, “When does
the left do the right thing? A study of party position change on
Why did pro-welfare Social Democrats and Christian Democrats1 cease to support a generous welfare state in the 1980s and 1990s, and support policies towards a leaner and more market-oriented welfare state instead? This article analyses the causes of these shifts in the position on welfare policies of socio-economically left-wing Social Democratic, Socialist and Christian Democratic parties in advanced democracies in the period 1977–2003. There is a large variation in how and when these parties adopted party programmes in which tighter welfare programme conditionality rules and lower benefits replaced calls for redistributive and universal social security. For example, in the late 1970s British and Dutch Social Democrats shifted to support radical economic intervention, whereas French and German Social Democrats shifted to more moderate centrist platforms.
Tables and Figures:
Table 1. Operationalization of main (in)dependent variables.
Table 2. Regression results for all three hypotheses.
Figure 1. Marginal effect of party voter change per level of party organization.
Figure 2. Marginal effect of median voter change per level of party organization.
Figure 3. Marginal effect of past policy shifts for opposition parties per level of party organization.
Figure 4. Marginal effect of past policy shifts for government parties per level of party organization.
Studies about party responsiveness, like this one, have important consequences for studies about the relationship between parties, the economy and public policy. Taking shifts in the welfare position as dependent variable, this study is relevant for the welfare state literature. There is a vigorous debate within the welfare state literature whether left-wing parties still ‘matter’ for policy outcomes (Allan and Scruggs, 2004; Huber and Stephens, 2001). Others, however, persist in arguing that left-wing partisanship remains instrumental in the expansion of the welfare state (Korpi and Palme, 2003). This study about responsiveness can adjudicate between these two sides. Given the variance in party organization, some left-wing parties may indeed have done the ‘Right’ thing, whereas others persist in doing the ‘Left’ thing. Hence, this study explains the variation in responses of left-wing parties to similar economic and electoral conditions.