On SAGE Insight: Do political parties listen to the(ir) public? Public opinion–party linkage on specific policy issues

From Party Politics

Political parties are a crucial link between the public and policy outcomes. However, few studies have considered who political parties are responsive to when they take positions on specific policy proposals. In many normative definitions of democratic systems, political parties are expected to represent their voters and pursue the policies they promised to deliver to ensure a link between the preferences of the public and policy outcomes. One influential strand of literature argues that niche parties are different to mainstream parties, because mainstream parties seeking to maximize their vote share will cater to the median voter, whereas niche parties that are more policy-seeking will respond to the preferences of their supporters. Studies on the link between public opinion and policy outputs have studied specific policy issues. Although the approach has its drawbacks, it is increasingly propagated because it provides insights into the concrete policies that are delivered to citizens and ensures a direct match between public preferences and policy

This article explores the links between public opinion and the policy positions of political parties on 102 specific policy proposals in Germany using a novel application of multilevel regression with poststratification to estimate the policy preferences of party supporters. It assesses the positions of political parties in the German Bundestag on 102 specific policy proposals in the period between 1998 and 2010. The issues concern possible policy changes like raising the taxes on petrol or increasing the size of the German military deployment in Afghanistan. The article records statements by political parties about these policy issues in two major newspapers to investigate whether the preferences of the general public and party supporters are represented in these claims. The approach helps address concerns about small sample sizes for supporters of the smaller political parties.  The study contributes to the literature on policy and party representation and illustrates the advantages of studying specific policy issues. This study contributes to the literature on policy and party representation and illustrates the advantages of studying specific policy issues. This study has pinpointed at least one potential point in the chain from the public to policy where the link between public preferences and policy outcomes may be weakened and has shown that studying representation through political parties on specific policy issues is possible and can help generate new insights into the study of political representation.

 Abstract

Political parties are a crucial link between the public and policy outcomes. However, few studies have considered who political parties are responsive to when they take positions on specific policy proposals. This article explores the links between public opinion and the policy positions of political parties on 102 specific policy proposals in Germany using a novel application of multilevel regression with poststratification to estimate the policy preferences of party supporters. While there is a link between general public preferences and the positions of political parties, this connection weakens considerably once political parties are in government. In fact, the study shows that the link between party positions and general public opinion is severed once parties enter government, whereas it is only weakened in the case of party supporters. Finally, the article finds mixed evidence for differences between niche parties and mainstream parties.


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Article details
Do political parties listen to the(ir) public? Public opinion–party linkage on specific policy issues
Jeroen Romeijn
First Published 16 Jul 2018
DOI: 10.1177/1354068818787346
Party Politics

 

     
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