Dead Man Walking: The Affective Roots of Issue Proximity Between Voters and Parties


Do voters like the party they already agree with or do they agree with the party they already like? Previous studies have suggested a link from preferences to perceptions. However, such a causal link has not been convincingly demonstrated. Most issue voting studies have adopted the basic premise of spatial models of voting—that voters compare parties’ positions with their own ideal points and apply a rule to choose among these parties. Drawing on a natural experiment, this study shows that perceptual agreement between parties and voters is endogenous to voters’ party affect. We use the murder of a Dutch politician amidst the data collection period of the 2002 Dutch election study. The death increases respondents’ feelings for his party without providing information about its issue stances. This upward shift in feelings translates into a significant increase in the perceived level of proximity with the party. The design also allows us to explore the mechanism bringing parties and voters closer. Rather than taking up the party’s stances, voters move a party’s positions closer to their own views when their feelings for that party increase. The findings challenge established assumptions about the theoretical underpinnings of spatial models of voting. They support classic notions of voter projection and lend credence to recent theories of attitudinal change, which are based on coarse thinking and uninformative updating.

In Political Behavior
Erin Hartman
Erin Hartman
Assistant Professor of
Political Science and Statistics