How do the policies adopted by a party relate to the issues it prefers to emphasize? I argue that party platforms are anchored by activists, and that parties' past vote shares constrain future electoral performance. Consequently, vote-maximizing incentives lead historically successful (`major') parties to emphasize issues on which their activists are relatively centrist, but lead smaller (`minor') parties to emphasize issues where their activists are relatively extreme. Using several empirical approaches, I show that, throughout Europe, party emphasis strategy on positional issues is better explained by this theory than alternatives, including party organization. These analyses indicate that, in a variety of information environments, the appearance of policy moderation may be electorally advantageous for major parties, but costly for minor parties.
Although parties focus disproportionately on favorable issues in their election campaigns, it is also the case that parties spend much of the `short campaign' addressing the same issues -- and especially salient issues. If able to influence the importance of issues for voters through their emphasis, it is puzzling that parties spend any time on unfavorable issue positions. We suggest that while parties prefer to emphasize popular issue positions, they also face an additional incentive to emphasize issues that are salient to voters: clarifying their positions on these issues for sympathetic voters. Leveraging the surprise general election victory of the British Conservative party in 2015---which brought about a hitherto unexpected referendum on EU membership---we show that, consistent with this hypothesis, voter uncertainty is especially costly for parties on salient issues. We formalize this argument using a model of party strategy with endogenous issue salience.
'The News Media and Voter Responses to the Financial Crisis in Britain.' (draft available on request)
How does news media coverage influence voters' interpretation of political developments -- and could this be of electoral significance? I use data from the 2005--10 British Election Panel Study to investigate the effect of newspaper readership on British voters' attribution of responsibility for the financial crisis beginning 2007. Using an instrumental variables approach, I show that the news media had a substantial effect on British voters' understanding of the events of 2007 and onwards. For instance, my estimates suggest that regular readers of the right-wing broadsheet, the Telegraph, and also the left-wing broadsheet, the Independent, were substantially more likely to believe Brown was to blame for the financial crisis than similar individuals who did not read a daily newspaper. I show, further, that 2005 Labour voters were substantially less likely to vote Labour again in 2010 if they believed Brown responsible for the ongoing financial crisis.This study corroborates earlier work documenting the persuasive power of the news media, especially in Britain, and presents evidence for one channel through which editorial choices may influence electoral outcomes.