Skip to main content Accessibility help

When Moderate Voters Prefer Extreme Parties: Policy Balancingin Parliamentary Elections

  • ORIT KEDAR (a1)

This work develops and tests a theory of voter choice in parliamentary elections. I demonstrate that voters are concerned with policy outcomes and hence incorporate the way institutions convert votes to policy into their choices. Since policy is often the result of institutionalized multiparty bargaining and thus votes are watered down by power-sharing, voters often compensate for this watering-down by supporting parties whose positions differ from (and are often more extreme than) their own. I use this insight to reinterpret an ongoing debate between proximity and directional theories of voting, showing that voters prefer parties whose positions differ from their own views insofar as these parties pull policy in a desired direction. Utilizing data from four parliamentary democracies that vary in their institutional design, I test my theory and show how institutional context affects voter behavior.

Corresponding author
Orit Kedar is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan, ISR, P.O. Box 1248, Ann Arbor, MI 48106 (
Hide All
Aardal Brent, and Henry Valen. 1989. “Norwegian Election Study 1989[computer file]. Norwegian Gallup Institute [producer]. Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD) [distributor].
Adams James, and Samuel Merrill,III. 1999. “Party Policy Equilibrium for Alternative Spatial Voting Models: An Application to the Norwegian Storting.” European Journal of Political Research 36 (October): 23555.
Alesina Alberto, and Howard Rosenthal. 1995. Partisan Politics, Divided Government, and the Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Alvarez Michael R., Jonathan Nagler, and Shaun Bowler. 2000. “Issues, Economics, and the Dynamics of Multiparty Elections: The 1987 British General Election.” American Political Science Review 94 (March): 13149.
Austen-Smith David, and Jeffrey Banks. 1988. “Elections, Coalitions, and Legislative Outcomes.” American Political Science Review, 82 (2): 40522.
Avakumovic Ivan. 1978. Socialism in Canada: A Study of the CCF-NDP in Federal and Provincial Politics. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.
Bailey Michael. 2001. “An Institutional Reconcilliatoin of Proximity and Directional Voting.” Georgetown University. Mimeo.
Barnes Samuel H. 1997. “Electoral Behavior and Comparative Politics.” In Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture, and Structure, ed. Mark I. Lichbach and Alan S. Zuckerman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 11541.
Baron David P., and Daniel Diermeier. 2001. “Elections, Governments, and Parliaments in Proportional Representation Systems.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 116 (3): 93367.
Blais André, et al. 2001. “The Formation of Party Preferences: Testing the Proximity and Directional Models.” European Journal of Political Research 40 (August): 8191.
Cho Sungdai, and James W. Endersby. 2003. “Issues, the Spatial Theory of Voting, and British General Elections: A Comparison of Proximity and Directional Models.” Public Choice 114 (March): 27593.
Clarke Harold D., Allan Kornberg, and Peter Wearing. 2000. A Polity on the Edge. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.
Döring Herbert. 1995. “Time as a Scarce Resource: Government Control of the Agenda.” In Herbert Döring, ed. Parliaments and Majority Rule in Western Europe. New York: St. Martin.
Dorussen Han, and Michaell Taylor, 2001. “The Political Context of Issue-Priority Voting: Coalitions and Economic Voting in the Netherlands, 1970–1999.” Electoral Studies 20: 399426.
Downs Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper & Row.
Enelow James M., and Melvin J. Hinich. 1984. The Spatial Theory of Voting: An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gaines Brian J., and Christophe Crombez. 2004. “Another Look at Connection across German Elections.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 16 (July): 289320.
Grofman Bernard. 1985. “The Neglected Role of the Status Quo in Models of Issue Voting.” Journal of Politics 45 (February): 23037.
Heath A., et al. 1987. “British General Election Study, 1987[computer file]. 2nd ed. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor]; SN 3887.
Herron Michael C. 2000. “Postestimation University in Limited Dependent Variable Models.” Political Analysis 8 (Winter): 8398.
Hotelling H. 1929. “Stability and Competition.” Economic Journal 39 (March): 4159.
Iversen Torben. 1994a. “Political Leadership and Representation in West European Democracies: A Test of Three Models of Voting.” American Journal of Political Science 38 (February): 4574.
Iversen Torben, 1994b. “The Logics of Electoral Politics: Spatial, Directional, and Mobilizational Effects.” Comparative Political Studies 27 (July): 15589.
Johnston Richard, et al. 1992. Letting the People Decide. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Kedar Orit. 2003. “Policy Balancing in Comparative Context: Institutional Mediation of Voter Behavior.” Ph.D. Dissertation. Harvard University.
Kedar Orit. 2004. “The Micro Foundations of (Vertically) Divided Government: Evidence from Germany.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL.
King Gary, Michael Tomz, and Jason Wittenberg. 2000. “Making the Most of Statistical Analyses: Improving Interpretation and Presentation.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (April): 34155.
Kitschelt Hebert. 1995. The Radical Right in Western Europe. Ann Arbor: Michigan Universty Press.
Lewis Jeffrey B., and Gary King. 2000. “No Evidence on Directional vs. Proximity Voting.” Political Analysis 8 (1): 2133.
Lijphart Arend. 1984. Democracies; Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Lijphart Arend 1999. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Lohman Suzanne, David W. Brady, and Doug Rivers. 1997. “Party Identification, Retrospective Voting, and Moderating Elections in a Federal System: West Germany: 1961–1989.” Comparative Political Sudies 30 (May): 42049.
Macdonald Stuart Elaine, Ola Listhaug, and George Rabinowitz. 1991. “Issues and Party Support in Multiparty Systems.” American Political Science Review 85 (December): 110731.
Macdonald Stuart Elaine, George Rabinowitz, and Ola Listhaug. 1995. “Political Sophistication and Models of Issue Voting.” British Journal of Political Science 25 (October): 45383.
Macdonald Stuart Elaine, George Rabinowitz, and Ola Listhaug. 2001. “Sophistry versus Science: On Further Efforts to Rehabilitate the Proximity Model.” Journal of Politics 63 (May): 482500.
Mebane Walter R.,Jr. 2000. “Coordination, Moderation, and Institutional Balancing in American Presidential and House Elections.” American Political Science Review 94 (March): 3758.
Meguid Bonnie M. 2002. “Competition between Unequals: The Role of Mainstream Party Strategy in Rising Party Success.” Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University.
Merrill Samuel,III Bernard Grofman, and James Adams. 2001. “Assimilation and Contrast Effects in Voter Projections of Party Locations: Evidence from Norway, France, and the USA.” European Journal of Political Research 40 (October): 199221.
The National Election Studies and the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. 1995–98. Electronic resources from the NES World Wide Web site ( Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Center for Political Studies [producer and distributor].
Pierce Roy, 1997. “Directional versus Proximity Models: Verisimilitude as the Criterion.” Journal of Theoretic Politics 9 (January): 6174.
Powell G. Bingham, Jr. 2000. Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Quinn Kevin M., Andrew D. Martin, and Andrew B. Whitford. 1999. “Voter Choice in Multi-Party Democracies: A Test of Competing Theories and Models.” American Journal of Political Science 43 (October): 123147.
Strøm Kaare. 1990. Minority Government and Majority Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Strøm Kaare, and Jorn Y. Leipart. 1993. “Policy, Institutions, and Coalition Avoidance: Norwegian Governments, 1945–1990.” American Political Science Review 87 (December): 87087.
Taylor Michael, and Han Dorussen. 2000. “Group Economic Voting: A Comparison of Three Countries.” Presented at the Special Conference on Institutions and Economic Voting, Trondheim, Norway.
Westholm Anders. 1997. “Distance Versus direction: The Illusory Defeat of the Proximity Theory of Electoral Choice.” American Political Science Review 91 (December): 86585.
Whitten Guy D., and Harvey D. Palmer. 1996. “Heightening Comparativists' Concern for Model Choice: Voting Behavior in Great Britain and the Netherlands.” American Journal of Political Science 40 (March): 23160.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed