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Eric Guntermann



Party influence where predispositions are strong and party identification is weak: Assessing citizens’ reactions to party cues on regional nationalism in Spain

I show that party positions on issues that are rooted in identity influence people’s opinions even if they lack a party identification. When exposed to competing party positions, citizens adjust their issue opinions to make them more consistent with their preferred party’s position even if they do not identify with that party. In two experiments conducted in Spain, I consider how citizens react to party cues on regional nationalism. Study 1, a lab experiment in Catalonia, shows that, when exposed to party cues on nationalism, citizens change their issue opinions in the expected direction but only weakly change their party evaluations. Study 2, a survey experiment in Galicia, shows that party cue effects only occur when participants are exposed to competing cues from their preferred party and from a disliked party. Parties thus influence opinions when they adopt contrasting positions even on issues that are rooted in identity.

Linking Party Preferences and the Composition of Government: A New Standard for Evaluating the Performance of Electoral Democracy

We propose a new standard for evaluating the performance of electoral democracies: the correspondence between citizens’ party preferences and the party composition of governments that are formed after elections. We develop three criteria for assessing such correspondence: the proportion of citizens whose most preferred party is in government, whether the party that is most liked overall is in government, and how much more positively governing parties are rated than non-governing parties. We pay particular attention to the last criterion, which takes into account how each citizen feels about each of the parties as well as the intensity of their preferences. We find that proportional representation systems perform better on the first criterion. Majoritarian systems do better on the other two.

Papers under Review

A Study of Voting Behaviour in an Exceptional Context: The 2017 Catalan Election Study (with André Blais, Ignacio Lago, and Marc Guinjoan) 

The Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW) project conducted a unique survey prior to the election held on December 21st, 2017 in exceptional circumstances in Catalonia. In spite of a series of major events in fall 2017, overall election results were similar to those of the previous regional election, held in 2015. In addition to standard demographic, attitudinal, and vote choice questions, the survey included novel questions on identity, support for independence, perceptions of corruption, and acceptance of the result by losers. The data will be particularly useful to scholars seeking to assess the impact of long- and short-term factors on vote choice in such unusual circumstances, the crystallisation of public opinion, and voters’ willingness to accept that their side lost the election.

Accounting for Vote Choice in An Historic Election: The 2017 Regional Election in Catalonia (with André Blais)

We seek to explain vote choice in the election held in Catalonia on 21 December 2017. We conducted an online survey of a representative sample of Catalan voters in the week leading up to the vote. We consider the impact of social demographic variables, underlying attitudinal variables as well as reactions to recent events. We find that vote choice is most strongly explained by Catalans’ age, first language, and level of education. It is also strongly related to ideology, independence support, support for a referendum, economic and corruption perceptions as well as to reactions to events.

The missing ingredient in coalition preferences: the importance of excluded parties (with André Blais)

Research on coalition formation has long focused on political elites’ office- and policy-seeking motivations. In recent years, several studies have shown that citizens also have coalition preferences and that these influence their vote choice. However, existing studies neglect an important determinant of citizens’ attitudes towards coalitions. Using pre-electoral surveys from recent elections in Austria, Germany and Spain, we show that citizens’ attitudes towards parties that are excluded from coalitions strongly influence their evaluations of those coalitions. People evaluate post-electoral agreements more positively when they exclude parties they dislike and more negatively when they leave out parties they like. We also show that the effect of excluded party evaluations is not entirely accounted for by ideological proximity.

What Are Grand Coalitions Good for? Including Some Parties and Excluding Others (with André Blais)

Government coalitions, particularly grand coalitions, are generally seen as essential components of a consensual or proportional type of democracy, which aims to include as many of citizens’ representatives as possible in government. This pattern of democracy contrasts with the majoritarian view, according to which the party that wins the most seats forms a government alone, while other parties are excluded from power. In this paper, we argue that, while a norm of cooperation among large parties does exist in some circumstances, ordinary citizens think about excluding parties from as well as including parties in government when they develop their preferences for coalition agreements. We show that supporters of large parties that could potentially lead government prefer coalitions that include their preferred coalition partner and exclude a less liked party.

Why electoral reform might improve representation and why it might make it worse

I address a paradox of electoral reform. Proportionality is supposed to improve representation. However, the consensus is that proportional systems produce neither better nor worse ideological congruence, the current dominant standard for assessing representation in the comparative literature. I confirm that electoral reform would likely make little change to congruence in Canada. I then show that it would make a difference to the representation of party preferences. It would improve representation according to one aspect of these and worsen it according to the other. I then show that citizens care about both party preference criteria, suggesting a trade-off.

Select Papers under Preparation

Policy Voting and the Representation of Policy Preferences (with Mikael Persson)

Recent studies have suggested that policy preferences have little if any impact on citizens’ vote choices. Thus, governments should feel little or no incentive to enact the policies citizens want and not enact those they do not want. However, these studies contrast with other findings suggesting that governments generally do what citizens actually want. Using an original dataset on policy implementation and Swedish National Election Studies data going back to 1956, we consider the extent to which citizens adjust their vote choice during election campaigns to reflect their policy preferences. We then consider whether their preferences are more likely to be implemented the more they vote on the basis of policy. We find that issue voting increases the likelihood that governments implement citizens’ policy preferences.

Income Distributions and the Relative Representation of Rich and Poor Citizens (with Mikael Persson)

In this paper, we consider the impact of the income distributions in different countries on the representation of preferences for more or less government spending in different policy domains. We show that the more right-skewed the income distribution, meaning the more incomes in the upper half of the distribution are spread out compared to those in the lower half, the closer the preferences of middle-income citizens are to those of the poor relative to those of the rich. Since policies are more likely to be implemented by governments the more citizens support them, the poor are advantaged relative to the rich when the income distribution is more right-skewed. We use survey data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), income distribution data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and government spending data from the OECD and the World Bank.


Parties and Nationalism: Assessing the Influence of Parties on Support for Regional Nationalism in Spain

I consider whether parties influence support for regional nationalism in four regions of Spain: the Basque Country, Catalonia, the Valencian Community, and Galicia. I argue that the fundamental way parties influence citizens' opinions is by offering party cues. Citizens adapt their opinions to party cues even in the absence of persuasive arguments or other information. The current literature suggests that such influence takes place via partisan motivated reasoning.

I then analyze both observational and experimental data to determine whether citizens of the four Spanish regions where nationalism is present adapt their nationalist preferences to the positions expressed by parties. In chapter 4, I focus on the measurement of party positions using automated text analysis of legislative speeches. In chapter 5, I consider whether people who like a party move in the same direction as that party when it changes its nationalist positions and whether those who feel distant from a party move in the opposite direction when it shifts its positions. We will see that the results suggest that nationalist parties influence their partisans in the Basque Country and Catalonia. Statewide parties seem to play a stronger role in Galicia and the Valencian Community.

In chapter 6, using experimental data, I show that, people who did not already know the position of their most liked party, when exposed to that position as well as to the position of a party they dislike, adapt their opinions to make them more consistent with the position of their most liked party. The positions of parties citizens like are not enough to induce them to change their opinions.

I conclude that parties influence the opinions of citizens on nationalism. However, this influence depends on the presence of the positions of parties citizens do not like. Parties cannot simply influence their own partisans by adopting the positions they would like them to adopt.

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