Party Competition between Unequals: Strategies and Electoral Fortunes in Western Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008 Winner of the 2010 Council for European Studies Best Book Prize, the 2009 William H. Riker Award (best book, Political Economy Section, APSA) and the 2009 Best Book Award by the European Politics and Society Section (APSA). Why do some parties flourish while others flounder? In this book, I provide a strategic answer. I explore how mainstream political party strategies shape – undermine and bolster – the electoral success of niche parties (e.g., green, radical right and ethnoterritorial parties) and, as a result, their own electoral fortunes. The book recognizes that parties have access to a wider and more effective range of strategies than previously recognized. The book explores how and why these reconceptualized strategies are adopted, drawing upon evidence from quantitative and case study analyses of party competition in Western Europe. Reviews of Party Competition between Unequals · Perspectives on Politics, June 2009 · Journal of Politics, July 2009
“Competition Between Unequals: The Role of Mainstream Party Strategy in Niche Party Success.” American Political Science Review, 99.3(August 2005): 347-59. paper What accounts for variation in the electoral success of niche parties? Although institutional and sociological explanations of single-issue party strength have been dominant, they tend to remove parties from the analysis. In this article, I argue that the behavior of mainstream parties influences the electoral fortunes of the new, niche party actors. In contrast to standard spatial theories, my theory recognizes that party tactics work by altering the salience and ownership of issues for political competition, not just party issue positions. It follows that niche party support can be shaped by both proximal and non-proximal competitors. Analysis of green and radical right party vote in 17 Western European countries from 1970 to 2000 confirms that mainstream party strategies matter; the modified spatial theory accounts for the failure and success of niche parties across countries and over time better than institutional, sociological and even standard spatial explanations.
“Issue Salience, Issue Ownership, and Issue-Based Vote Choice.” (co-authored with Éric Bélanger), Electoral Studies, 27 (September 2008): 477-91. paper According to the issue ownership theory of voting, voters identify the political party that they feel is the most competent, or the most credible, proponent of a particular issue and cast their ballots for that issue owner. Yet the actual micro-level mechanism of such behavior has seldom been examined in the literature. We explore the mechanism and, in the process, offer a refinement to the original model of issue ownership. We argue that, while party ownership of an issue is important to vote choice, its effect is mediated by the perceived salience of the issue in question. Through individual-level analyses of vote choice in the 1997 and 2000 Canadian federal elections, we demonstrate that issue ownership affects the voting decisions of only those individuals who think that the issue is salient. These findings suggest that salience should be more explicitly integrated into the formulation and testing of the theory.
Decentralization: Causes and Consequences
“Selective Contestation: The Impact of Decentralization on Ethnoterritorial Party Electoral Strategy,” Electoral Studies, 52 (April 2018): 94-102. paper Since the 1970s, national governments across Western Europe have decentralized significant powers to subnational authorities. Recent work has found that the degree of decentralization affects ethnoterritorial party vote in national and subnational elections. This paper asks the prior question: what effect does decentralization have on a party’s decision to field candidates? I find that as decentralization reforms shift power to the region, ethnoterritorial parties likewise shift their electoral strategy away from contesting national elections. An examination of regional-level data from nine Western European countries reveals ethnoterritorial parties reduce their contestation of national elections when a directly elected regional assembly is established and significant administrative, fiscal and policymaking competencies are transferred to the region. Further supporting the view of decentralization as policy appeasement, this exit effect is limited to ethnoterritorial parties demanding regional autonomy; secessionist parties continue to pursue full contestation strategies regardless of the level of decentralization.
“Multilevel Elections and Party Fortunes: The Electoral Impact of Decentralization in Western Europe.” Comparative Politics, 47.4 (July 2015): 379-98. paper Despite extensive research on decentralization, little is known about the electoral effects of these reforms on the governing parties that implement them and the ethnoterritorial parties that demand them. In contrast to much previous work, this paper posits that decentralization is a strategy to bolster a governing party’s national vote, by appeasing voters of threatening regionalist parties. Statistical analyses of election results across subnational regions of Western European countries from 1970 to 2006 confirm this theory’s implications: governing parties gain and ethnoterritorial parties lose support in national elections after significant decentralization. Token decentralization fails to satisfy voters and leads to governing party vote loss in national elections. I also find that ethnoterritorial parties, but not governing parties, benefit electorally in subnational elections following extensive decentralization.
“How Do Niche Parties React to Policy Appeasement? The Effect of Decentralization on Regionalist Party Programmatic Strategies.” (Working Paper 2018) Despite the significant and growing literature on niche parties, little is known about the reactions of these policy-seeking parties to the accomplishment of their goals. Drawing upon data on regionalist parties’ programmatic strategies across Western Europe from 1974 to 2008, I find that these niche parties are not prisoners of their original issue emphases as implied by early work on these parties. Rather, regionalist parties diversify their issue stances - decreasing their emphasis on regional issues and increasing their attention to nationalist and agrarian issues - following the implementation of decentralization reforms. Issue diversification, however, is pursued only by those parties demanding greater regional autonomy. Independence-seeking parties, who are not satisfied by decentralization, respond to such institutional changes by reinforcing their existing narrow emphasis on regional issues. These findings offer new explanations for variation in the effectiveness of mainstream party tactics to counter niche parties. The paper also sheds light on how and why the “nicheness” (Wagner 2012; Meyer and Miller 2015; Bischof 2017) of parties change over time.
“Transferring Power to Maintain Control: Decentralization as a National-Level Electoral Strategy in Western Europe.” (Work in Progress 2018)
“Institutional Change and Ethnoterritorial Party Representation at the European Level.” in Andrew C. Gould, and Anthony M. Messina, editors. Europe's Contending Identities: Supranationalism, Ethnoregionalism, Religion, and New Nationalism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 100-117. paper Over the past forty years, Western European countries have faced both pressures to decentralize and, conversely, pressures to transfer competencies to the supranational level of the EU. Despite the joint occurrence of these processes, the existing literature has typically explored only their separate effects. This paper begins to fill this lacuna by examining the effect of decentralization on the European electoral fortunes of some of decentralization’s most prominent supporters, ethnoterritorial parties. Consistent with the claim that ethnoterritorial parties in decentralized regions still see the European Union as a useful arena for expressing enhanced regionalist identities and pursuing additional political and financial legitimacy, cross-sectional time-series analyses reveal that decentralization increases the vote shares of ethnoterritorial parties. Thus, counter to the fears that increasing the number of levels of government will create competing centers of power and serve to demobilize voters, these results suggest that – for at least some parties – these political environments prove complementary.
“Bringing Government Back to the People? The Impact of Political Decentralization on Voter Engagement in Western Europe.” (Working Paper 2011) paper Political actors have often justified processes of political decentralization as means to “bring government back to the people.”While this claim is consistent with broader scholarly theories of voter engagement, aggregate-level analysis does not reveal the expected shifts in voter attitudes and behavior in decentralizing countries of Western Europe.Rather than these results signaling the relative unimportance of institutional reform for voter engagement, I find that decentralization differentially affects members of the electorate.In line with the idea that the winners of decentralization are more likely to be receptive to the effects of these reforms than the losers, analysis of survey data from the decentralizing case of Scotland reveals that partisans of the Scottish National Party, unlike their mainstream party counterparts, experience increased engagement levels.This paper suggests that the effect of institutions on voter attitudes and behavior is mediated by the individual-level characteristics of those voters.
"Endogenous Institutions: The Origins of Compulsory Voting Laws" (with Gretchen Helmke, Working Paper 2010) paper Link here for CNN commentary. Between 1862 and 1998, 18 democracies adopted compulsory voting laws, the majority in Western Europe and Latin America. Although there is a broad literature on the effects of compulsory voting on voter turnout, far less is known about when and why compulsory voting has been adopted. Using an original cross-national dataset on compulsory voting laws, we find evidence that strategic considerations – whether governing parties believe they will benefit or be harmed electorally under compulsory voting rules – shape the decisions to adopt such laws. More generally, our paper aims to contribute to the emerging literature on the adoption of electoral systems by examining the degree to which electoral institutions are the result of party strategy and, thus, are endogenous to party competition.
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