UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Who leads? Who follows? Political representation and opinion formation Nuesser, Andrea


To understand political representation and opinion formation, we need to comprehend the dynamics between political parties and voters: Who leads? Who follows? The comparative representation literature assumes that voters lead and parties follow. Representation is understood as a principal-agent relationship in which citizens elect parties to act on their behalf. Most studies assume that voters have fixed issue opinions and regularly engage in policy voting. Conversely, the increasingly dominant view within the American public opinion literature is that parties lead and voters follow. Focussing on cognitive processes, these works suggest that the correspondence between policy preferences and party choice is not the product of policy-oriented evaluation, but of other psychological forces—mainly persuasion and projection—and conditional on partisanship. As almost all the evidence comes from the US, we know little about the impact of parties in multiparty systems, where voters are naturally pressed to think of governing coalitions. In the US, both processes have become more prevalent during the current era of polarization. To the extent that polarization animates the last twenty years of American scholarship, what is the story in Europe? A handful of single-country studies claim the opposite trend: depolarization. What is missing is systematic evidence from multiple countries and longer periods. This dissertation bridges the gap between European and American scholarship and makes important contributions to the literature. First, it fills a Europe-wide gap on polarization and depolarization, suggesting that both movements occur and that both are functionally linked. While depolarization is the dominant trend on the general Left-Right dimension, polarization best describes party movement on European unification and multiculturalism. Second, the dissertation demonstrates that an increase in sophistication is required to deal with aggregate notions of leading and following. It shows that depolarization is an under-theorized concept that should not be mistaken for simply the opposite of polarization. Third, using advanced estimation techniques, this thesis provides realistic assessments of leading and following. The results suggest that leading is much less prevalent in Europe than commonly assumed. Instead, there is solid evidence that European voters follow, conditional on partisanship.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International