positions converge when these parties enter into a joint governing coalition. We show that citizens apply a similar coalition-based heuristic to infer parties’ positions along the European integration dimension. Specifically, citizens infer that, over time, junior coalition partners shift their European integration policies in the same direction as the Prime Ministerial (PM) party’s perceived shift on this issue. Figure 1 depicts these effects. It displays how the PM party’s perceived shift on European integration correlates strongly with the perceived policy shifts of its junior coalition partners, but not with opposition parties’ perceived shifts. (Junior coalition partners are displayed as a dotted line in the figure and opposition parties as a solid line, with shaded confidence intervals). These patterns suggest that voters employ a coalition-based heuristic to update their perceptions of party policy positions on European integration.
Figure 1. Predicted effects of Perceived PM Party Shifts on the
Perceived Shifts of Junior Coalition Partners and Opposition Parties
Furthermore, we show that citizens’ coalition-based inferences on European integration conflict with alternative measures of party positions; in particular, neither political experts’ perceptions of party positions nor the codings of parties’ election manifestos support voters’ inference that junior coalition partners adjust their own positions on Europe in response to the PM party’s policy shift. This disconnect implies that citizens might be cautious about applying the coalition-based heuristic to the European integration dimension. We also show that citizens’ perceptions of party positions on Europe matter, in that citizens react to parties’ perceived shifts by updating their own policy views and/or their party support, i.e., these perceived party policy shifts drive partisan sorting in the electorate.
Our findings have straightforward implications for mass-elite policy linkages and for parties’ election strategies. For example, the European issue is relevant to the strategic calculations of radical right parties, whose electoral appeal is tied to their anti-EU stances, including the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, the British National Party, and the Dutch PVV. To the extent that these parties’ images as staunch anti-EU parties are compromised when they govern in coalition with a more moderate Prime Ministerial party, these radical right parties may have electoral incentives to withhold this support from the government.