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It Sounds Like They are Moving: Understanding and Modeling Emphasis-Based Policy Change

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 October 2017


Position change is an essential feature of political competition. Implicitly, policy change on an issue dimension is often equated with opinion change on specific issues within that dimension. However, in addition to opinion-based policy change, we highlight that parties and candidates can change their overall position by increasing their emphasis on certain opinions within that issue dimension (emphasis-based policy change). Using party manifesto data, we find that parties differ in their use of each type of policy change based on aspects of party organization, particularly the relative power of leaders and activists. Leader-dominated parties are more likely to engage in opinion-based policy change, also in reaction to systemic policy shifts. In contrast, activist-dominated parties tend to change their overall position in reaction to systemic shifts by emphasizing certain positions more. Our approach links salience-based to spatial models of party competition and has broader implications for how we study party competition.

Original Articles
© The European Political Science Association 2017 

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Thomas M. Meyer is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Government, University of Vienna, Rooseveltplatz 3/1, 1090 Vienna ( Markus Wagner is an Associate Professor at the Department of Government, University of Vienna, Rathausstraße 19/9, 1010 Vienna ( Previous versions of this manuscript have been presented at the 2014 Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) Conference, the 2014 Conference of the European Political Science Association (EPSA), the 2014 Conference on Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties (EPOP), and in seminar series of the SFB 884, University of Mannheim, the Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences (BGSS), Humboldt University, Berlin, and the departmental seminar at the University of Konstanz. This work is supported by the FWF (Austrian Science Fund) under grant numbers S10902-G11 and S10903-G11. The authors are particularly indebted to Will Lowe for pointing us to his modeling approach, which we adapt here. The authors would like to thank all participants, Tarik Abou-Chadi, Daniel Bischof, Laurenz Ennser-Jedenastik, Nathalie Giger, Zachary Greene, Gijs Schumacher and the anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and suggestions. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit


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