Dimensionality of the European Issue Space

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Accountability of the representatives to the represented is constrained by the heterogeneity in the issue positions of represented voters. Many gradations of homogeneity and heterogeneity can be distinguished. Accountability is almost trivial in the case of perfect homogeneity in which the represented voters agree on all issues (see Chapter 2). Accountability is relatively easy when the represented voters disagree with each other along one issue dimension, for example the socialeconomic left-right dimension, as was pointed out by Schattschneider (1960). An overarching dimension allows for a transparent political debate with opponents, who get the floor also to reframe their issue positions to increase electoral support. Giving an account of one’s issue positions becomes less straightforward but remains still possible in the case of a limited number of independent overarching dimensions, for example an authoritarian-libertarian dimension in addition to a left-right dimension. A limited number of overarching issue dimensions enables the representatives to justify package deals in which political successes on one dimension are claimed in exchange for losses on another dimension. Without overarching issue dimensions in the electorate, there is no easy way to render concrete issues commensurable enough to deliver an account to defend why one would give in on any specific issue. In this chapter on the dimensionality of the European issue space we will encounter another type of heterogeneity that impedes accountability. Europeans do acknowledge basically the same underlying issue dimensions, such as leftright and Alternative/Libertarian vs. Traditional/Orthodox. The actual issue positions on these dimensions vary however systematically between Southern European, Northern European and Eastern European countries, which makes it virtually impossible to deliver one European policy that would be agreeable for all. Moreover the overarching issue dimensions depend on each other in different ways in Southern, Eastern and Northern European countries, which results in very different evaluations between countries of coalitions and package deals in which positions on for example the left-right dimension are exchanged for positions on the Alternative/Libertarian vs. Traditional/Orthodox dimension. In short, Europeans in Southern, Northern and Eastern European countries differ widely with regard to their evaluation of issue positions and their evaluation of political coalitions and political deals, although they share a common awareness of the underlying political antagonisms. The chapter is based on an assessment of the policy dimensions that underlie the specsfic issue positions of European voters with regard to 28 varied issues. We expect that the policy dimensions within European electorates are still structured by the social cleavages that originally shaped the European party landscapes. The politics of European states are the product of three revolutions: the Reformation and Counter-Reformation consolidating territorial boundaries of European states, the French Revolution causing profound separation of church and state, and finally the Industrial Revolution in which free enterprise (instead of economic protection) and workers’ rights were at stake. These revolutions struck countries at different times and under different conditions causing variations among European party systems. For example, Dutch state formation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was shaped by the power struggle between liberal, permissive Protestants and authoritarian, orthodox Calvinists (“rekkelijken” versus “preciezen”). Prolonged state formation in Southern Europe, for example, lead to generally weaker social cleavage articulation due to the overriding salience of the conflict about regime formation (Günther and Montero 2000). In Britain, the early resolution of state formation and the state-church conflict led to the predominance of the class cleavage. In other countries social class also remains important for voting behaviour (Nieuwbeerta 1996; Evans 1999). With the introduction of universal suffrage in the early twentieth century, existing cleavage structures durably froze electoral alignments and party alternatives (Lipset and Rokkan 1967: 50; Krouwel 2012). Hitherto, research into the dimensionality of issue spaces has focused on the dimensions that underlie issue positions of the European political parties, for example starting from expert surveys (Benoit 2006), roll-call votes in the European Parliament (His et al. 2006), party manifesto research (Klingemann et al. 1994; Pennings 2002), or from the media coverage of the issue positions of parties (Kriesi et al. 2006). Research that focused on the policy dimensions that underlie issue positions of European voters has usually started from a small number of issue positions about which questions are asked in national and European election surveys (Klingemann et al. 1994; Van der Brug et al. 2009 (the latter authors employ expert survey data in addition)).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPolitical Representation – Roles, representatives and the represented
EditorsJ. Fivaz, M. Bühlmann
Place of PublicationLondon and New York
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781315665788
ISBN (Print)9781138956278
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameRoutledge Research on Social and Political Elites


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