When do Governments neglect their Programmatic Positions? The Role of Opposition Ideology for Social Policy

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
CLM.7.03 (Clement House)
Alexander Horn, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
Carsten Jensen, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
The socio-economic world-views and social policy positions of parties as expressed in party manifestos are a key heuristic for voters regarding the (future) social policies of governments. At the same time, governments often deviate considerably from the stances taken in their election manifestos, resulting either in unexpected welfare state expansion or retrenchment, even when variations in the economic context are taken into consideration. We aim to explain these deviations and argue that party competition in general and the understudied role of opposition ideology in particular are of central importance. We show that cabinets, in order to secure their flanks, systematically cater social policies towards the position of the biggest competitor in the opposition. This effect of programmatic deviation via ideological contagion is much more prevalent for left governments than it is for right governments. Our analysis combines data on the ideological positions and the social policy records of 220 OECD governments with new data on the ideological composition of the opposition. We proceed in three consecutive steps. First, we show that the socio-economic worldviews and social policy positions as expressed in party manifestos are reliable postdictors of social policy behavior in a baseline model that takes government ideology and the economic context into consideration. In a second step, we show that the gap between the policy changes predicted in step one and the actual policy changes is systematically skewed towards the positions of the opposition, even when controlling for various political and institutional constraints. In a third step, we investigate via interaction analyses when and why the parties in government shift social policies from the positions and convictions expressed in their party manifestos towards the ideology of the strongest opposition party (looking primarily at the role of partisanship, the salience of socio-economic divides, the institutional configuration and electoral vulnerability).