The role of party strategies in shaping political polarization: a cross-national analysis

Date
2023-06
Advisor
Just, Aida
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Bilkent University
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English
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Abstract

The linkage between parties and citizens is accepted as the basis of democratic politics. Existing literature offers empirical evidence that parties are the key agents of driving polarization. However, we are still in the dark about the extent to which citizens see parties affectively and ideologically distinct from each other in response to party strategies. This dissertation examines the role of electoral party strategies in shaping perceived political polarization in established and developing democracies. By drawing a conceptual and empirical distinction between polarization among political elites and the mass public, this study analyses the patterns of both types of polarization and their determinants. Based on data on citizens’ perceptions of party polarization and affective polarization from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), overall findings suggest that clientelist and manipulative electoral strategies facilitate mass affective polarization. Moreover, although existing research on party competition suggests that attitudes toward parties are shaped by partisan attachments or pragmatic considerations, we still have limited knowledge of the consequences of other party strategies, such as populism. This study shows that parties’ populist strategies motivate people to see parties more ideologically distinct from each other. These findings have important implications for debates on democratic legitimacy, party strategies, and public attitudes.

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Democratic legitimacy, Mass affective polarization, Party competition, Perceived party polarization, Public attitudes
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Published Version (Please cite this version)