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Does voter polarisation induce party extremism? The moderating role of abstention

Dreyer, P. & Bauer, J. ORCID: 0000-0003-3635-1235 (2019). Does voter polarisation induce party extremism? The moderating role of abstention. West European Politics, 42(4), pp. 824-847. doi: 10.1080/01402382.2019.1566852


This article contributes to the literature on representation by examining how the ideological polarisation of the electorate affects parties’ programmatic positions in multiparty systems. The main argument is that parties face incentives to adopt more extreme positions when the electorate becomes more ideologically polarised and the share of non-moderate voters is higher. The reason is that by adopting moderate positions parties will prompt their non-moderate core constituents to sit out the election. This risk is conditioned by voters’ propensity to abstain. A higher (lower) propensity to abstain means that parties alienate a larger (smaller) share of their core constituents when adopting a moderate position. Parties therefore respond to greater voter polarisation by adopting more extreme positions, but the effect declines as voters’ propensity to abstain decreases. An empirical analysis of parties’ programmatic positions in 11 Western European countries between 1977 and 2016 strongly supports this expectation.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in West European Politics on 29 Jan 2019, available online:
Publisher Keywords: Representation, party competition, abstention, voter polarisation
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JC Political theory
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
Departments: School of Science & Technology > Mathematics
SWORD Depositor:
[thumbnail of Philipp Dreyer and Johann Bauer -- Does voter polarisation induce party extremism -- final-pre-print.pdf]
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