Left parties, voter preferences, and economic policy-making in Europe
Classic partisan theory posits that political parties translate their electorates’ preferences into policies. Accordingly, the recent changes in left parties’ voter base, from predominantly working-class to middle-class voters, should have resulted in changing policy positions and policy effects of left parties. We test this expectation for economic policies (i.e., subsidies, product market regulation, and privatization) in 16 European countries between 1980 and 2012. We find the expected relationships for subsidies but not for regulation and privatization. This can be explained by the fact that only with regard to subsidies, preferences substantially differ between the working- and the middle-class. Thus, economic policy preferences of voters of left parties diverge less than could be expected. Methodologically, the study suggests that empirically testing the complete causal mechanism of classic partisan theory, assessing voters’ preferences and investigating more than one issue area, are promising ways to study partisan effects on public policies.