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See detailMeasuring agreement: How to arrive at reliable measures of opinion congruence between voters and parties.
Lesschaeve, Christophe; Padmos, Lars

in Representation (in press)

The extent to which voters and parties agree on policies is an important way through which political scientists have empirically studied political representation. This opinion congruence is most often measured by comparing preferences on a number of policy statements. While the selection of policy statements has not escaped scholarly attention, its impact on the reliability of congruence scores, i.e. the degree to which similar levels of opinion congruence are found when different samples of policy statements are used, has been less investigated. This article looks at which factors of statements samples and voters affect the reliability of congruence measures. It does so by simulating over 5 million opinion congruence scores on the basis of a dataset containing 134 voter and party policy preferences. It finds that both the number of statements and their topic diversity positively affect the reliability of congruence estimates. In addition, the congruence estimates of politically less sophisticated voters are more reliable but only when many left-right policy statements are included in the statement selection. Finally, explorative analyses suggest that increasing topic diversity also increases the validity of congruence measures.

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See detailBias in the eye of beholder? 25 years of election monitoring in Europe
Mochtak, Michal; Drnovsky, Adam; Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Democratization (2022), Online

Building on the original corpus of OSCE monitoring reports, the article analyses quarter of century of election monitoring in Europe and assesses the congruence of OSCE written assessments with expert views. We show that, overall, the OSCE monitoring reports are highly correlated and congruent with expert assessments. More importantly, the level of congruence between the two increases with time. However, we also identify various forms of biases rooted in strategic interests and institutional preconditions. Mainly, we show that OSCE has a strong and positive bias towards Russia and its allies when it comes to election assessments indicating defensive and lenient stances. We theorize this mechanism as a pushback effect and show that although Russia’s effort to cripple the activities of OSCE in the past two decades was not successful, OSCE was effectively forced into a defensive position producing less critical assessments than reality warrants.

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See detailCoronavirus Pandemic Response and Voter Choice: Evidence from Serbia and Croatia
Glaurdic, Josip; Lesschaeve, Christophe; Mochtak, Michal

in Communist and Post-Communist Studies (2021), 54(4), 197214

Does the public perception of governments’ coronavirus pandemic responses actually make a difference to their electoral fortunes? In this research note, we answer that question by presenting the preliminary results of a survey of more than 3,000 voters in Croatia and Serbia conducted on a dedicated mobile app and web platform directly preceding parliamentary elections that took place in these two countries during the summer of 2020. This survey was part of our larger project tracking political competition, public discourse, and conspiracy theories in Southeast Europe during the coronavirus pandemic. The preliminary findings presented in this research note demonstrate Croatian and Serbian voters were rationally retrospective and rewarded parties in power based on evaluations of their crisis management performance. We also find evidence of voters who have personally witnessed the health consequences of the coronavirus being more likely to support the parties in power. We believe this is evidence of the coronavirus pandemic increasing affected citizens’ expectations of and trust in national governments where those governments respond strongly to the pandemic’s first wave, as was the case in both Croatia and Serbia.

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See detailEthnic Bias after Ethnic Conflict: Preferential Voting and the Serb Minority in Croatian Elections
Glaurdic, Josip; Mochtak, Michal; Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Ethnopolitics (2021)

In spite of growing interest in democratization and electoral competition after ethnic conflict, we know little about the impact of ethnic violence on voter choice in post-conflict societies. This article uses an original dataset of local-level electoral results, communities’ exposure to war violence, and candidates’ ethnicity derived from names in contemporary Croatia to uncover the relationship between local post-conflict ethnic distribution, ethnic violence, and the electorate’s ethnic bias. Our analysis points to the presence of ethnic bias that is determined by local interethnic balance and exposure to war violence – particularly for communities populated by the Serb minority.

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See detailContesting war memories: Parties and voters in contemporary Southeast Europe
Glaurdic, Josip; Lesschaeve, Christophe; Mochtak, Michal

in Party Politics (2021)

Over the past four decades, there has been a proliferation of interest in the causes, consequences, and dynamics of contestation over collective memories across a variety of fields. Unfortunately, collective memories—particularly those of traumatic experiences of violence such as wars and revolutions—have been largely absent from party politics research. Using data collected in an expert survey on the policy positions and ideological orientations of all relevant political parties, as well as an extensive survey of more than ten thousand voters in the six post-conflict countries of Southeast Europe, we demonstrate that collective memories of war are not only subjects of historiographical contestation but are also significant sources of ideological and policy differentiation among political parties, as well as one of the strongest determinants of voter choice. Our analysis shows that collective memories are politically contested and that party politics research would benefit from taking them seriously.

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See detailBringing representatives back in. How political parties moderate patterns of inequality in opinion representation
Lesschaeve, Christophe

in European Political Science (2021)

Democratic theory argues that individuals should have their policy preferences equally represented in politics. Research on opinion congruence has often found, however, that political parties’ views are more likely to align with those of higher-income and higher educated citizens. We argue that this conclusion does not account for heterogeneity among parties. Based on an integrated dataset containing the positions of over 1,700 Belgian citizens and 11 Belgian parties on over 120 policy statements, we examine how opinion congruence inequality between privileged and underprivileged people varies between parties. We find that left-wing parties align more with underprivileged citizens than they do with privileged citizens on economic issues, while the opposite holds for right-wing parties. On cultural issues, however, both left- and right-wing parties better represent the preferences of privileged people. The exception is the radical right party Vlaams Belang, which on the cultural dimensions better represents the views of underprivileged voters.

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See detailCondoning postwar corruption: how legacies of war prevent democratic accountability in contemporary Southeast Europe
Lesschaeve, Christophe; Glaurdic, Josip

in East European Politics (2021)

Do voters in postwar societies punish corrupt politicians? Or are their electoral preferences distorted by their own or the candidates’ war pasts? We answer these questions by analysing the results of an experiment embedded in a survey of over seven thousand respondents from the countries of Southeast Europe that experienced armed conflict since the 1990s. Our findings show that voters in this region punish corruption harshly, yet are more likely to ignore it for politicians with a military service record. This tendency is, however, conditioned by voters’ partisanship and sense of war grievance.

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See detailHealth Versus Wealth During the Covid-19 Pandemic: Saving Lives or Saving the Economy?
Lesschaeve, Christophe; Glaurdic, Josip; Mochtak, Michal

in Public Opinion Quarterly (2021)

Efforts to combat the COVID-19 crisis were characterized by a difficult trade-off: the stringency of the lockdowns decreased the spread of the virus, but amplified the damage to the economy. In this study, we analyze public attitudes toward this trade-off on the basis of a survey and survey-embedded experiment of more than seven thousand respondents from Southeast Europe, collected in April and May 2020. The results show that public opinion generally favored saving lives even at a steep economic cost. However, the willingness to trade lives for the economy was greater when the heterogeneous health and economic consequences of lockdown policies for the young and the elderly were emphasized. Free market views also make people more acceptant of higher casualties, as do fears that the instituted measures will lead to a permanent expansion of government control over society.

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See detailVoting and winning: perceptions of electoral integrity in consolidating democracies
Mochtak, Michal; Lesschaeve, Christophe; Glaurdic, Josip

in Democratization (2021), 28(8), 1423-1441

How do voters in consolidating democracies see electoral integrity? How does election affect the change in perception of electoral integrity among these voters? What role does winning play in seeing an election as free and fair? Building on the theory of the winner-loser gap, we answer these questions using original two-wave panel surveys we conducted before and after three parliamentary elections in Southeast Europe in 2018 and 2020. The article focuses on changes of perception of electoral integrity as a function of satisfaction with the electoral results in contexts where the quality of elections has always been at the centre of political conflict. We specifically explore the socialization effect of elections in environments with notoriously low trust in political institutions and high electoral stakes. The article goes beyond the “sore loser” hypothesis and examines voters’ both political preferences and personal characteristics potentially responsible for the change in perception of electoral integrity over the course of electoral cycle.

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See detailTalking War: Representation, Veterans and Ideology in Post-War Parliamentary Debates
Mochtak, Michal; Glaurdic, Josip; Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Government and Opposition (2020), Online

How do politicians in post-war societies talk about the past war? How do they discursively represent vulnerable social groups created by the conflict? Does the nature of this representation depend on the politicians’ ideology or their record of combat service? We answer these questions by pairing natural language processing tools and a large corpus of parliamentary debates with an extensive data set of biographical information including detailed records of war service for all members of parliament during two recent terms in Croatia. We demonstrate not only that veteran politicians talk about war differently from their non-veteran counterparts, but also that the sentiment of war-related political discourse is highly dependent on the speaker’s exposure to combat and ideological orientation. These results improve our understanding of the representational role played by combat veterans, as well as of the link between descriptive and substantive representation of vulnerable groups in post-war societies.

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See detailConsolidated democracy advantage: political instability and sovereign spreads in the EU
Glaurdic, Josip; Lesschaeve, Christophe; Vizek, Maruška

in Comparative European Politics (2020), 18(3), 437-459

We expose the way the market evaluates internal political risk and instability in democratic polities by analysing the determinants of sovereign spreads of EU member states over the course of the past two decades. Our analysis builds on the “democratic advantage” argument which suggests democracies enjoy preferential treatment on the international market of sovereign debt because of their better ability to make credible commitments. We suggest that, when it comes to the market’s evaluation of internal political instability and risk in democratic polities, there actually exists a “consolidated democracy advantage”. In times of political instability, older and more consolidated democracies pay less of a premium on their debt than their younger and less consolidated counterparts. In other words, the market indeed views the commitment of consolidated democracies with long track records of democratic competition and survival as something qualitatively diferent than the commitment of new democracies with short track records.

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See detailModelling the Legacies of War Violence: Voters, Parties, Communities
Glaurdic, Josip; Lesschaeve, Christophe; Mochtak, Michal

in Anali Hrvatskog politološkog društva: časopis za politologiju (2019), 15(1), 77-101

Wars are extreme events with profound social consequences. Political science, however, has a limited grasp of their impact on the nature and content of political competition which follows in their wake. That is partly the case due to a lack of conceptual clarity when it comes to capturing the effects of war with reliable data. This article systematises and evaluates the attempts at modelling the consequences of war in political science research which relies on quantitative methods. Our discussion is organised around three levels of analysis: individual level of voters, institutional level of political parties, and the aggregate level of communities. We devote particular attention to modelling the legacies of the most recent wars in Southeast Europe, and we offer our view of which efforts have the best potential to help set the foundations of a promising research programme.

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See detailVoting after violence: How combat experiences and postwar trauma affect veteran and voter party choices in Croatia’s 2003 postwar elections.
Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Armed Forces and Society (2019)

This article investigates the role of war experiences on voters and veterans’ party choices in postwar elections. The literature has looked at the relation between military experience and electoral behavior, and at the political consequences of war-related psychological distress, yet has never integrated the two. This article looks at the war experiences and specifically the development of war trauma on the likelihood of casting a vote for a nationalist party during a postwar election. Based on a 2003 survey of 1,000 Croatian voters, I find that veterans of Croatia’s war of independence are more likely to vote for nationalist parties. However, voters who showed signs of trauma were less likely to vote for these parties. In addition, veterans suffering from psychological trauma after the war were far less likely to vote for nationalist parties.

See detailConstituting the List Amid Time of Personalisation of Politics: The Balance of Congruent and Popular Candidates in Belgian Political Parties
Dandoy, Regis; Meulewaeter, Conrad; Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Vandeleene, Audrey; De Winter, Lieven; Baudewyns, Pierre (Eds.) Candidates, Parties and Voters in the Belgian Partitocracy (2019)

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See detailIssue Reframing by Parties: The Effect of Issue Salience and Ownership
Lefevere, Jonas; Sevenans, Julie; Walgrave, Stefaan; Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Party Politics (2019), 25(4), 507-519

Issue reframing occurs when parties, while addressing an issue, shift the frame toward other policy domains. The literature has found that party issue framing affects how voters think about issues, yet scholars remain largely in the dark as to when and how parties frame issues. The study at hand theorizes and investigates when and how parties reframe issues in their external communication. Drawing on novel Belgian data about parties’ official stances regarding a large number of policy issues combined with their verbal argumentation of why they took this exact position, we test a new theory about the drivers and mechanisms of issue reframing. We find that parties reframe issues in terms of policy domains that are both salient to the general public and that are salient to the party itself—meaning that it has a history of devoting attention to the policy domain and “owns” it.

See detailPolicy and Ideology Volatility During the Campaign
Walgrave, Stefaan; Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Deschouwer, Kris (Ed.) Mind the gap : political participation and representation in Belgium (2018)

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See detailThinking alike: two pathways to leadership-candidate opinion congruence
Lesschaeve, Christophe; Van Erkel, Patrick; Meulewaeter, Conrad

in Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (2018), 28(4), 488-515

This paper seeks to explain why party candidates and their party leadership have congruent policy positions or not. Despite its importance as a way through which parties are able to behave as a unitary actor, this congruence has never been studied as a dependent variable. We seek to fill this void in the literature. Our results suggest that leadership-candidate congruence comes about through two mechanisms: selection and learning. With selection, the party leadership aims to get those candidates elected whose policy preferences are congruent with the party line. Learning occurs through the process of socialization in which candidates assume the views of the party they work and candidate for as their own under. This happens under the pressure of cognitive dissonance. If a candidate learns about the position of the leadership and notices that they are incongruent, they may feel discomfort and change their opinion to be congruent with the party.

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See detailFinding Inequality in an Unlikely Place: Differences in Policy Congruence between Social Groups in Belgium
Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Acta Politica (2017), 52(3), 361383

This paper seeks to develop and test an issue-level determinants model of opinion congruence inequality between the privileged and the underprivileged social groups. Current theories on congruence inequality and representation focus on country-level factors such as the interest group system or campaign finance. The existing literature focuses far less on variation in inequality in preference representation in a single context. To fill this void in the literature, we develop an issue-level model of opinion congruence inequality between the privileged and the underprivileged groups in terms of education and income. Based on an integrated dataset containing the policy positions of parties and voters in Belgium on 229 policy statements, we find that when social groups have different policy positions, preferences in the legislature align more with the preferences of the privileged social groups. In addition, opinion congruence inequality also depends on the importance of the issues to groups: the difference in opinion congruence is larger for economic and tax policies, vital to the privileged groups, but smaller on issues related to social welfare, crucial to the underprivileged groups. Finally, the results show that when voters of a group disagree with their party’s position on an issue, their preferences regarding that issue are less well represented in the legislature.

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See detailInequality in Party-voter Opinion Congruence: A Matter of Choices Made or Choices Given?
Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Representation (2017), 53(2), 153-166

Studies on the agreement, or congruence, between voters and parties have often found more congruence between higher educated voters and the parties for which they vote than between lower educated voters and their party selections. The literature offers two explanations for this finding. The first argues that lower educated voters vote ‘incorrectly’, selecting less congruent parties at the ballot box, despite the presence of a better alternative. The second posits that they lack policy offers for which to vote. This paper seeks to detangle these two explanations. Based on a dataset containing the positions of Belgian voters and parties on 23 policy statements, we find that inequality in opinion congruence is primarily the result of incorrect voting by lower educated voters. However, given Belgium’s political system—which increase the likelihood of policy offers attuned to lower educated voters, the education bias in parties’ policy offers is surprisingly high.

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See detailThe Predictive Power of the Left-Right Self-Placement Scale for the Policy Positions of Voters and Parties.
Lesschaeve, Christophe

in West European Politics (2017), 40(2), 357-377

The left-right self-placement scale is often used in political science as a proxy for the policy positions of voters and parties. Yet studies have suggested that, for voters, this relation is dependent on education level. These studies were, however, hampered by data limitations and restricted statistical analyses. In addition, the extent to which the relation between the left-right self-placement scale and policy positions differs for parties and voters has not been explored. This article looks at the differential relation between left-right self-placement and policy positions for voters with different education levels on an integrated dataset containing over 50 voter and party policy positions. It is found that the left-right self-placement scale is a much better predictor for the policy positions of parties than it is for the policy preferences of voters. Robustness checks show that neither the saliency of the policy positions nor their complexity moderates these findings.

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See detailThe Matthew Effect in Electoral Campaigns: Increase in Policy Congruence Inequality During the Campaign
Walgrave, Stefaan; Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Electoral Studies (2017)

Previous studies have almost consistently found differences between lower and higher educated voters regarding their policy congruence, the policy position agreement between voters and their party. This study analyses the role of a campaign herein. Based on novel panel evidence with an extensive battery of policy statements, combined with a survey of party leaders using the same items, we find that, more than the lowly educated, the highly educated profit from the campaign to increase their policy congruence. The reason for the increased inequality is that the later switch parties more often during the campaign than the former. Our evidence also suggests that the higher educated switch parties because this may increase their policy congruence. In sum, the campaign produces a Matthew effect. Those already having a higher policy congruence increase their congruence even further, while those with a lower congruence to start with, do not make any significant progress.

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See detailNaar Een Voorwaardelijk Model van Ongelijkheid in Vertegenwoordiging. Een Onderzoek Naar Het Moderatie-Effecten van Beleidsdomeinen Op Ongelijkheid in Beleidscongruentie
Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Res Publica (2016), 58(1), 59-80

Dit artikel onderzoekt in welke mate het verschil of ongelijkheid in beleidscongruentie tussen hoog- en laagopgeleiden wordt gemodereerd door beleidsdomeinen. In plaats van een geaggregeerde meting van ongelijkheid in beleidscongruentie, over alle beleidsdomeinen heen, wordt hier een domein-specifieke benadering gehanteerd. De analyses zijn gebaseerd op een dataset die de standpunten van kiezers en partijen op 50 beleidsstellingen bevat, verzameld in de aanloop naar de regionale verkiezingen van 2009 in Vlaanderen. We vinden dat er, globaal genomen, slechts kleine verschillen tussen hoog- en laagopgeleiden bestaan. Als we echter kijken naar mobiliteit, cultuur, immigratie, belastings- en begrotingsbeleid, en algemeen economisch beleid, dan zien we de kloof toenemen. Tegelijkertijd zien we het verschil afnemen bij het domein ruimtelijke ordening. Een geaggregeerde benadering verhult dus complexere patronen van ongelijkheid in beleidscongruentie.

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See detailHet Effect van Lokale Verkiezingscampagnes Op Politieke Kennis. De Case van de Antwerpse Lokale Verkiezingen
Lefevere, Jonas; Lesschaeve, Christophe

in Tijdschrift voor Communicatiewetenschap (2014), 42(1), 7188

Political knowledge is crucial for the functioning of democracy: only informed citizens can cast a substantiated vote. Therefore, it is especially important that citizens are informed during election campaigns. Indeed, election campaigns can educate the public on the various parties and candidates. However, extant research mostly focuses on national election campaigns. Local election campaigns often get less (media) attention, yet have been seldom researched. In this paper we investigate whether citizens also learn during local election campaigns. We use panel data collected during the 2012 Antwerp local election campaign. We find that although the campaign did cause slight knowledge gains, it mainly increased the existing knowledge gap between well- and ill-informed citizens. On the other hand the campaign did amend some other gaps: uncertain voters learned more, and voters learned most about parties they evaluated highly.