The geometry of party competition

Parties and voters in the issue space

Authored by: Lorenzo De Sio

The Routledge Handbook of Elections, Voting Behaviorand Public Opinion

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138890404
eBook ISBN: 9781315712390
Adobe ISBN:


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The idea of party competition lies at the heart of even minimal definitions of democracy (Sartori 1976: 63; Schumpeter 1942). Indeed, as we show in this chapter, the geometry of that competition plays a critical role in determining whether democratic politics proves possible in practice. For such competition to function effectively, a necessary starting point is that voters and parties have a common language, one that allows the former to identify which of the latter are most congruent with their ideas and make their choice accordingly. This common language typically centers on the identification of continua or dimensions of conflict (Downs 1957), 1 with the left– right divide being the most widely recognized of these (Fuchs and Klingemann 1989). Of course, given the wide range of issues over which political conflict occurs, the reality is a more complex and multidimensional issue space. Multidimensionality as defined here is premised on the understanding that the dimensions in question are largely, if not wholly, unrelated to each other. The position of a voter or party on one issue does not help in predicting their position on another issue. The resultant issue space thus becomes considerably complex (Enelow and Hinich 1984).

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