How Voters Infer Parties' Policy Positions based on Elite Interactions.

with James Adams and Christopher Wlezien

Recent research documents that voters infer that governing coalition partners share similar ideologies, independently of these parties' actual policy statements. We argue that voters infer party positions from more general forms of inter-party cooperation and conflict, particularly on issues where voters have less independent knowledge of the parties' positions. We analyze tens of thousands of media reports on elite interactions from thirteen European democracies, and show that – controlling for coalition arrangements and for the policy tone of election manifestos – voters infer greater policy agreement between pairs of parties that interact more cooperatively. Moreover, this effect is stronger on the issue of European integration – a dimension where many citizens lack background knowledge – than for the more familiar Left-Right ideological dimension. We also show that political experts use parties' cooperative/conflictual interactions in similar ways to rank-and-file voters. Our findings have implications for parties' policy images and for mass-elite linkages.