Perceptions of Partnership: Three Essays on Coalition Formation and Ideological Information Processing

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How are voters’ perceptions of party positions affected by the formation of coalition governments? Voters perceive parties that form coalitions together as more ideologically similar than they would have had otherwise. This framework endogenizes perceptions of parties to the coalition formation process. Instead of relying exclusively on the policies that parties are advocating in election campaigns, voters assess partners relationally based on their mutual interactions. This dissertation extends the existing literature by examining various aspects of how coalition formation impacts voters’ perceptions.

Chapter 2 explores whether voters’ perceptions of opposition parties are altered by coalition formation. Using survey data from the European Election Study 1989-2019, I find that the impact of coalition formation on voters’ perceptions of opposition parties is comparable in size to that of coalition members. However, when distinguishing between different opposition relationships the effect is much larger. Voters perceive two opposition parties divided by a centrist coalition as further apart and opposition parties located in the same bloc as closer together, holding everything else constant. Unlike previous accounts of coalition heuristics, I find that highly sophisticated voters appear more sensitive to coalition signals.

Chapter 3 analyses how cooperation between mainstream and niche parties af- fect voters’ perceptions of party positions on specific policy issues. I compare the perceptions of Dutch parties before and after collaborating with the radical right: the coalition with the List Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and the support agreement with the Freedom Party in 2010. Furthermore, I examine the long-term effects of the Danish government relying on the support of the Danish People’s Party in 2001-2011. I find that mainstream parties are perceived as more restrictive towards immigration and multiculturalism after cooperating with the radical right than they would have been otherwise.

Finally, chapter 4 tests whether coalition formation has a causal effect on the perceived ideological distance between the coalition partners. Observational studies are insufficient to establish a causal relationship between coalition formation and changing perceptions. I present four survey experiments with variation in context, measurement, and treatment. I mainly find an effect of coalition formation when voters have no other information about parties.





Hjermitslev, Ida Baek (2020). Perceptions of Partnership: Three Essays on Coalition Formation and Ideological Information Processing. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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