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How Party Experience and Consistency Shape Partisanship and Vote Choice (WP-13-14)

Georgia Kernell

Some types of governmental and party systems provide voters with clearer, more reliable information for assessing political parties than do others. Institutions that provide clarity of responsibility render party actions more transparent and allow voters to make more accurate appraisals of the political parties' policies and performance. For example, countries with fewer legislative parties, or with presidential rather than parliamentary systems, facilitate informed retrospective assessments of party responsibility and, consequently, higher levels of partisanship in the electorate. If these features of the governmental system can clarify or obfuscate the informational environment in which citizens ground their partisanship, might other aspects of the political system do so as well? Examining the organization and record of political parties, Kernell proposes that electoral consistency and longevity may be critical ingredients in citizens' appraisals of political parties. Both qualities may be virtues in the abstract, but whether a voter responds favorably to the former will depend on how closely consistent appeals match his or her political views. Drawing on a model of partisan updating that incorporates these party features, she derives hypotheses which are tested using survey data for 66 political parties in 20 mature parliamentary democracies. The results support the hypotheses, suggesting that parties' longevity and consistency are important factors in informing citizens' appraisals. She concludes by considering the implications of these findings for party strategy.

 Georgia Kernell, Assistant Professor of Political Science, and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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