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Democracy is strengthened by stable and divergent party positions05.06.2009 - (idw) University of Gothenburg
The political parties' battle for floating voters can lead to standardisation and risks draining the political system of colourful alternatives. In addition the lack of distinct options can increase the risk of voters not bothering to vote. This is revealed in a new thesis in political science from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
The so-called consent principle means that people have the opportunity to directly influence the implementation of policies by voting in free and regular elections. However, many surveys reveal that voters are often relatively poorly informed in political issues. If voters are not sufficiently capable of distinguishing the political alternatives it is a serious setback for the democratic system.
The fact that voters are in relative agreement about a party's policy positions is a sign that politicians have successfully explained the policies that are being pursued. Previous research has often singled out individual factors as an explanation for voters perceiving the parties' positions as being different. Stefan Dahlberg's study expands the perspective to also include the significance of the political institutions and how the political parties present themselves.
- The fact that voters perceive the parties' manifestos correctly is of great importance for democracy. If there is no agreement among voters about what the parties stand for, political representation risks becoming meaningless. By extension this can lead to voters no longer feeling it is meaningful to participate in the political process, says Stefan Dahlberg.
The alliances can be problematic
Based on statistics from 34 countries and 58 elections Dahlberg has been able to observe that political representation functions best in parliamentary multiparty systems characterised by a strong left-right structure where the parties hold political positions that are stable and clearly separated. The responsibility for achieving effective representation therefore to a great extent lies with the political parties themselves.
- It might seem obvious that it is easiest for voters to have common perceptions of parties that have enduring and distinct ideological positions. What is interesting is that the connection is so strong even when many other explanatory factors that affect voters' perceptions are taken into account, says Stefan Dahlberg.
From a Swedish perspective the increasingly formalised alliances between the parties within two blocks can be problematic, in particular if parties abandon their own distinctive character so that the block can appear united and effective.
- If block politics also entails an ideological standardization with a battle for floating voters, the Swedish party system runs the risk of being deprived of colourful alternatives. The aim of the election process to collect and articulate the political preferences of all Swedish voters in a number of different parties will thereby become more difficult to achieve as many voters will find it more problematic to feel at home in one of the established parties, concludes Stefan Dahlberg.
The thesis was successfully defended on Wednesday 20 May 2009
Title of the thesis: Voters' Perceptions of Party Politics - A Multilevel Approach
Link to thesis: http://gupea.ub.gu.se/dspace/handle/2077/20036
Author of the thesis: Stefan Dahlberg, tel +46 (0)31-786 17 81 (work) alt. +46 (0)70-363 86 58.
Press Information: Lena Olson
+46 31-786 4841
http://www.samfak.gu.se/Faculty+of+Social+science/News_and_events/News/News_Deta... - press information
http://gupea.ub.gu.se/dspace/handle/2077/20036 - Link to thesis
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