Political scientists are quite good at predicting ‘optimal’ policy positions that - under the given circumstances - allow parties to get maximal payoffs in terms of policy, office or votes. What we do not know is whether parties are actually able to take these positions or whether they are constrained to do so.
This book attempts to narrow this gap. The major argument is that parties do not choose policy positions from scratch and that they cannot freely change their policy platforms. Rather, voters’ lacking perception of changing party platforms and intra-party factors constrain parties when shifting their policy positions. An empirical analysis of party policy shifts in ten Western European democracies shows that these constraints differ across parties and thus affect the parties’ position-taking differently. Considering this variation is important to derive more precise predictions for parties’ policy platforms and for our understanding of party behaviour in general.
'What contemporary political science needs most at the present time is theory development and testing, particularly against comparative evidence. This well-organised and clearly written work provides both, in generous measure. Focused on the central actors in modern democracy – political parties – it asks what prevents them changing policies radically in order to attract votes? The answer lies in the existence of rival parties, the reaction of voters: and within their own organisational structures.
The book systematically develops hypotheses about how these factors act on party policy and interact with each other to block radical change. The hypotheses are checked out against the in-depth evidence on voter reactions provided by the various British Election Studies: and the 10-country 50-year observations on policy shifts provided by the Comparative Manifestos dataset. One chapter provides a balanced review of the methodological discussion surrounding these, which will be useful to other users.
Overall, this book adds usefully to our knowledge of party behaviour in democracies to the development of democrative theory and to the assessment of the comparative evidence relating to it. In these ways it adds significantly to the ECPR book series as a whole and to comparative political science in general.'
Ian Budge, University of Essex
'Thomas Meyer’s Constraints on Party Policy Change is a much needed analysis of why political parties cannot and do not optimise their electoral appeal by adopting whatever policy position appears popular at the moment. Parties are, Meyer persuasively reminds us, policy brands built, promoted, and sustained by party activists with deep commitments not just to a name but to a brand name. Taking account of both motive and opportunity, Constraints on Party Policy Change demonstrates that parties as organisations have to maintain their brand’s credibility with voters and that party leaders have to take account of the structure of party policy decision making when seeking to shift a policy position. The theoretical and analytical tasks Meyer set for himself are important to empirical democratic theory; so too are his analysis and results.'
Michael D McDonald, Binghamton University
'This very good and very important book analyses why (and when) political parties shift their policy positions. Meyer presents innovative empirical analyses and theoretical arguments that party policy change is constrained by factors including parties’ organisational structures, their governing status, their resources, their previous policy behaviour, the prestige of the party’s leader, and voters’ levels of political interest. By shifting his focus away from parties’ static policy positions and onto parties’ policy shifts, Meyer advances of understanding of parties’ election strategies and the dynamics of mass-elite policy linkages. This powerful book will help to shape the study of parties and elections for years to come.'
James Adams, University of California, Davis