(Journal Article) Political parties not only aggregate the policy preferences of their supporters, but also have the ability to shape those preferences. Experimental evidence demonstrates that, when parties stake out positions on policy issues, partisans become more likely to adopt these positions, whether out of blind loyalty or because they infer that party endorsements signal options consistent with their interests or values. It is equally clear, however, that partisans do not always follow their party’s lead. The authors investigate the impact of three party-level traits on partisan cue taking: longevity, incumbency, and ideological clarity. As parties age, voters may become more certain of both the party’s reputation and their own allegiance. Governing parties must take action and respond to events, increasing the likelihood of compromise and failure, and therefore may dilute their reputation and disappoint followers. Incumbency aside, some parties exhibit greater ambiguity in their ideological position than other parties, undermining voter certainty about the meaning of cues. The authors test these hypotheses with experiments conducted in three multiparty democracies (Poland, Hungary, and Great Britain). They find that partisans more strongly follow their party’s lead when that party is older, in the opposition, or has developed a more consistent ideological image. However, the impact of longevity vanishes when the other factors are taken into account. Underscoring the importance of voter (un)certainty, ideologically coherent opposition parties have the greatest capacity to shape the policy views of followers.
“Which Parties Can Lead Opinion? Experimental Evidence on Partisan Cue Taking in Multiparty Democracies,” Comparative Political Studies, Vol 45, No. 10, October 2012
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