Institutional variation in issue congruence in Europe
Anne Rasmussen, Stefanie Reher & Dimiter Toshkov
This subproject analyses to what extent policy corresponds to citizens’ preferences and what determines variation in the strength of the opinion-policy link in a comparative context. Focusing on the European countries, we use data from various cross-national surveys, including the Eurobarometer, the European Social Survey, and the International Social Survey Programme, in order to determine public opinion on twenty policy issues for the period 1998-2013. We include survey items, which ask respondents whether they favor or oppose specific policies from a diverse range of broader policy areas. We then determine to what extent existing legislation is congruent with public opinion in each country. By measuring public opinion on specific policies (such as smoking bans in restaurants, embryonic stem cell research, or a national minimum wage) rather than diffuse ideological or issue positions, we go beyond the achievements of earlier studies of representation in Europe. At the same time, we add to extant research that looks at more specific policy issues in the US by taking a cross-national approach.
In addition to mapping patterns of opinion-policy congruence across Europe, we explain variation across countries as well as across issues based on a range of factors. They include political system characteristics, such as the proportionality of the electoral system, the legislative-executive balance, the importance of veto players, and term limits. Furthermore, we consider the role of the composition of government and legislature and of the intensity of political competition. Finally, we examine whether characteristics of the policy issues influence the likelihood that policy is in line with public opinion, for instance the public salience of the issues and their relationship to the main dimensions of political competition.
Rasmussen, A., Reher, S. and Toshkov, D. (forthcoming) ‘The Opinion-Policy Nexus in Europe and the Role of Political Institutions’, European Journal of Political Research.