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How Issue Salience Pushes Voters to the Left or to the Right

Journal Politics of the Low Countries, Issue 3 2020
Keywords voting behaviour, salience, ideological dimensions, elections, Belgium
Authors Stefaan Walgrave, Patrick van Erkel, Isaïa Jennart e.a.
AbstractAuthor's information

    Recent research demonstrates that political parties in western Europe are generally structured along one dimension – and often take more or less similar ideological positions on the economic and cultural dimension – whereas the policy preferences of voters are structured two dimensionally; a considerable part of the electorate combines left-wing stances on one dimension with right-wing stances on the other. These ideologically ‘unserved’ voters are the main focus of this study. Using data from a large-scale survey in Flanders and Wallonia, we demonstrate how the salience of the two dimensions explains whether these unserved voters ultimately end up voting for a right-wing or a left-wing party. Specifically, we show that these voters elect a party that is ideologically closest on the dimension that they deem most important at that time. To summarise, the findings of this study confirm that salience is a key driver of electoral choice, especially for cross-pressured voters.


Stefaan Walgrave
Stefaan Walgrave (Corresponding author), Department of Political Science, University of Antwerp,

Patrick van Erkel
Patrick van Erkel, Department of Political Science, University of Antwerp.

Isaïa Jennart
Isaïa Jennart, Department of Political Science, University of Antwerp.

Jonas Lefevere
Jonas Lefevere, Institute of European Studies, Vrije Universiteit Brussel.

Pierre Baudewyns
Pierre Baudewyns, Institut de Science Politique Louvain-Europe (SSH/SPLE) Department, UCLouvain.
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