Inequality, Policy Polarization, and the Income Gap in Turnout

Inequality, Policy Polarization, and the Income Gap in Turnout
Matt Polacko

Previous research into the relationship between income inequality and voter turnout has produced mixed results, as scholarly attention has been fixated on the demands of citizens. Therefore, I build on the previous literature by introducing supply-side logic into the equation, by undertaking the first direct individual-level test of the impact that income inequality (moderated by party positions) has on both turnout and the income gap in turnout. The results of which were presented at the 2019 annual conference of the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) in Chicago, April 4-7, 2019.

The paper builds on my recent co-authored aggregate-level research, which found that inequality has a negative impact on turnout, especially in depolarized party systems (Polacko et al. 2019). However, as party system polarization increases, the negative impact of inequality is significantly mitigated. Continue reading “Inequality, Policy Polarization, and the Income Gap in Turnout”

CSES at MPSA 2019

The 2019 annual conference of the Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) will take place in Chicago,  April 4-7, 2019. If you’re planning to attend, you may be interested in the sessions listed below, which make use of CSES data.

If you are making a presentation which makes use of CSES data and it does not appear here, please let us know via email: cses@umich.edu.

The conference will be held at the Palmer House Hilton. When you arrive at MPSA, please verify the below room locations in the final conference program, as they are subject to change.

Friday, April 5, 2019


Panel: Election campaigns

9:45 to 11:15am, Sandburg 4

Presentation: Inequality, Policy Polarization, and the Income Gap in Turnout
Matthew Polacko, Royal Holloway, University of London

I investigate the contingent nature of income inequality on turnout, by examining the redistributive policy options that are presented to the electorate, via CSES data in 29 advanced democracies and 98 elections from 1996-2016.

Continue reading “CSES at MPSA 2019”

New CSES Country Spotlight: Hungary

After a 16 year hiatus, Hungary is back as part of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES)! Despite the active participation of the early Hungarian collaborators in the first two modules, Hungary was unable to participate in the third and the fourth modules. In 2018, Central European University and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Budapest, Hungary, stepped in to provide the means for a new national survey.

The early 21st century, in Hungary, but also in Europe and globally, has been marked by a somewhat unexpected rise in populist politics. In fact, Hungary has often been considered a front-runner in experimenting with populist and anti-immigrant policies. The building of a four meter high fence between Hungary, and Serbia and Croatia was accompanied by intensive anti-immigration campaigns. The authorities presented the issue of immigration as part of a large-scale conspiracy by international elites against ordinary Europeans. As part of the populist and increasingly authoritarian governmental course, opposition parties have been harassed and non-governmental organizations threatened. This situation provided the researchers with the excellent opportunity to benefit from the populism theme of CSES Module 5. Continue reading “New CSES Country Spotlight: Hungary”

Elections Activate Partisanship Across Countries

Elections Activate Partisanship Across Countries
Shane P. Singh
Judd R. Thornton

It has long been argued that elections make underlying partisan predispositions more prominent. However, existing observational research on this topic is limited by the lack of an exogenous measure of election salience. To overcome this, in our recent article in the American Political Science Review, we leverage the fact that the dates on which Comparative Studies in Electoral Systems (CSES) respondents are interviewed within each post-election survey are likely unrelated to partisanship and its correlates, and we use the number of days between the day of the election and the date on which a respondent was interviewed to capture election salience. Under the assumption of as if random interview assignment within election surveys, we are able to identify the causal effects of election salience on partisan attachments.

We account for the fact that survey firms operate under varying constraints and schedules across countries. For example, all interviews in one country may occur within a few weeks following the election, whereas in another country, the interviews might take several months to complete. Thus, in addition to estimating a random intercept for each CSES election survey in each country, we allow the effect of our measure of election salience to vary across surveys. Continue reading “Elections Activate Partisanship Across Countries”

New CSES Country Spotlight: Costa Rica

In the New CSES Country Spotlight series, collaborators from an election study including CSES for the first time discuss its electoral context and the significance of running CSES in the country.

New CSES Country Spotlight: Costa Rica
Ronald Alfaro-Redondo

Costa Rica will join the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) collaborative program of research in the near future. Costa Rica is a singular case. We are talking about the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America. Here, contests are free and fair, electoral rules and institutions are strong and truthful. The Electoral Supreme Court ranks in the top of their counterparts in the world. As a member of the local research team all I can say is that we are eager to be part of this comparative project.

Overall, almost two thirds of the established democracies worldwide have experienced a significant reduction in turnout since 1945. Under typical conditions, the alienation of a growing part of the electorate should ring some alarms in terms of calling the legitimacy of the elected authorities and their decisions into question. Moreover, episodes of lower turnout can be interpreted as showing that voters’ attachments to the political system are fragile and vulnerable. In addition, the circumstances related to lower turnout may cause an enduring effect on individuals’ political behavior. Continue reading “New CSES Country Spotlight: Costa Rica”

Linking Party Preferences and the Composition of Government: A New Standard for Evaluating the Performance of Electoral Democracy

The 2018 GESIS Klingemann Prize for the Best CSES Scholarship was awarded to André Blais of the Université de Montréal, Eric Guntermann of the Université de Montréal and University of California Berkeley, and Marc André Bodet of the Université Laval for their article "Linking Party Preferences and the Composition of Government: A New Standard for Evaluating the Performance of Electoral Democracy" that was published in Political Science Research and Methods in 2017.

The authors received their prize and presented their work during a reception at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Boston, United States. We are grateful that they have provided the following summary of their award-inning research.

Linking Party Preferences and the Composition of Government: A New Standard for Evaluating the Performance of Electoral Democracy

André Blais, Université de Montréal; Eric Guntermann, Université de Montréal/UC Berkeley; and Marc André Bodet, Université Laval

The goal

Elections are supposed to enhance the link between citizens’ preferences and the composition of government. Proportional representation (PR) has traditionally been assumed to strengthen that link since it allows a fair transformation of vote shares into seat shares in parliament. That assumption has been challenged in previous research (Blais and Bodet 2006; Golder and Stramski 2010) which shows that PR elections do not produce greater congruence between citizens’ and governments’ ideological orientations. We argue that elections are not only about ideology; they are first and foremost about which parties will govern. We therefore propose a new and original standard for evaluating the performance of electoral democracies: the degree of correspondence between citizens’ party preferences and the party composition of the cabinet. That standard is based on the simple (and reasonable) assumption that democracy works better when people are governed by parties that they like and not by parties they dislike.

We propose three specific criteria for assessing the correspondence between citizens’ party preferences and the party composition of the cabinet:

  • The proportion of citizens whose most preferred party is in government
  • Whether the party that is most liked overall is in government
  • How much more positively governing parties are rated than non-governing parties

Continue reading “Linking Party Preferences and the Composition of Government: A New Standard for Evaluating the Performance of Electoral Democracy”

CSES at APSA 2018

The 2018 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) will take place in Boston, August 31 – September 3, 2018. If you’re planning to attend, you may be interested in one or more of the sessions listed below, which make use of CSES data.

This year’s conference theme is: Democracy and Its Discontents.

If you are making a presentation which makes use of CSES data and it does not appear here, please let us know via email to: cses@umich.edu.

When you arrive at APSA, please verify the below room locations in the final conference program, as they are subject to change.

Thursday, August 30, 2018


Panel: Sources of Political Knowledge

10:00 to 11:30 am, Sheraton, Beacon E
Presentation: Decentralization and the Promotion of Locally-Rooted Knowledge
Nicholas J. Clark, Susquehanna University

This paper examines the relationship between decentralization and the public’s knowledge about political affairs, theorizing that more independent regional governments may serve to promote greater political knowledge. Such decentralization brings governance closer to the average citizen, potentially mobilizing a greater sense of political efficacy and providing more opportunities for individuals to observe and learn about the political process.

Continue reading “CSES at APSA 2018”

Economic Inequality Drives Electoral Winners and Losers’ Satisfaction with Democracy

Economic Inequality Drives Electoral Winners and
Losers’ Satisfaction with Democracy
Sung Min Han and Eric C.C. Chang

Few would dispute that citizens’ support for democracy is crucial for democratic stability and consolidation, especially when populism and extremism threaten to undermine democratic ideals and values in these days. Without citizens’ strong endorsement, democracies can face legitimacy crises and may even experience democratic reversal or breakdown.

What factors can influence citizens’ attitudes toward democracy, then? Anderson and his co-authors have significantly advanced our understanding of citizens’ attitudes when they identified electoral winner-loser status to be one of most important determinants for democratic satisfaction (Anderson & Guillory, 1997; Anderson et al., 2005). How to relieve the losers’ agony regarding democracy has consequently become a major concern. According to Anderson and his co-authors, proper design of electoral systems is the key to earning the consent of electoral losers. Specifically, they suggest that proportional representation systems comfort electoral losers because they offer future coalition governments to the losing parties, allowing them to influence policy outcomes. However, Anderson et. al’ s findings have been under heavy scrutiny lately, as several recent studies have failed to find corroborating evidence for the mediating effect of electoral systems (Blais & Gélineau, 2007; Curini et al., 2012; Howell & Justwan, 2013; Singh, 2014).

In our recent work published in Electoral Studies, Economic Inequality, Winner-Loser Gap, and Satisfaction with Democracy, we argue that much of the debate over the mediating effects of electoral systems stems from overlooking the role of income inequality. We suggest that a state’s level of income inequality is the real driver behind electoral winners and losers’ satisfaction with democracy. Specifically, the socio-economically disadvantaged classes are more likely to intensify their demand for redistribution when income inequality is high. This heightened redistributive pressure induces the wealthy to be more aware of potential wealth transfer after losing an election. Under these circumstances, when either economic group (i.e., the poor or the rich) loses the election, that group’s dissatisfaction with democratic practices will be even more pronounced. The electoral winners, on the other hand, are more content with democratic practices due to their expectation of future distributive outcomes. When income parity is low, however, “the have-nots” may not express much dissatisfaction with democracy even if their parties lose, while “the haves” may be less concerned about future redistribution from electoral loss. In short, under economic parity, the winner-loser gap in satisfaction with democracy should be small. Taken together, the gap in satisfaction with democracy between electoral winners and losers widens as income inequality increases. Continue reading “Economic Inequality Drives Electoral Winners and Losers’ Satisfaction with Democracy”

Do Bad Economic Conditions Explain the Success of Radical Left Parties in Europe?

Do Bad Economic Conditions Explain the Success of
Radical Left Parties in Europe?
Raul Gómez and Luis Ramiro

While most of the literature on economic voting focuses on mainstream parties, and particularly on the incumbent party, little is known about how support for non-mainstream parties is affected by bad economic conditions. The literature on radical-right and Green parties is inconclusive, as unemployment has been found to have positive, negative or no significant effects depending on the study (Mudde 2007: 205-206; Müller-Rommel 1998). It has been often argued that these parties do not fare particularly well in contexts in which the economy becomes particularly salient because they tend to focus on values rather than economic issues (Ivarsflaten 2005).  In contrast, previous aggregate-level studies on the radical left had found a positive correlation between unemployment rates and radical-left parties’ (RLP) vote share in European countries (March and Rommerskirchen 2015). This is consistent with anecdotal evidence from the Great Recession, when RLPs fared remarkably well in countries with particularly high unemployment rates like Greece and Spain.

In our recent study published in Party PoliticsBeyond the 2008 Great Recession. Economic Factors and Electoral Support for the Radical Left in Europe, we argue that economic conditions have an unconditional impact on voters’ probability to support RLPs in Europe. This is because, unlike other non-mainstream parties, the radical left tends to focus very strongly on economic issues such as unemployment and redistribution, and this is the case even for those RLPs that have adopted a new left agenda based on socio-cultural cosmopolitan/libertarian values (Gomez et al. 2016). We therefore theorize that contexts of high unemployment will be particularly suitable for RLPs to attract new voters. We also theorize that the effect might not be the same for all voters. First, it is possible that bad economic conditions only encourage those with a leftist ideology to vote for RLPs. Conversely, as voters with weak party attachments have been shown to be more strongly influenced by economic performance (Kayser and Wlezien 2011), it is possible that economic conditions may contribute to increasing support for RLPs among less ideological voters. Lastly, we hypothesize that negative economic conditions might not help RLPs if there is a right-wing incumbent, because strategic voting could mean voters concentrate around larger mainstream left-wing parties to try and eject the government. Continue reading “Do Bad Economic Conditions Explain the Success of Radical Left Parties in Europe?”

The Bipolar Voter: On the Effects of Actual and Perceived Party Polarization on Voter Turnout in Multiparty Democracies

The Bipolar Voter: On the Effects of Actual and Perceived Party Polarization on Voter Turnout in Multiparty Democracies
Mert Moral

Although it has long been argued that both diversity and distinctiveness of party policy offerings influence electoral behavior, few studies to date have investigated the effect of political polarization on voter turnout. While comparative research on the topic is limited to a handful of studies employing aggregate-level data, previous individual-level studies focus only on the two-party system in the US.

On the one hand, some individual-level studies expect high party polarization to provide citizens with clearer cues about party positions and higher salience of policy stakes. Others, on the other hand, argue that polarization disengages citizens who are intolerant of ideological conflict. Furthermore, their findings are contingent on a number of party system- and individual-level factors that are left unexplored due to their focus on a single party system with high and rapidly increasing party, elite, and electoral polarization in recent decades. Continue reading “The Bipolar Voter: On the Effects of Actual and Perceived Party Polarization on Voter Turnout in Multiparty Democracies”