How party polarization shapes the structuring of policy preferences

While polarization has garnered a lot of academic attention, not much is known about its influence on citizens’ preferences. Frèderic Gonthier and Tristan Guerra show, in their recent article in Party Politics, that party polarization enhances the ideological consistency of belief systems.

First they apply Correlation Class Analysis to the latest EVS data to classify respondents based on the extent to which they use similar principles for structuring their economic and sociocultural preferences. Second they demonstrate that Europeans’ belief systems are more consistently aligned with the progressive-conservative continuum in polarized party systems. It means that when citizens receive a rich supply of coherent and distinctive elite cues, they are prompted to structure their policy preferences according to the progressive-conservative polarity.

The authors also find that greater party polarization results in more tightly organized belief systems for all Europeans, regardless of their degree of political sophistication (see figure below).


This turns out to be an overlooked effect of party polarization: Elite cues becoming clearer reduce the reservoir of cross-pressured voters that radical parties may appeal to.

Gonthier F, Guerra T. How party polarization shapes the structuring of policy preferences in Europe. Party Politics. January 2022. doi:10.1177/13540688211064606