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Who Responds? Voters, Parties and Issue Attention


Do parties listen to their voters? This article addresses this important question by moving beyond position congruence to explore whether parties respond to voters’ issue priorities. It argues that political parties respond to voters in their election manifestos, but that their responsiveness varies across different party types: namely, that large parties are more responsive to voters’ policy priorities, while government parties listen less to voters’ issue demands. The study also posits that niche parties are not generally more responsive to voter demands, but that they are more responsive to the concerns of their supporters in their owned issue areas. To test these theoretical expectations, the study combines data from the Comparative Manifestos Project with data on voters’ policy priorities from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems and various national election studies across eighteen European democracies in sixty-three elections from 1972–2011. Our findings have important implications for understanding political representation and democratic linkage.

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University of Bamberg (email:; University of North Texas (email: The order of the authors’ names reflects the principle of rotation. Both authors have contributed equally to all work. We thank Shaun Bevan, Zachary Greene, Rob Johns, Thomas Meyer, Jan Rovny and the three anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and suggestions. All errors remain our own. Online appendices and data replication sets are available at 10.1017/S0007123414000313.

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British Journal of Political Science
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