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Carsten Jensen and Jens Peter Frølund Thomsen, "Can party competition amplify mass ideological polarization over public policy? The case of ethnic exclusionism in Denmark and Sweden," Party Politics, 19 (September 2013), 821-840. [Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol19/issue5/ ]

First paragraph:
Political parties are key actors in modern societies. Yet the party-public opinion relationship is disputed. Pluralist models of democracy, public choice theory, or sociological approaches like Marxism converge on a bottom-up model in which political parties have little influence on public opinion. By contrast, this paper is inspired by the top-down model of politics that puts political parties at center stage of public opinion formation (cf. Layman and Carsey, 2002; Sniderman and Hagendoorn, 2007; Zaller, 1992). We specify the top-down model by drawing on two established streams of research. First, party scholars report that political parties selectively shape the public agenda (Budge and Farlie, 1983; Green-Pedersen, 2007a, 2007b; Petrocik 1996). Second, political psychologists report that citizens tend to copy the messages of their preferred party (Kam, 2005; Mondak, 1993; Slothuus, 2010; Slothuus and de Vreese, 2010; Zaller, 1992). The first feature implicates that political parties are agents of issue mobilization while the second implicates that political parties can polarize public opinion by airing competing messages. In combination, political parties can increase popular conflict over public policy issues.Toexamine this proposition,we address the association betweenmass-level ideology and ethnic exclusionism -- the call for harsh immigration policies. Specifically, we hypothesize that the effect of mass-level ideology on ethnic exclusionism is conditioned by the intensity of party competition. The more parties disagree about immigration policy, the more ideologically divided the electorate becomes over this policy issue.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Percentage of party manifesto quasi-sentences referring to the immigration issue.
Figure 1. Ethnic exclusionism in Denmark and Sweden, 1990-2007.
Figure 2. Beta correlation between ideology and ethnic exclusionism in Denmark and Sweden, 1990-2007.
Table 2. The effect of political ideology on ethnic exclusionism.

Last Paragraph:
Generally, we have tried to integrate macro and micro theory, and thus to escape the rather sharp division of labor between party scholars and public opinion experts. Naturally this endeavor has not been fully successful. Quite a few issues are unsettled regarding how strongly party competition influences the relationship between masslevel ideology and policy preferences. What is required for party competition to be causally effective at the individual level? First, it seems that most parties should take distinct issue stands, implying that the public is offered very clear (antagonistic) messages rather than blurred and unclear ones. Second, and following (although with a different focus) Carmines and Stimson (1986), it could be that the nature of competitive issues matters. Many are inattentive to the political debate, but issues stimulating strong emotional responses such as anxiety, disgust, pride or fear, are more likely to mobilize the electorate than more trivial ones. A topic like social redistribution (or social justice) belongs to this category, but we believe that immigration from non-Western (Muslim) countries also triggers deeply-felt emotions that relate to both ideological beliefs and policy preferences. Notably, in Scandinavia, the negative and positive emotional aspects of the mass-elite relationship within the domain of ethnic relations deserve much more attention.

Last updated November 2013