Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 November 2013
This article analyses the impact of government prospects and government participation on party policy preferences. Comparing the content of manifestos of governing and opposition parties in Belgium during three decades, I observed that the relationship of a party to the act of governing influences the content of its manifesto. In that sense, party preferences are not only driven by ideology and vote-seeking arguments but are part of a larger party strategy: parties adapt their electoral platform when they are in government or are willing to enter into it. The conclusion of the article also discusses the literature on government formation. Such literature hypothesizes that parties that are ideologically similar would form a coalition. However, results for the Belgian case demonstrate that parties strategically adapt their electoral platform when wanting to enter the government. Coalitions are made up of parties with similar policy preferences, not because they ‘are’ alike but because parties strategically ‘make’ them alike.