Electoral Chairs’ Seminars – 23 February

Shifting Motivations? Voters Infer Credible Committment from Policy Changes

Love Christensen (Postdoctoral researcher, Aarhus University), Pablo Fernández Vázquez (Associate professor, Carlos III University in Madrid)

In the course of electoral competition, parties may find themselves compelled to change their policy positions. Even if these changes are motivated by substantive policy concerns, changing policy may be written off as vote-seeking behavior by voters, adversely affecting the credibility of the party’s position. What policy changes can parties make without losing their credibility? We propose that voters use the direction of the policy shift as a signal of whether a party is motivated by and committed to policy and not merely by winning office. Shifting to an unpopular policy position is a costly signal of principled motives, while a shift to a popular position signals opportunistic motives. We test our theory using survey experiments with both hypothetical parties and the real case of Social Democrat accommodation on the immigration issue in Sweden. We find that policy shifts signal motivations and commitment in the expected ways but the effects on commitment are less pronounced for the real world case. The study speaks against the notion of costless spatial mobility and helps to explain the limited effect of accommodating the radical right and the stability of issue ownership.

Contact Semih Çakır if you would like to participate in the seminar.

This content has been updated on 10 March 2022 at 10 h 50 min.