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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Electoral Choice in Multidimensional Party Systems


The diversity of issue interests and party options in multiparty systems makes individual electoral decisions increasingly complex. Voters are challenged to find a political party that represents their own political views in this more complex political space. This research offers a new methodological approach to studying voting choice in a multidimensional party space. We integrate the issue preferences of European voters and the issue preferences of party elites in a two-dimensional model of electoral choice. A common space of political competition for citizens and party elites is defined by the economic and cultural cleavages using data from the 2009 European Elections Studies (EES). Our innovation is to employ multilevel structural equation modeling to address the unique statistical challenges of a multi-dimensional party space, mass-elite comparisons, and cross-national analysis. This new approach generates results that are distinctly different from previous studies—even those using the same dataset. By factoring in the measurement of issue dimensions, economic issues have a stronger impact than recognized using previous methodologies, with more modest cultural influences on voting. Moreover, there are significant cross-over effects of the two cleavages in voters’ choices. The results reveal the complexity of realignment between voters and political parties in Western Europe.

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