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Eric Guntermann


Submitted Papers

Policy Preferences Influence Vote Choice When the Party System is Upended: Evidence from the 2017 French Presidential Election (with Romain Lachat)

In models of policy representation, policy preferences influence vote choice, leading governments to adopt policies citizens want. However, scholars have long doubted whether policy preferences motivate vote choice. Most of their studies focus on contexts with stable parties with unchanging positions though, making it unlikely that policy preferences will influence vote choice. A recent study on the 2016 US presidential election showed that policy does matter when a party changes positions. No published work, however, has considered a context without stable parties. We leverage the context of the 2017 French presidential election in which a candidate lacking a long-standing party, Emmanuel Macron, rose to prominence and won. Using panel data, we find strong evidence that policy preferences led voters to support Macron. We also find that Macron influenced policy preferences. We conclude that when the party system is upended, policy does influence votes, but vote choice also influences policy preferences.  

Following the Coalition? Testing the impact of Coalitions on Policy Preferences in Germany (with Stephen Quinlan)

Ultimately, electoral democracy is about governments doing what citizens want. However, considerable evidence shows that parties influence citizens’ preferences. Most studies on party influence rely on experimental designs which present participants with parties’ positions. The disadvantage of this approach is that many citizens are already aware of those positions, thus underestimating party influence. Meanwhile, few studies assess reactions to real changes in party positions, which avoids this limitation. In response, we break new ground by assessing the impact of changes in coalition governments, which lead to changes in party positions that are partly exogenous to elite and mass preferences, on partisans’ preferences. Using panel data from the German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES), we leverage the changing coalitions led by the Christian Democrats in Germany in recent years. We find that coalitions influence partisans’ policy preferences. Our findings have significant implications for how we think about democratic representation in multi-party contexts.

Who Benefits from Nationalist Conflict? Vote Choice in the 2017 Regional Election in Catalonia (with André Blais)

According to a prominent argument, nationalist conflict benefits parties with extreme positions. Parties with more extreme positions gain votes and those that remain moderate lose votes. However, according to conventional perspectives on voting behaviour, issues have little influence on the way people vote. We consider the exceptional election held in Catalonia in December 2017 following a period of intense conflict surrounding an illegal independence referendum. We show that cross-pressures between prior vote choice and reactions to the events largely account for vote changes. While most Catalans reacted to the events of the referendum crisis in ways that were consistent with their party’s positions, some did not. We find that former supporters of parties with nuanced reactions to the crisis shifted to more extreme parties if they had strong pro- or anti-independence reactions. We conclude that nationalist conflict does benefit extreme parties at the expense of moderate, particularly left-wing, parties.

Issue Voting and the Representation of Policy Preferences (with Mikael Persson)

Some scholars have recently questioned citizens’ ability to influence government policy through elections. They have argued that policy rarely, if ever, influences citizens’ votiing decisions, thus preventing citizens from influencing the policies governments adopt. However, no study has ever examined the link between citizens’ voting behavior and policy representation. We develop a theoretical framework which classifies different forms of issue voting and formulate expectations regarding the impact of each form on policy representation. Using Swedish data going back to 1960, we find evidence that many issues influence vote choice. By combining election study data with an original dataset on policy implementation, we show that, when issue voting that benefits governing parties occurs, popular policies are implemented. The results thus indicate that voters often vote on the basis of their policy preferences and that governments are more responsive when this gives them the strongest incentive to listen to people’s preferences.

Does the Composition of Government Better Reflect the Preferences of the Rich?

In recent years, scholars have expressed considerable concern that democratic political systems are more responsive to the preferences of rich citizens than to poor citizens under conditions of economic inequality. However, it is unclear whether there is any association between economic inequality and unequal influence on government. Moreover, despite claims that proportional representation reduces inequalities in representation, there is no evidence that it does. I test these two prominent claims by connecting two types of citizens’ preferences to the composition of government in non-presidential systems cross-nationally using the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) dataset. While I find evidence that rich citizens gain better representation than the poor more often than the reverse, this gap seems to be at least partly due to the greater number of right-of-centre governments in the dataset. I find no evidence of a connection between economic inequality and inequalities in representation or that proportional representation has any effect on gaps in representation between high- and low-income citizens.


How do voters react when their party forms a coalition they dislike? (with André Blais, accepted at West European Politics)

While coalitions are conventionally seen as opportunities for parties to realize their policy preferences or to secure their control over political offices, recent studies show that citizens have preferences for coalitions which influence their vote choice. However, these studies do not consider how party and coalition preferences influence each other. This study uses panel data from the German Longitudinal Election Study from the 2009, 2013, and 2017 German elections to determine whether voters punish the party they voted for being in a coalition they dislike or, alternatively, whether they become more supportive of that coalition. It finds weak evidence for the former but strong evidence for the latter.

Are inequalities in representation lower under compulsory voting? (with Ruth Dassonneville and Peter Miller, accepted at Policy Studies)

In recent years, there has been considerable scholarly interest in inequalities in representation between rich and poor citizens. Just over 20 years ago, Lijphart argued that compulsory voting could reduce such inequalities by boosting the turnout of the poor. We measure the efficacy of Lijphart’s proposal with regard to three measures of representation; (1) ideological congruence, (2) an indicator of whether a citizen’s preferred party enters government and (3) an indicator of how much citizens like governing parties compared to opposition parties. We find that the extent to which the rich are better represented than the poor varies strongly across countries. We also find that the income gap in representation is smaller in the compulsory voting countries in our sample. However, turnout is not a significant predictor of inequalities in representation.

Why electoral reform might improve representation and why it might make it worse (Published in Canadian Public Administration)

The debate over electoral reform has largely focused on representation in Parliament. However, the government largely controls policy-making in parliamentary systems like Canada. This article shows that a more proportional system would increase the likelihood of coalitions. Because the dominant approach to studying representation in government, ideological congruence, suggests that reforming the electoral system would make no change to the level of representation, this article focuses instead on the representation of party preferences. It shows that multi-party cabinets, common under proportional systems, involve a trade-off between including more citizens’ preferred parties in government, while reducing the overall level of party preference representation.

Party influence where predispositions are strong and party identification is weak: Assessing citizens’ reactions to party cues on regional nationalism in Spain (Published in Party Politics)

I show that parties’ positions on issues that are rooted in identity influence people’s opinions even if they lack a party identification. When exposed to competing party positions, citizens adjust their issue opinions to make them more consistent with their preferred party’s position even if they do not identify with that party. In two experiments conducted in Spain, I consider how citizens react to party cues on regional nationalism. Study 1, a laboratory experiment in Catalonia, shows that, when exposed to party cues on nationalism, citizens change their issue opinions in the expected direction but only weakly change their party evaluations. Study 2, a survey experiment in Galicia, shows that party cue effects only occur when participants are exposed to competing cues from their preferred party and from a disliked party. Parties thus influence opinions when they adopt contrasting positions even on issues that are rooted in identity.

A Study of Voting Behaviour in an Exceptional Context: The 2017 Catalan Election Study (with André Blais, Ignacio Lago, and Marc Guinjoan) 

The Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW) project conducted a unique survey prior to the election held on December 21st, 2017 in exceptional circumstances in Catalonia. In spite of a series of major events in fall 2017, overall election results were similar to those of the previous regional election, held in 2015. In addition to standard demographic, attitudinal, and vote choice questions, the survey included novel questions on identity, support for independence, perceptions of corruption, and acceptance of the result by losers. The data will be particularly useful to scholars seeking to assess the impact of long- and short-term factors on vote choice in such unusual circumstances, the crystallisation of public opinion, and voters’ willingness to accept that their side lost the election.

Linking Party Preferences and the Composition of Government: A New Standard for Evaluating the Performance of Electoral Democracy (with André Blais and Marc André Bodet)

We propose a new standard for evaluating the performance of electoral democracies: the correspondence between citizens’ party preferences and the party composition of governments that are formed after elections. We develop three criteria for assessing such correspondence: the proportion of citizens whose most preferred party is in government, whether the party that is most liked overall is in government, and how much more positively governing parties are rated than non-governing parties. We pay particular attention to the last criterion, which takes into account how each citizen feels about each of the parties as well as the intensity of their preferences. We find that proportional representation systems perform better on the first criterion. Majoritarian systems do better on the other two.


Parties and Nationalism: Assessing the Influence of Parties on Support for Regional Nationalism in Spain

I consider whether parties influence support for regional nationalism in four regions of Spain: the Basque Country, Catalonia, the Valencian Community, and Galicia. Regional nationalism is present in all four regions, but it is considerably more present in the Basque Country and Catalonia.

I argue that the fundamental way parties influence citizens' opinions is by offering party cues. Citizens adapt their opinions to party cues even in the absence of persuasive arguments or other information. I then analyze both observational and experimental data to determine whether citizens of the four Spanish regions where nationalism is present adapt their nationalist preferences to the positions expressed by parties. In chapter 4, I focus on the measurement of party positions using automated text analysis of legislative speeches. In chapter 5, I consider whether people who like a party move in the same direction as that party when it changes its nationalist positions and whether those who feel distant from a party move in the opposite direction when it shifts its positions. We will see that the results suggest that nationalist parties influence their partisans in the Basque Country and Catalonia. Statewide parties seem to play a stronger role in Galicia and the Valencian Community.

In chapter 6, using experimental data, I show that, people who did not already know the position of their most liked party, when exposed to that position as well as to the position of a party they dislike, adapt their opinions to make them more consistent with the position of their most liked party. The positions of parties citizens like are not enough to induce them to change their opinions.

I conclude that parties influence the opinions of citizens on nationalism. However, this influence depends on the presence of the positions of parties citizens do not like. Parties cannot simply influence their own partisans by adopting the positions they would like them to adopt.

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