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From elections to outputs: linking party system change and distributive policy change

English title From elections to outputs: linking party system change and distributive policy change
Applicant Häusermann Silja
Number 129673
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Institut für Politikwissenschaft Universität Zürich
Institution of higher education University of Zurich - ZH
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.04.2010 - 31.08.2013
Approved amount 279'122.00
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Keywords (10)

Political Parties; Party Systems; Distributive Politics; Welfare States; Labour Market Policy; Education Policy; Tax Policy; Labor market policies; Tax policies; Family policies

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
People vote for political parties, because they hope for particular policy outputs. Responsive parties deliver such policies that cater to their constituencies. Until the 1970s, the relationship between electorates and parties was straightforward: the working class voted for the left and the more privileged strata tended to vote for the right. Accordingly, left-wing governments delivered more generous social policies and right-wing governments stood for less generous policies. Individuals knew what to expect when casting their vote. Since the 1980s, this pattern has increasingly vanished: in many countries, left-wing parties have engaged in retrenchment and liberalization, while many right-wing parties have defended social rights and benefits. The traditional left-right distinction seems to dissolve and it has become unclear what parties stand for. Are parties still responsive, and if yes, to whom? We propose and test and answer to this question: political parties may still be responsive to the distributive concerns of their constituencies. However, these constituencies have changed. The left is not simply the party of the working class anymore and the right has lost its monopoly on the high-income voters. Moreover, different constituencies have specific needs, which cannot simply be understood in terms of "more vs. less" welfare. Consequently, the transformation of party positions with regard to distributive policies may not be the result of unresponsiveness, but a consequence of electoral change. Our project will be one of the first to marry research on voter preferences, party system transformation and distributive policy analysis. We include seven countries (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Germany and Switzerland) and three policy fields (family, tax and labor market policy) to investigate the effect of electoral change on policy reforms since the 1990s. The project has three stages: 1) we will analyze electoral change, voter preferences and party positions in the electoral arena. 2) we compare the party-positions on policy reforms with the policy positions these same parties advocate in the electoral arena, to check whether parties "do" what they "tell their voters". 3) we will analyze policy-making processes in the parliamentary arena and the distributive outputs of the reforms. Across the three stages, the project will use a variety of data sources (survey data, coded data on political parties, primary sources from policy-processes) and methods (descriptive statistics and regression techniques, uni- and multi-dimensional scaling, process-tracing).
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Right-wing populist parties and labor market policies
Geering Dominik (2014), Right-wing populist parties and labor market policies.
Policy congruence and distributive politics: matching voter preferences and party positions on distributive issues
Geering Dominik and Silja Häusermann (2012), Policy congruence and distributive politics: matching voter preferences and party positions on distributive issues, in CIS-Working Paper series, 78, 1-39.
Rethinking Party Politics and the Welfare State: Recent Advances in the Literature
Häusermann Silja, Picot Georg, Geering Dominik, Rethinking Party Politics and the Welfare State: Recent Advances in the Literature, in British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming.
Social Democracy and the Welfare State in Context: the Conditioning Effect of Institutional and Party Competition
Häusermann Silja, Social Democracy and the Welfare State in Context: the Conditioning Effect of Institutional and Party Competition, in Manow Philipp, Schwander Hanna, Palier Bruno (ed.).

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Universität Bremen Germany (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
CES Graduate Student Conference, Cambridge Talk given at a conference How center-right parties' reaction to right-wing populist parties impacts labor market policies in small states 19.09.2013 Cambridge, United States of America Geering Dominik;
European Consortium for Political Research General Conference, August 2013, Bordeaux Talk given at a conference Changing party electorates and economic realignment. Explaining party positions on labor market policy in Western Europe 05.09.2013 Bordeaux, France Häusermann Silja;
International Conference of Europeanists, Amsterdam Talk given at a conference Right-wing populist parties and labor market policies 24.06.2013 Amsterdam, Netherlands Geering Dominik;
International Conference of Europeanists, Amsterdam 2013 Talk given at a conference Unemployment risk, attitudes, and voting for right-wing populist parties 24.06.2013 Amsterdam, Netherlands Geering Dominik;
Annual Meeting of the European Political Science Association, June 2013, Barcelona Talk given at a conference Transformed party electorates and economic realignment in Western Europe 21.06.2013 Barcelona, Spain Geering Dominik;
Conference of Europeanists Talk given at a conference Policy congruence and distributive politics: matching voter preferences and party positions on distributive issues 22.03.2012 Boston, USA, United States of America Häusermann Silja; Geering Dominik;
Jahreskongress der Schweizerischen Vereinigung für Politikwissenschaft Talk given at a conference Policy congruence and distributive politics: matching voter preferences and party positions on distributive issues 12.01.2012 Luzern, Schweiz, Switzerland Geering Dominik; Häusermann Silja;
Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association APSA Talk given at a conference Policy congruence and distributive politics: matching voter preferences and party positions on distributive issues 30.08.2011 Seattle, USA, United States of America Häusermann Silja; Geering Dominik;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
ECPR Joint sessions of Workshops 05.03.2013 Mainz, Germany

Awards

Title Year
Top Ten Download der APSA Conference Papers in Political Science 2011

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
146104 Years of Turmoil: The Political Consequences of the Financial and Economic Crisis in Europe 01.09.2013 Project funding (Div. I-III)
111756 Nationaler politischer Wandel in entgrenzten Räumen - nationale und transnationale Kampagnen im Vergleich 01.10.2006 Project funding (Div. I-III)

Abstract

People vote for political parties, because they hope for particular policy outputs, which correspond to their preferences and needs. Responsive parties deliver such policies that cater to their constituencies. In the field of social and economic policies (i.e. distributive policies), the political science literature observed a very straightforward relationship between electorates and parties in the post-war period: The working class was the core constituency of the left and the more privileged strata tended to vote for the right. Accordingly, left-wing governments delivered more generous economic and social policies and right-wing governments stood for less generous and more selective policies (e.g. Hibbs 1977, Korpi 1983, Garrett 1998). Individuals knew what to expect when casting their vote for one side or the other. Since the 1980s, this pattern has increasingly vanished: in many countries, left-wing parties have engaged in retrenchment and liberalization, adopting a more market-liberal agenda. At the same time, many right-wing parties have defended social rights and benefits, rather than enacting the radical cutbacks one might have expected (e.g. Kitschelt 2001, Pierson 2001, Huber and Stephens 2001, Ross 2000, Beramendi and Rueda 2007, Häusermann forthcoming). The traditional left-right distinction seems to dissolve and it has become unclear to both voters and political scientists what parties stand for. Are parties still responsive, and if yes, to whom? Two answers have been developed in the literature, and through this project, we want to propose and explore a third one. The first answer is that parties have indeed become unresponsive, i.e. detached from their socio-structural constituencies (e.g. Mair 2004). They govern in an elitist way, responding to structural and strategic pressure, rather than to voters’ preferences. The second answer is that parties are still responsive, but to the cultural, rather than the distributive concerns of their electorates (e.g. Kitschelt 1995, Kriesi et al. 2008). According to this view, distributive policies have lost their key role in linking parties and voters. We propose an alternative explanation. We argue that economic and social policies still matter: political parties may still be responsive to the distributive concerns of their constituencies. However, these constituencies have changed profoundly. The left is not simply the party of the working class anymore and the right has lost its monopoly on the highly skilled and high-income voters: party constituencies have become more heterogeneous. Moreover, different constituencies have specific needs, which cannot simply be understood in terms of “more vs. less” welfare: parts of the working class still prioritize income protection, while others are much more in need of jobs or public services such as active labor market policies or child care infrastructure. Consequently, the transformation of party positions with regard to distributive policies may not be the result of unresponsiveness or of a shift to cultural politics, but a consequence of electoral change. Parties do respond, but they respond to different preferences than in the post-war period, and they need to reposition themselves strategically in a deeply transformed party system. So far, research on electoral change has developed separately from research on the transformation of social needs and risks. Hence, we lack an understanding of the links between voters, party system change and policy-making. In this project, we want to investigate these links.Our project will be one of the first to marry research on voter preferences, party system transformation and distributive policy analysis. We include seven countries (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, the UK, Italy, Germany and Switzerland) and three policy fields (family, tax and labor market policy) to investigate the effect of electoral change on policy reforms since the 1990s. The project has three stages: in the first stage, we will analyze electoral change, voter preferences and party positions in the electoral arena. We will identify the constituencies of parties, their preferences and the congruence between voter and party positions. In a second stage, we establish the empirical link between the electoral arena and the parliamentary arena, by comparing the party-positions on selected policy reforms with the policy positions these same parties advocate in the electoral arena. Finally, we will analyze policy-making processes in the parliamentary arena and the distributive outputs of the reforms. We will test to what extent the distributive consequences of reforms can be traced back to voter preferences, party preferences and coalitional dynamics within governments. Across the three stages, the project will use a variety of data sources (survey data, coded data on political parties, primary sources from policy-processes) and methods (descriptive statistics and regression techniques, uni- and multi-dimensional scaling, process-tracing). With this project, we want to make contributions of both scientific and practical significance. We want to provide party system research with a more adequate understanding of the issues at stake in today’s distributional policy agenda, and we provide policy researchers with a more adequate understanding of what center left and center right parties want and do. Furthermore, we will investigate the consequences of electoral change by identifying the winners and losers of distributive policy-making in the new party political space. The project also aims at making a strong empirical and methodological contribution: we rely on a newly developed technique of computer-assisted semi-automatic coding (COSA “core sentence annotation”) to generate data on the preferences of political parties in both electoral campaigns and actual policy-making processes. This new database will link what parties “say” (in elections) to what they “do” (in parliament), and it will be available for further research. Last but not least, the research we plan will also be of very practical interests. We will be among the first projects to actually test whether parties (still) do what their voters want. This will be of high interest not only to political parties themselves, but also to the media and to voters, who must hold parties accountable in democratic politics.
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