Setting the agenda or responding to voters? Political parties, voters and issue attention

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Klüver, Heike ; Sagarzazu, Iñaki (2016)

Why do political parties prioritise some policy issues over others? While the issue ownership theory suggests that parties emphasise policy issues on which they have an advantage in order to increase the salience of these issues among voters, the riding the wave theory argues instead that parties respond to voters by highlighting policy issues that are salient in the minds of citizens. This study sheds new light on the selective issue emphasis of political parties by analysing issue attention throughout the entire electoral cycle. On the basis of a quantitative text analysis of more than 40,000 press releases published by German parties from 2000 until 2010, this article provides empirical support for the riding the wave theory. It shows that political parties take their cues from voters by responding to the issue priorities of their electorate. The results have important implications for political representation and the role that parties play in democracies.
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