LANCASHIRE, United Kingdom — Is your political party taking an extreme position on an issue? There’s a good chance it’s because they don’t really care about it. A study finds when political leaders and their constituents care less about an issue, they tend to take more radical stances when creating messages for the electorate. Researchers from Lancaster University add this strategy tends to work on Election Day.
Their work, teaming with the University of Hagen in Germany, reveals that different political parties can take widely different policy positions on the same issue despite having access to the same information to base their opinions on. The parties that have less of a definitive stance on an issue initially are the ones that take the most radical positions when building their voting platform.
Standing out from the moderates
These organizations have access to information that most voters don’t have. When using this information to create their election promises and policies, the study uncovers indecisive groups usually adopt a radical policy. Meanwhile, their opponents usually adopt a more moderate position. Researchers add that when two parties appear to have similar stances on a topic, the one which shifts to a more radical view usually sees more success.
“Our research helps to explain why, even where parties are given identical signals with regards to a policy, they can diverge, with the emergence of moderate and radical parties,” says study co-author Dr. Renaud Foucart in a university release.
“What we found with our model was that where two parties took a stance on an issue, there would be one more moderate and one more radical, but if only one did, this would be the one with the moderate stance. This implies that it is parties who care least about policies who will make the more audacious, radical proposals on issues while those who care most will not alter their positions.”
When political parties take extreme positions
Dr. Foucart adds that it’s possible the more extreme party takes that position to win elections instead of any actual belief in their platform. The study model, which examines issues of the U.K. entering the Iraq War in 2003 and nuclear power in Germany, shows the electorate supports extreme policies when the moderate party follows the extreme party.
Study authors explain that the U.K. joined the United States in Iraq because the Labour and Tory parties both conveyed a message that it made sense. Meanwhile in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel changed her party’s energy policy after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. The Christian Democratic Party chose to no longer support atomic power; switching to a fast phase-out policy. Researchers suggest Merkel shut down all Germany’s nuclear power plants quickly because her political opponents took a more moderate stance on the same side of the argument.
“Even interested voters cannot be well informed about every conceivable policy. They have to rely on representatives and experts to provide information, and parties signal the information they have via their platforms – with the more attractive elected,” adds Dr. Foucart. “Parties take the more moderate or extreme position, but our model shows that voters are able to deduce which party is conveying the more credible message.”
The study was published in the journal European Economic Review.