Skip to main content

Explaining Party Positions on Decentralization

  • Simon Toubeau and Markus Wagner

Debates about decentralization raise cultural questions of identity and economic questions of redistribution and efficiency. Therefore the preferences of statewide parties regarding decentralization are related to their positions on the economic and cultural ideological dimensions. A statistical analysis using data from thirty-one countries confirms this: parties on the economic right are more supportive of decentralization than parties on the economic left, while culturally liberal parties favour decentralization more than culturally conservative parties. However, country context – specifically the degree of regional self-rule, the extent of regional economic disparity and the ideology of regionalist parties – determines whether and how decentralization is linked to the two dimensions. These findings have implications for our understanding of the politics of decentralization by showing how ideology, rooted in a specific country context, shapes the ‘mindset’ of agents responsible for determining the territorial distribution of power.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Explaining Party Positions on Decentralization
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Explaining Party Positions on Decentralization
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Explaining Party Positions on Decentralization
      Available formats
The online version of this article is published within an Open Access environment subject to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial- ShareAlike licence . The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use
Hide All

Centro de Estudios Politicos y Constitucionales (email:; Department of Methods in the Social Sciences, University of Vienna (email: Both authors contributed equally to this article. Simon Toubeau's research on this project was funded by the ESRC (PTA-026-27-2270) and by the I.S.R.I.B. (BB2B2010-2-23), Brussels-Capital Region. Markus Wagner's research on this project was financed by the Austrian Science Fund under the ‘Austrian National Election Study’ project (AUTNES, S10902-G11). We thank Luis de la Calle, Jan Erk, Martin Ejnar Hansen, Gary Marks, Thomas Meyer, Arjan Schakel, Joost van Spanje, conference participants at the ECPR General Conference 2011 and seminar participants at a CEVIPOL seminar at the Université Libre de Bruxelles for comments on earlier drafts of this article. We thank Michael Tatzber-Schebach for research assistance. All errors remain our own. Data replication sets are available at and online appendices are available at

Hide All
Alesina, Alberto Spolaore, Enrico. 1997. On the Number and Size of Nations. Quarterly Journal of Economics 112:10291056.
Behnke, Nathalie Benz, Arthur. 2009. The Politics of Constitutional Change between Reform and Evolution. Publius 39:213240.
Benoit, Kenneth Laver, Michael. 2006. Party Policy in Modern Democracies. London: Routledge.
Benz, Arthur Colino, César. 2011. Introduction: Constitutional Change in Federations – A Framework for Analysis. Regional and Federal Studies 20 (2):250275.
Benz, Arthur Broschek, Jörg. 2013. Federal Dynamics: Introduction. In Federal Dynamics: Continuity, Change and Varieties of Federalism, edited by Arthur Benz and Jörg Broshek, 123. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bolton, Patrick Roland, Gérard. 1997. The Breakup of Nations: A Political Economy Analysis. Quarterly Journal of Economics 62:10571090.
Brambor, Thomas, Clark, William R. Golder, Matt. 2006. Understanding Interaction Models: Improving Empirical Analyses. Political Analysis 14 (1):6382.
Budge, Ian, Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, Volkens, Andrea, Bara, Judith Tanenbaum, Eric. 2001. Mapping Policy Preferences: Estimate for Parties, Electors and Governments 1945–1988. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cederman, Lars-Erik, Wimmer, Andreas Min, Brian. 2010. Why do Ethnic Groups Rebel? New Data and Analysis. World Politics 62 (1):87119.
Cederman, Lars-Erik, Min, Brian, Wimmer, Andreas. 2009. Ethnic Power Relations dataset. Available from, accessed 2 January 2013.
Cederman, Lars-Erik Girardin, Luc. 2007. Beyond Fractionalization: Mapping Ethnicity onto Nationalist Insurgencies. American Political Science Review 101 (1):173185.
Dahl, Robert Tufte, Edward. 1974. Size and Democracy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
De Vries, Michel S. 2000. The Rise and Fall of Decentralization: A Comparative Analysis of Arguments and Practices in European Countries. European Journal of Political Research 38 (2):193224.
Deschouwer, Kris. 2003. Political Parties in Multi-Layered Systems. European Urban and Regional Studies 10 (3):213226.
Erk, Jan. 2005. Sub-State Nationalism and the Left-Right Divide: Critical Junctures in the Formation of Nationalist Labour Movements in Belgium. Nations and Nationalism 11 (4):551570.
Erk, Jan. 2007. Explaining Federalism. State, Society and Congruence in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany and Switzerland. Abingdon: Routledge.
Eurostat. 2012. Statistics Database. Available from, accessed 2 January 2013.
Gerber, Elisabeth R. Kollman, Ken. 2004. Introduction-Authority Migration: Defining an Emerging Research Agenda. Political Science and Politics 27 (4):397400.
Hechter, Michael. 2000. Containing Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Heston, Alan, Summers, Robert, Aten, Bettina. 2009. Penn World Table Version 6.3. Center for International Comparisons of Production, Income and Prices at the University of Pennsylvania, August 2009. Available from
Hix, Simon Lord, Christopher. 1997. Political Parties in the European Union. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Hooghe, Liesbet, Marks, Gary Wilson, Carole J.. 2002. Does Left/Right Structure Party Positions on European Integration? Comparative Political Studies 35 (8):965989.
Hooghe, Liesbet Marks, Gary. 2009. A Post-Functionalist Theory of European Integration: From Permissive Consensus to Constraining Dissensus. British Journal of Political Science 39 (1):123.
Hooghe, Liesbet, Bakker, Ryan, Brigevich, Anna, De Vries, Catherine, Edwards, Erica, Marks, Gary, Rovny, Jan, Steenbergen, Marco Vachudova, Milada. 2010. Reliability and Validity of the 2002 and 2006 Chapel Hill Expert Surveys on Party Positioning. European Journal of Political Research 4:684703.
Hopkin, Jonathan Van Houten, Pieter. 2009. Decentralisation and State-Wide Parties: An Introduction. Party Politics 15 (2):131135.
Horowitz, Donald L. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Keating, Michael. 1992a. Do the Workers Really Have No Country? Peripheral Nationalism and Socialism in the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain. In The Social Origins of Nationalist Movements, edited by John Coakley, 6180. London: Sage.
Keating, Michael. 1992b. Regional Autonomy in the Changing State Order: A Framework of Analysis. Regional Politics and Policy 2 (3):4561.
Kitschelt, Herbert. 1994. The Transformation of European Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, Volkens, Andrea, Bara, Judith, Budge, Ian. McDonald, Michael D.. 2006. Mapping Policy Preferences II: Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments in Eastern Europe, European Union and OECD, 1990–2003. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kriesi, Hanspeter, Grande, Edgar, Lachat, Romain, Dolezal, Martin Bornschier, Simon. 2008. West European Politics in the Age of Globalization: Six Countries Compared. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Libbrecht, Lieselotte, Maddens, Bart, Swenden, Wilfred Fabre, Elodie. 2009. Issue Salience in Regional Party Manifestos in Spain. European Journal of Political Research 48 (1):5879.
Linz, Juan, Stepan, Alfred Yadav, Yogendra. 2011. Crafting State-Nations. India and Other Multinational Democracies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Maddens, Bart Libbrecht, Lieselotte. 2008. How State-Wide Parties Cope with the Regionalist Issue: The Case of Spain; A Directional Approach. In Territorial Party Politics in Western Europe, edited by Wilfred Swenden and Bart Maddens, 204228. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Marks, Gary Wilson, Carole. 2000. The Past in the Present: A Cleavage Theory of Party Response to European Integration. British Journal of Political Science 30:443459.
Marks, Gary, Wilson, Carole Ray, Leonard. 2002. National Political Parties and European Integration. American Journal of Political Science 46 (3):585594.
Marks, Gary, Hooghe, Liesbet, Nelson, Moira Edwards, Erica. 2006. Party Competition and European Integration in the East and West: Different Structures, Same Causality. Comparative Political Studies 39:155175.
Marks, Gary Hooghe, Liesbet. 2000. Optimality and Authority: A Critique of Neoclassical Theory. Journal of Common Market Studies 38:795816.
Marks, Gary, Hooghe, Liesbet Schakel, Arjan. 2010. The Rise of Regional Authority: A Comparative Study of 42 Democracies. London: Routledge.
Marks, Gary Steenbergen, Marco. 2004. European Integration and Political Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Massetti, Emanuele. 2009. Explaining Regionalist Party Positioning in a Multi-Dimensional Ideological Space: A Framework for Analysis. Regional and Federal Studies 19 (4–5):501531.
Massetti, Emanuele Toubeau, Simon. 2013. The Party Politics of Territorial Reforms in Europe. West European Politics 36 (2):297316.
Mazzoleni, Martino. 2009. The Saliency of Regionalization in Party Systems: A Comparative Analysis of Regional Decentralization in Party Manifestos. Party Politics 15 (2):199218.
Meguid, Bonnie M. 2005. Competition Between Unequals: The Role of Mainstream Party Strategy in Niche Party Success. American Political Science Review 99 (3):347359.
Meguid, Bonnie M. 2008. Party Competition Between Unequals: Strategies and Electoral Fortunes in Western Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Montinola, Gabriella, Oian, Yingyi Weingast, Barry R.. 1995. Federalism Chinese Style: The Political Basis for Economic Success in China. World Politics 48 (1):5081.
Newhouse, John. 1997. Europe's Rising Regionalism. Foreign Affairs 1:6784.
Newman, Saul. 1997. Ideological Trends Among Ethnoregionalist Parties in Post-Industrial Democracies. Nationalism and Ethnic Politics 3 (1):2860.
Oates, Wallace E. 1972. Fiscal Federalism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Oates, Wallace E. 1999. An Essay on Fiscal Federalism. Journal of Economic Literature 37 (3):11201149.
O'Neill, Kathleen. 2003. Decentralization as an Electoral Strategy. Comparative Political Studies 36 (9):10681091.
Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. 2011. Regional Database. Available from, accessed 2 January 2013.
Rodden, Jonathan. 2004. Comparative Federalism and Decentralization: On Meaning and Measurement. Comparative Politics 36 (4):481500.
Rodrigues-Pose, Andrés Ezcurra, Roberto. 2010. Does Decentralization Matter for Regional Disparities? A Cross-Country Analysis. Journal of Economic Geography 10 (5):619644.
Schakel, Arjan. 2010. Explaining Regional and Local Government: An Empirical Test of the Decentralization Theorem. Governance 23 (2):331355.
Scott, Allen J. 1998. Regions and the World Economy: The Coming Shape of Global Production, Competition and Political Order. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Storper, Michael. 1997. The Regional World: Territorial Structure in a Global Economy. New York: Guilford Press.
Strøm, Kaare. 1990. A Behavioral Theory of Competitive Political Parties. American Journal of Political Science 34 (2):565598.
Strøm, Kaare Müller, Wolfgang C., eds. 1999. Policy, Office or Votes? How Political Parties in Western Europe Make Hard Decisions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Swenden, Wilfred Maddens, Bart. 2009. Territorial Party Politics in Western Europe. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Taggart, Paul. 1998. A Touchstone of Dissent: Euroscepticism in Contemporary Western European Party Systems. European Journal of Political Research 33:363388.
Toubeau, Simon. 2011. Regional Nationalist Parties and Constitutional Change in Parliamentary Democracies: A Framework for Analysis. Regional and Federal Studies 21 (4–5):427446.
United Nations Statistics Division. 2010. Demographic Yearbook 2008. New York: United Nations.
Van der Brug, Wouter Van Spanje, Joost. 2009. Immigration, Europe and the ‘New Cultural Dimension’. European Journal of Political Research 48:309334.
Van Houten, Pieter. 2003. Globalisation and Demands for Regional Autonomy in Europe. In Governance in a Global Economy: Political Economy in Transition, edited by Miles Kahler and David A. Lake, 87109. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Warwick, Paul. 2002. Towards a Common Dimensionality in West European Policy Space. Party Politics 8 (1):101122.
Weingast, Barry. 1995. The Economic Role of Political Institutions: Market-Preserving Federalism and Economic Development. Journal of Law Economic and Organisation 11:131.
Wildavsky, Aaron. 1985. Federalism Means Inequality. Society 22 (2):4249.
Wucherpfennig, Julian, Weidmann, Nils B., Girardin, Luc., Cederman, Lars-Erik Wimmer, Andreas. 2011. Politically Relevant Ethnic Groups Across Space and Time: Introducing the GeoEPR Dataset. Conflict Management and Peace Science 20 (5):115.
Recommend this journal

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

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Wagner Supplementary Material

 Unknown (48 KB)
48 KB
Supplementary materials

Wagner Supplementary Material

 PDF (401 KB)
401 KB


Altmetric attention score

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