Responding to the left: the effect of far-left parties on mainstream party EuroskepticismBy Laura Sudulich on 25 February 2018
By Christopher Williams, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
& John Ishiyama, University of North Texas
The full article can be accessed here
In recent elections, far-left political parties, such as Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, and La France Insoumise, have seen significant growth. Importantly, however, researchers have little understanding of how these far-left parties influence mainstream political party position-taking.
In our new article, recently published in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties (available here), we argue that far-left parties influence mainstream party positions regarding the issue of the European integration. However, unlike far-right parties, which previous studies have shown to directly affect mainstream party positions on the EU through emphasizing overt Euroskeptic positions, we theorize that far-left parties have a more indirect effect on mainstream party positions regarding the EU.
Specifically, we posit that far-left parties are capable of shifting mainstream party positions on the EU, not by emphasizing overt Euroskepticism, but by emphasizing a need for state control of the government. As far-left parties do not own the issue of overt Euroskepticism, mainstream parties do not see them as a credible electoral threat when they emphasize overtly Euroskeptic positions. However, far-left parties are the issue owners of statist economic policy, and thus, are taken more seriously by mainstream parties on this issue. At the same time, the European Union is often linked to neoliberal economic policy (the opposite of statist policy).
Thus, when far-left parties emphasize state control of the government, mainstream parties take more Euroskeptic positions. This is done in the hopes of appealing to voters who favor more statist economic policy, while, at the same time, attempting to avoid the pitfall of increasing the salience of far-left positions among the public, and bolstering support for far-left parties. In essence, we propose that mainstream parties respond to far-left party emphasis on the issues owned by the left, however, they respond by shifting issues that are related to those owned by far-left parties, but not identical to them.
Using data from the Comparative Manifesto Project from 1958 through 2015, we find strong support for this theoretical perspective. The figure below presents the marginal effect of far-left party emphasis on state control of the economy on mainstream party Euroskepticism, while holding all other variables at their means. As can be seen, when the manifestos of far-left parties in a particular country do not discuss state control of the economy at all, mainstream parties in that same country are expected to have a pro-EU position of about -2.1 in the subsequent election manifesto. However, as the emphasis placed on state control of the economy among far-left parties in a country reaches a moderate level of 10, mainstream party positions on the EU become decidedly more Euroskeptic, with an expected value of about -1.6. If the emphasis far-left parties place on statist economic policy reaches 21.5 (the highest value in the dataset), mainstream political parties are expected to have a score of -1.3 on the issue of European integration, which is a clear anti-EU position.
Marginal Effects of Unweighted Emphasis on Government Control of Economy on Mainstream Party Euroskepticism
Note: This figure is based on Model 1 of the original article. It shows the marginal effect of the unweighted emphasis on government control of the economy among far-left parties in a party system on mainstream party Euroskepticism in that same party system, while all other variables are held at their means. The dashed lines are 90% confidence intervals.
Overall, these results suggest strongly that far-left parties do influence mainstream political party positions, particularly regarding the issue of European integration. However, this effect is somewhat indirect, with mainstream parties responding to far-left positions on state control of the economy by shifting positions on the EU. This finding is particularly important as it implies that far-left parties do influence mainstream parties, and that mainstream political parties adjust positions in issue areas that are related to, but not identical to the areas that niche parties emphasize.