Scholarly article on topic 'Voter perceptions of coalition policy positions in multiparty systems'

Voter perceptions of coalition policy positions in multiparty systems Academic research paper on "Political Science"

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Abstract of research paper on Political Science, author of scientific article — Thomas M. Meyer, Daniel Strobl

Abstract A growing body of research shows how voters consider coalition formation and policy compromises at the post-electoral stage when making vote choices. Yet, we know surprisingly little about how voters perceive policy positions of coalition governments. Using new survey data from the Austrian National Election Study (AUTNES), we study voter perceptions of coalition policy platforms. We find that voters do in general have reasonable expectations of the coalitions' policy positions. However, partisan beliefs and uncertainty affect how voters perceive coalition positions: in addition to projection biases similar to those for individual party placements, partisans of coalition parties tend to align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position, especially for those coalitions they prefer the most. In contrast, there is no consistent effect of political knowledge on the voters' uncertainty when evaluating coalition policy positions.

Academic research paper on topic "Voter perceptions of coalition policy positions in multiparty systems"

ELSEVIER

Voter perceptions of coalition policy positions in multiparty systems

Thomas M. Meyer*, Daniel Strobl

Department of Government, University of Vienna, Rooseveltplatz 3/1, 1090 Vienna, Austria

ARTICLE INFO ABSTRACT

A growing body of research shows how voters consider coalition formation and policy compromises at the post-electoral stage when making vote choices. Yet, we know surprisingly little about how voters perceive policy positions of coalition governments. Using new survey data from the Austrian National Election Study (AUTNES), we study voter perceptions of coalition policy platforms. We find that voters do in general have reasonable expectations of the coalitions' policy positions. However, partisan beliefs and uncertainty affect how voters perceive coalition positions: in addition to projection biases similar to those for individual party placements, partisans of coalition parties tend to align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position, especially for those coalitions they prefer the most. In contrast, there is no consistent effect of political knowledge on the voters' uncertainty when evaluating coalition policy positions.

© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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Electoral Studies

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/electstud

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Article history:

Received 1 May 2015

Received in revised form

20 November 2015

Accepted 25 November 2015

Available online 26 November 2015

Keywords:

Coalition policy positions Multiparty systems Perceptual bias Uncertainty Austria

In recent years, political science research has increasingly directed its attention towards coalitions as an integral part of the decision-making calculus of voters. Voters cast their votes with policy outcomes in mind and when doing so, they take into account the institutional setting in which parties operate (Kedar, 2005,

2009). Analyses of electoral behaviour in mixed-member proportional systems demonstrate that voters consider coalitions in order to reduce the risk of wasted votes (Gschwend, 2007; Bowler et al.,

2010) and similar mechanisms have been observed for systems of proportional representation (Blais et al., 2006; Bargsted and Kedar, 2009). In these contexts, voters consider not only the programmatic offer of parties but also coalition formation processes and coalition bargaining (Duch et al., 2010; Indridason, 2011). In particular, voters take the (expected) policy position of coalition governments into account when making their vote choice (Kedar, 2005, 2009; Duch et al., 2010; Indridason, 2011).

Yet, we know surprisingly little about how voters perceive policy positions of coalitions. Most models of coalition-directed vote choice use an average of respondents' placements of the constituent parties, often weighted by some measure of party size, to estimate each voter's coalition placement. This approach relies on the assumption, originally made by Downs (1957), that voters perceive policy outcomes of coalition governments as a

* Corresponding author. E-mail address: thomas.meyer@univie.acat (T.M. Meyer).

compromise between the government parties' policy proposals. Yet, there is no clear empirical evidence that voters use such simple heuristics (e.g., the average of government party policy positions) in forming expectations about coalition policy platforms. Recent evidence from Bowler et al. (2014) suggests that voters differ substantially in their perceptions of coalition policy platforms and, more importantly, that their perceptions differ from the average of the perceived party policy positions. This suggests that voter perceptions of coalition policy positions are more than the 'sum of their parts'.

In this article, we study voter perceptions of coalition policy positions. Based on previous research on perceptual bias and uncertainty in party policy positions, we examine the role of partisan beliefs and information costs on perceptions of coalition policy platforms. Coalition governments are based on the labels of the constituent parties, providing voters with clues and heuristics to estimate their positions. Thus, we expect partisan affiliation to affect perceptions of coalition positions. Furthermore, we hypothesize that coalition perceptions are driven by those parties for which a voter's priming is strongest. Thus, party supporters of the constituent parties tend to align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position, especially for those coalitions they support. Finally, we expect that political knowledge reduces the voters' uncertainty when gauging coalition policy.

We employ direct measures of perceived coalition positions using the 2013 pre-election survey of the Austrian National Election Study (AUTNES; Kritzinger et al., 2014). We find that voters do

http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2015.11.020

0261-3794/© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

indeed have reasonable perceptions of coalition policy platforms: many respondents are able to locate coalitions on a left-right scale and the variation in these placements is similar to that for individual parties. Yet, there is also considerable variation across voters in how they perceive policy positions of political actors. We use a perception model of policy positions originally developed in the context of US Senate races (Franklin, 1991) to study the impact of perceptual bias and uncertainty on perceptions of party and coalition policy positions. The results of our analysis suggest that party and coalition preferences affect how voters perceive coalition policy positions. While we find strong support for perceptual biases for coalition policy positions, there is no consistent empirical evidence that political knowledge lowers the voters' uncertainty when evaluating coalition policy positions.

These findings add to our understanding of voter perceptions of post-electoral politics and bargaining outcomes; in particular, we show that voter perceptions of coalitions are more complex than simple heuristics such as averages of party policy platforms would suggest. Recent research (Bowler et al., 2014) shows that voter perceptions of coalitions vary according to beliefs concerning the parties' electoral success, their bargaining power, and the party leaders' qualities. We extend these arguments by introducing partisan bias and information costs as explanatory factors for why voter perceptions of coalition policy platforms differ. Both factors have been shown to affect voter perceptions of party policy positions, and in effect vote choices (e.g. Calvo et al., 2014; Tomz and van Houweling, 2009; Somer-Topcu, forthcoming). The findings presented here suggest that similar effects adhere to outcome-centric spatial models where voters consider the policy platforms of coalition governments. Our findings also highlight that party supporters tend to be rather optimistic regarding their party's influence in a coalition government, especially if they strongly prefer that coalition. This suggests a difference between the voters' perceived and the actual representation under specific coalition governments.

We begin by comparing voters' perceived party and coalition policy positions using data from the AUTNES pre-election survey. We then derive expectations of how voters perceive policy platforms of coalition governments and present a statistical model for voter perceptions accounting for bias and uncertainty effects. Next, we turn to our data to test these expectations and conclude with a discussion on the broader implications of this analysis.

1. Voter perceptions of parties and coalition governments

Spatial ideological dimensions structure the political arena and serve as a medium to differentiate political actors along lines of conflict (e.g., Fuchs and Klingemann, 1989). The left-right scheme has proved a meaningful concept to organise the diversity of positions taken by Western European parties on policy issues (Dalton, 2013). In the context of issue preferences of the electorate, the left-right orientation has therefore been referred to as a super issue 'that encapsulates, impacts upon, and constrains a host of more specific political preferences and orientations' (Van der Eijk et al., 2005: 166).

Given that votes are cast for parties, not coalitions, respondents are usually asked to rank parties on a left-right scale. Over the last ten years, however, an emerging literature has focused on how voters take post-electoral compromises and policy-making into account when choosing between parties (e.g. Kedar, 2005; Blais et al., 2006; Gschwend, 2007; Bargsted and Kedar, 2009; Kedar, 2009; Meffert and Gschwend, 2010; Bowler et al., 2010; Meffert and Gschwend, 2012). Given the lack of data on perceived coalition policy positions, voter perceptions of coalitions are usually

modelled as averages of party policy positions.1

The 2013 AUTNES pre-election survey (Kritzinger et al., 2014) is one of the few surveys where voters are explicitly asked about their perceptions of coalition policy platforms. Specifically, respondents were first asked to place parties on an ideological scale ranging from 0 ('left') to 10 ('right'). They were subsequently asked to place four coalition governments on the same scale.2 This allows us to compare voters' perceptions of parties and coalition governments. Interviews were conducted face-to-face in two waves (winter 2012; spring 2013) before the national election in September 2013. The Austrian party system contains two classic mainstream parties, the Social Democrats (SPO) and the People's Party (OVP), as well as the Greens and the Freedom Party (FPO) as niche parties. Several coalition options were being discussed before the 2013 election. Respondents were asked to place four potential two-party coalition governments. Three of these coalitions (OVP-SPO, SPO-FPO, OVP-FPO ) have governed at some point in the post-war period, while there are several SPO-Greens coalition governments at the regional level. In the context of the Austrian party system, they thus represent viable options for future governments.3

Table 1 shows the average perceptions of party and coalition policy positions, two measures for variability in voter placements, and the share of 'don't know' responses. Dispersion in voters' judgments is indicated using the standard deviation and Van der Eijk's (2001) measure of perceptual agreement, where higher values indicate more agreement. For voter perceptions of coalition governments, we also show the share of respondents who locate coalitions in between the two parties' perceived policy positions.

Table 1 suggests that voters are capable of placing parties and coalition governments in a one-dimensional policy space. The mean perceived party positions range from the Greens on the left, the Social Democrats (SPO) and the People's Party (OVP) as centre-left and centre-right parties to the FPO at the right end of the spectrum. About two thirds (65.7 per cent) of the respondents rank the parties this way from left to right.

The mean perceived coalition policy positions reflect the common wisdom of coalition politics: The SPO-Greens coalition is perceived as the left-most coalition option, while an OVP-FPO government is a coalition closest to the right end of the policy scale. The SPO-OVP and SPO-FPO coalitions are perceived as policy platforms close to the centre of the policy space. About 43 per cent of the respondents rank the coalition governments in this order (i.e. SPO-Greens < SPO-OVP < SPO-FPO < OVP-FPO). While this estimate is lower than that for individual parties, most respondents (ranging from 59 to 68 per cent) rank coalition policy platforms in-between the constituent parties' perceived policy positions.

In addition, the variability in voter placements for coalition policy positions is also similar to that for party positions. In fact, the incumbent SPO-OVP coalition has the highest agreement score and none of the coalition government scores is substantially lower than for individual party placements. The share of 'don't' know' responses for coalition governments is also similar to that for individual parties. About one in ten survey respondents is unable or unwilling to locate coalitions on the left-right scale. The only

1 Similarly, the (seat-weighted) average of coalition parties is often used to indicate a coalition's policy position and to assess the ideological congruence between (multiparty) governments and the median citizen (e.g. Powell, 2000; McDonald et al., 2004; Golder and Stramski, 2010).

2 The question was phrased as follows: 'Where would you place the following potential coalitions on a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means "left" and 10 means "right"? You can use the values in between to give a more precise answer.'

3 Three additional parties (Team Stronach, NEOS, and BZO) are not included in the coalition governments discussed below, and we refrain from discussing them in greater detail.

Table 1

Voter perceptions of party and coalition policy positions.

Greens SPO O VP FPO

Mean perceived position 2.6 3.7 5.8 7.9

SD 2.0 1.6 1.6 2.1

Perceptual agreement 0.52 0.59 0.62 0.57

DK (in %) 8.5 6.9 7.1 6.7

SP(3-Greens SPO-O VP SPO-FPO O VP-FPO

Mean perceived position 3.2 5.0 5.4 6.7

SD 1.8 1.3 1.8 2.0

Perceptual agreement 0.55 0.75 0.57 0.51

DK (in %) 12.2 11.3 25.5 12.9

Placements in range of party positions (in %) 58.9 68.2 62.5 65.0

Note: Number of respondents is 3266. Data not weighted. Perceptual agreement (Van der Eijk, 2001) measures the voters' agreement in placing political actors. The measure varies from -1 to 1. Higher values indicate more agreement (calculated using the agrm package in Stata).

exception is the SPO-FPO coalition where 25 per cent of respondents refuse to answer.

While overall citizens seem to have reasonable expectations about coalition policy positions, there is also a lot of variation in how voters perceive coalition policy positions relative to party policy positions. In particular, taking averages of perceived party positions to gauge perceptions of coalition governments is only a crude measure. To illustrate this, the four panels in Fig. 1 show the relationship between voter perceptions of a coalition's policy position (y-axis) and the mean of the perceived policy positions of its constituent parties (x-axis). The dashed lines indicate predicted values from a linear regression model. While a general positive trend is visible in the four panels, coalition placements of individual voters can differ considerably from the average of the perceived party positions. In the following section, we derive expectations to explain this variation.

2. Modelling perceptions of coalition policy positions

Drawing on a general model of voter perceptions of policy platforms (Franklin, 1991), we account for two potential sources of individual level variation in voter perceptions of coalition policy positions: perceptual bias and uncertainty (see e.g. Enelow and Hinich, 1984). Perceptual bias is directional and results from individuals' likes and dislikes of political actors. For example, respondents tend to place the party they prefer close to their own policy preferences. In turn, uncertainty denotes (non-systematic) randomness in survey responses. It may result from the behaviour of political actors (e.g. the vagueness of their policy proposals) as well as from characteristics of individual respondents (e.g. information costs). We discuss both factors and their potential impact on perceptions of coalition policy positions in turn.

2.1. Perceptual bias

Perceptions of policy platforms differ systematically when voters' judgements are affected by their predispositions. A vast literature in political psychology suggests that individuals aim to avoid cognitive dissonance and make judgments in line with prior attitudes, in particular based on their partisan affiliation (Markus and Converse, 1979; Redlawsk, 2002; Taber and Lodge, 2006). Research from political psychology on motivated reasoning (Kunda, 1990; Taber and Lodge, 2006) shows that voters are driven both by accuracy and directional goals when evaluating information. While the former drives voters to assess political circumstances as accurately as possible, the latter can lead partisans to evaluate 'their' party and its achievements more positively than those of other parties (e.g. Bartels, 2002; Levine, 2007; Marsh and Tilley, 2009; Blais et al., 2010; Wagner et al., 2014).

Partisanship also serves as a 'perceptual screen' (Campbell et al., 1960) for voters' perceptions of policy positions (see e.g., Merrill et al., 2001; Krosnick, 2002; Drummond, 2011; Fernandez-Vazquez and Dinas, 2012; Grand and Tiemann, 2013). The projection hypothesis suggests that voters evaluate policy positions in congruence with prior affective judgments. To avoid inconsistency between one's attitudes towards a candidate and a given issue, voters pull positions of preferred candidates closer to their own (assimilation), while placing the positions of disliked candidates further away (contrast) (Krosnick, 2002: 117—119). This variation in perceived party policy platforms also affects vote choices (Calvo et al., 2014).

We expect that biased information-processing also shapes the way voters form perceptions of coalitions. Coalitions are typically described using party labels (or colours) of their constituent parties. For example, the two-party coalition between Social Democrats (SPO) and Greens is dubbed the 'SPO-Greens coalition' or the 'Red-Green' coalition government. Voters may use these party labels to judge coalitions, leading to similar projection effects as for party perceptions. Thus, we expect that party supporters aim to decrease the distance between their own position and a coalition that involves their preferred party. In contrast, partisans of parties that are not involved in the coalition should perceive the coalition as being further away from their personal preferences.

Hypothesis 1. Partisans of the constituent parties perceive a coalition closer to their own policy preferences, while non-supporters place the coalition further away.

Hypothesis 1 extends the argument that partisanship affects perceptions of party policy positions to percerptions of coalition policy positions. Yet, an importance difference between both types of political actors — parties and coalitions — is that voters in the latter case are primed with several party labels. This raises the question how each party label affects the perception of the coalition's policy position. For example, in a SPO-Greens coalition either both party labels may have the same effect for gauging the coalition's platform or one of the party labels, SPO or Greens, may be a more influential shortcut for the coalition policy position on the left—right scale. We expect that coalition perceptions are driven by those parties for which the priming is strongest. Specifically, we hypothesize that voters who have a strong positive affect for one party put more weight on the position of their preferred party in a coalition. Thus, voters who are affiliated with a constituent party are more likely to align the position of the coalition with their preferred party's position. For a two-party coalition of the Social Democrats (SPO) and the Greens, we expect that partisanship causes systematic disagreement between partisans of the SPO and those of the Greens: SPO partisans 'over-estimate' the Social Democrats' impact (i.e. they place the coalition closer to where they

Fig. 1. Voter perceptions of coalition policy positions.

place the SPO), while partisans of the Greens push the coalition's policy platform closer to their party.

Hypothesis 2. Party supporters of the constituent parties tend to align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position.

We have thus far focused on perceptual biases arising from single party labels, that is, whether voters support one party in a coalition or not. Yet, partisans of a coalition party may also prefer

different coalition alternatives. Preferences for coalitions are distinct from, albeit tied to, party preferences (e.g., Meffert and Gschwend, 2012).4 Voters form coalition preferences based on historical patterns and contextual cues (Debus and Müller, 2014). For instance, voters may prefer coalitions they consider viable based on previous government formation attempts or pre-electoral

4 We thank two reviewers for pointing our attention to this argument.

signals. Partisan assimilation effects should be strongest if partisans prefer a coalition. Negative feelings towards an ideologically distant party could in turn lead to an overall dislike of the coalition, which should offset any partisan assimilation effects (Debus and Müller, 2014). We therefore hypothesize that voters place a coalition closer to their own position if they favour a hypothetical coalition featuring their preferred party. In contrast, this effect should be weaker among disliked coalition options.

Hypothesis 3. The more party supporters of the constituent parties prefer a coalition, the more they tend to align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position.

2.2. Uncertainty

Uncertainty is the (non-systematic) 'noise' surrounding perceptions of policy platforms. In contrast to systematic distortion in the perception of politics based on partisan sympathies, variation in voters' perceptions caused by uncertainty is not directional. Rather, high uncertainty means that voters are less able to gauge the coalition's policy platform with precision. Central to the uncertainty in perceptions of policy platforms is Downs's (1957) notion of information costs: voters need information about (party or coalition) policy platforms, but gathering information is costly. Voters are more likely to being informed about policy positions, and thus less uncertain, if information costs are low. For example, more educated people face fewer difficulties in processing information from media reports, and as a result may be more certain about placing political actors on a policy scale (Alvarez, 1997; Alvarez and Brehm, 2002). Moreover, perceptual uncertainty depends on a voter's store of objective political information, that is, the pre-existing level of political knowledge and exposure to information on politics (Alvarez, 1997). For example, higher media or campaign exposure, interest in politics, and strong affiliations with the party system decrease the uncertainty about policy platforms (Franklin, 1991; Alvarez, 1997; Nadeau et al., 2008).

We test whether variation in individual information costs also affects perceptions of coalitions. If perceptions of coalition policy positions are formed similarly to that for parties, some voters should find it easier to locate coalitions in a policy space. Given that parties do not campaign on a common election platform, all voters need to integrate information on the policies of individual parties to place coalitions. Yet, we expect that some voters perform this task more easily based on their familiarity with (a) the location of the coalition's constituent parties, (b) the relative size of the parties, and (c) the trade-offs and country-specific traditions involved with coalition politics. Differences in coalition placements should therefore be smaller among well-informed voters.

Hypothesis 4. Voters with higher levels of political sophistication are more certain when placing coalition positions.

3. Model and data

We study the effects of systematic (perceptual bias) and non-systematic (uncertainty) factors for voters' perceptions of (party and coalition) policy platforms. Despite the vast literature on both types of perceptual uncertainty, there are only a few studies that integrate both factors in their analyses. One exception is Franklin's (1991) analysis on voter perceptions of policy positions of US senators. Considering two senators, his model distinguishes perceptual influences on voter perceptions and a stochastic component.

We adapt Franklin's (1991) approach to parties and coalition governments and model voter perceptions of policy positions of

political actors (parties A, B, and the coalition government AB) simultaneously. The systematic part of this model captures perceptual bias in perceived policy positions depending on partisanship and coalition preferences

yij = ajxij +

where voter i's perceived position of political actor j is expressed as yij, the covariates xij are factors accounting for perceptual bias, and aj captures the regression coefficients:

ajXj = a1j-PartisanAi + a2j ■ PartisanBi + a3j ■ PartisanCi + a4j ■ PartisanDi + a5jCoalition.preferencesABi + a6j ■ PartisanAi ■ Coalition.preferencesABi + a7j$ PartisanBi ■ Coalition_preferencesABi + a8j ■ PartisanCi ■ Coalition_preferencesABi + a9j ■ PartisanDi ■ Coalition-preferencesABi + a10j (2)

Instead of independent and identically distributed errors e=(eiA,eiB,eiAB), we follow Franklin (1991) and model uncertainty as a function in the voters' information costs. In the model, this is reflected by heteroskedasticity in the error terms:

/2 \ siA PsiAsiB PsiAsiC 2

PsiAsiB siB PsiB siC V PsiAsiC PsiBsiC sjAB /

Sj = exp (bjZi) = exp (by knowledgei + bj.

The correlation p indicates the interdependence of the voters' uncertainty when placing political actors on policy scales. While not of central concern in our analysis, we expect a positive correlation as greater uncertainty for one political actor should in general lead to greater uncertainty placing other political actors.

Also following Franklin (1991), we assume that perceived positions follow a multivariate normal distribution with mean mi=(aAxi,aBxi,aABxi) and covariance matrix Si. This leads to the likelihood function

L(a, b\y) = Hf (yjmi, Si) i=1

= Jl[(2p)3\2\ 2$exp[(yi - mi)TSi-1(yi - w)] (5) i=1

and a corresponding log likelihood function

N 1 JN, t 1

log L(a, b|y) = -ylnflSil) -1 £ (yi - mi) SC1 (yi - mi).

We estimate four models, one for each coalition government, based on the log likelihood function in (6). All models are estimated using the statistical software R. Tables with full regression results are shown in in the appendix (Tables A.1 to A.4).

We use a pre-election survey conducted several months prior to the Austrian legislative election on September 29, 2013 (Kritzinger et al., 2014). Our dependent variables are voter perceptions of party and coalition policy positions. Respondents were asked to place parties and coalitions on a scale ranging from 0 ('left') to 10 ('right'). The data contain questions on four coalition options (SPO-Greens, SPO-OVP, SPO-FPO, and OVP-FPO) and their constituent parties.

We measure perceptual bias using dummy variables for partisanship. Respondents indicate whether there is a party they 'feel closest to', and if so, to indicate the party's name. The systematic part in the regression model (1) and (2) thus contains dummy variables indicating partisanship for one of the four parties (SPO, OVP, FPO, and the Greens). Following Hypothesis 1, partisanship should affect perceptions of coalition policy positions. Partisans of the coalition's constituent parties should perceive a coalition closer to their own policy preferences, while supporters of non-coalition parties should place it further away.

Hypothesis 2 states that partisans of the two constituent coalition parties are particularly confident in their party's impact on the coalition's policy position. Thus, partisans of party A should perceive coalition AB to be closer to party A's policy platform than partisans of party B. We use the regression results in (1) and derive predicted values for voter perceptions of a coalition's policy position yAB and that of the prime minister's party yA.5 Next, we calculate the policy distance d between these two perceived policy positions both for partisans of party A and partisans of party B:

di = \ym - $A,i \ (7)

where i denotes party supporters of either party A or B. According to Hypothesis 2, we expect that partisans of party A perceive their party to be more influential than partisans of party B. The distance between the position of party A and the coalition's position should therefore be smaller for partisans of party A than for partisans of party B (i.e., dA<dB).

To test Hypothesis 3, we use indicators for the voters' coalition preferences. For each of the four coalition governments, respondents are asked to indicate how much they prefer this coalition government (on a 0-10 scale).6 Again, we estimate the perceived distance of party A to the coalition's policy position for partisans from party A (dA) and B (dB) and let the coalition preferences vary from the minimum (0) to the maximum (10). We expect that the perceived distance across partisans is highest when they strongly prefer the coalition (i.e. dA < dB for those party supporters who strongly prefer coalition AB).

According to Hypothesis 4, voters with higher levels of political knowledge should be more certain when placing coalitions. We use political knowledge to indicate information costs in (4). It is measured using seven question items testing the respondents' knowledge on, for example, institutional rules (e.g. the electoral threshold) and the party affiliation of public officials. Political knowledge is then measured as the number of correct answers to these questions. We expect that political knowledge reduces voters' uncertainty and should therefore have a negative effect on the variance of placements.

4. Results

We present marginal effects and predicted values to test Hypotheses 1 to 4 using graphs and tables. We start by analysing perceptual bias in the perception of party and coalition policy positions. To test Hypothesis 1, Fig. 2 shows how different partisan groups perceive party and coalition policy positions for four

coalition governments: SPO-Greens (upper left), SPO-OVP (upper right), SPO-FPO (lower left), and the OVP-FPO coalition (lower right). Coalition preferences are held constant at the mean for the respective partisan group.

Fig. 2 shows strong evidence for perceptual bias in party policy positions. The highest consensus among partisan groups exists for the Social Democrats, where the perceived policy platform ranges from 3.3 (FPO partisans) to 3.8 (Green partisans) on the 0-10 left-right scale. Disagreement is higher for the OVP (5.4-6.3) and the Greens (1.9-2.8). It peaks with respect to the policy platform of the FPO: Green partisans see the party as being much more to the right (9.0) than OVP partisans (7.7). These differences in the perceived policy positions replicate findings of previous analyses on contrast and assimilation effects (e.g. Merrill et al., 2001; Drummond, 2011; Fernandez-Vazquez and Dinas, 2012). For example, Green party supporters see their party's policy platform as more to the left than many other partisan groups, indicating assimilation by Green partisans (mostly with left-wing policy preferences). In turn, FPO partisans also see the Greens as very leftist, but in this case pushing the party to the left indicates a contrast effect.

Supporting Hypothesis 1, Fig. 2 also reveals disagreement in the perception of coalition policy platforms. As stated in Hypothesis 1, these differences follow systematic patterns based on voters' partisan affiliation with the constituent parties in a coalition. For example, the SPO-FPO coalition (lower left panel in Fig. 2) is perceived as more to the right by the left-wing Green partisans (6.2) and as more to the left by the centre-right OVP partisans (4.9). Both voter groups support parties other than those in the coalition. As a result, they perceive the coalition's policy position further away from their personal policy preferences. Such contrast and assimilation effects are also present for the SPO-Greens coalition: left-wing Green partisans and right-wing FPO partisans place the coalition more to the left than supporters of the centre parties (SPO and OVP). Green partisans thereby reduce the distance to their own position, while supporters of the FPO place the coalition further away from their own position. The magnitude of these perceptual biases is about the same as for party perceptions, ranging from 0.6 (SPO-Greens) to 1.3 points (SPO-FPO).7

Turning to Hypothesis 2, we expect that partisans of the constituent parties should see 'their' party as particularly powerful in shaping the coalition policy position. For example, SPO partisans should place the SPO-Greens coalition closer to the SPO's policy platform than supporters of the Greens. For partisans of each party in a coalition, Table 2 shows how close the perceived coalition policy platform is to the perceived position of party A (see (7)) holding coalition preferences at the mean for the respective partisan group. We expect that partisans of party A perceive the coalition policy position to be closer to their party's policy platform than partisans of party B.

For all four coalition governments in Table 2, partisans of the designated PM party (Party A) perceive their party to be closer to the coalition policy platform than those of the junior coalition partner (Party B). For instance, for SPO supporters the perceived distance between the SPO and the SPO-Greens coalition is about 0.5 points on a 0-10 scale. In contrast, Green partisans believe that the policy distance between the SPO and the SPO-Greens coalition is

5 We use the larger party as a focal point because previous research suggests that voters use the PM party as an anchor when placing government parties on a left-right scale (Fortunato and Adams, 2015).

6 The question was phrased as follows: 'Now, I'd like to ask you a few questions

about the next federal government. Using a scale from 0 to 10, please indicate to what extent you would prefer a coalition between the following parties regardless of how likely the coalition is. 0 means, I do not prefer this coalition at all and 10 means, I very much prefer this coalition.'

7 We show contrast and assimilation effects setting coalition preferences to the mean of the respective partisan group. Yet, the interaction effects included in the model also imply that contrast and assimilation effects for coalition policy positions are strongest for those partisans with strong coalition preferences. For example, the more FPO supporters prefer a OVP-FPO coalition, the closer the perceived coalition position is to the right end of the policy scale (assimilation effect). Similarly, the more Green party supporters dislike a OVP-FPO coalition, the closer the perceived coalition position is to the right end of the policy space (contrast effect).

SPO-Greens SPO-OVP

01234S6789 1I) 012345 it 7K9 10

Perceived policy pjsifion Perceived polity position

Notes: Estimates based on Tables A.l to A.4 in the Appendix. Lines denote 95% confidence intervals for predicted values.

Fig. 2. Perceived party and coalition policy platforms by partisanship.

Table 2

Perceived party impact on coalition policy positions by partisanship. Coalition Distance to Party A by partisans of:

Party A (dA) Party B (dB) dA - dB Pr(dA - dB > 0)

SPO-Greens 0.511 (0.337; 0.693) 0.940 (0.676; 1.214) -0.428 p = 0.003

SPO-O VP 1.294(1.128; 1.467) 1.655 (1.466; 1.835) -0.361 p = 0.003

SPO-FPO 1.930(1.741; 2.125) 2.172 (1.897; 2.462) -0.242 p = 0.090

OVP-FPO 0.421 (0.213; 0.638) 1.259(1.002; 1.519) -0.837 p < 0.001

Note: Estimates for the perceived distance between a coalition's policy position and that of party A (see (7)), holding coalition preferences at the mean for the respective partisan group. 95% confidence intervals (in parentheses) and p-values based on 1000 simulations based on model estimates in Tables A.1 to A.4.

roughly 0.9 points on the same policy scale. The differences are most pronounced for the OVP-FPO coalition. Here, OVP partisans perceive this coalition's policy position to be about 0.8 points closer to the OVP than partisans of the FPO. As indicated in the last column in Table 2, these differences are statistically significant at conventional levels. Thus, partisans indeed perceive the position of their party as being particularly influential in the coalition government (Hypothesis 2).

Are party supporters more likely to align a coalition's policy platform with their own party's policy position if they strongly prefer a coalition? We test this expectation in Fig. 3. In each panel, the y-axis shows the difference in how partisans of parties A and B perceive the distance between party A and the coalition policy platform (i.e. column 'dA - dB' in Table 2). As for Hypothesis 2, negative values indicate that partisans of party A align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position more than partisans of party B. The x-axis denotes the partisans' preferences for the respective coalition from 0 to 10.

Except for the SPO-Greens coalition, there is strong evidence for Hypothesis 3: Party supporters tend to align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position, but this effect is conditional on their coalition preferences. For example, consider SPO and FPO supporters who strongly dislike the SPO-FPO coalition.

Among these SPO and FPO partisans, there is no significant difference in the perceived distance between the SPO and the coalition's policy platform. As the preferences for the coalition increase, however, SPO and FPO partisans have increasingly different perceptions of the SPO's impact in that coalition. Among those who prefer the SPO-FPO coalition the most (i.e. 10 on the 0-10 scale), SPO supporters perceive the coalition's policy position to be 1.6 points closer to the SPO policy position than FPO partisans. The pattern is similar in all four panels, but strongest for those coalitions where the radical-right FPO is involved.8

Turning to uncertainty in perceptions of policy platforms (i.e., non-systematic error), we hypothesized that individual-level information costs explain differences between voters (Hypothesis 4). Specifically, political knowledge should reduce voter uncertainty surrounding the placement of coalitions. We present marginal effect plots for the effect of political knowledge on voters'

8 We also test Hypotheses 2 and 3 using perceptions of party B's policy position as a reference point. The results (not shown) are similar but somewhat weaker than those for party A, and not all differences are statistically significant at conventional levels. This suggests that the alignment effect is largely captured by the perceived distances between the PM party and the coalition policy position.

Fig. 3. Conditional effect of coalition preferences on perceived party impact in coalitions.

uncertainty in Fig. 4. The four panels show the marginal effects for each coalition government along with the effects for its constituent parties.

In line with previous research on party perceptions, political knowledge significantly reduces voter uncertainty for three out of the four parties in our analysis (SPO, OVP, and FPO). Political knowledge has no significant effect on the uncertainty surrounding the Greens' party platform. This is in line with previous research that highlights the effect of ideology and party family on voters' perceptions of policy platforms (Dahlberg, 2013; Meyer and Müller, 2012). With regard to coalition governments, knowledgeable voters

are more certain in placing the incumbent SPO-OVP coalition (second panel). Yet, political knowledge has no significant effect on the uncertainty for the remaining coalition governments. We therefore reject Hypothesis 4. Yet, it is worth noting that the overall level of voter uncertainty, captured in the intercept of the variance function, is not higher for any coalition than for its constituent parties.

5. Conclusion

When the institutional setup fosters multiparty systems and

Notes: Marginal effect of political knowledge on respondents' uncertainty. Estimates based on Tables A. I to A.4 in the Appendix. Fig. 4. Marginal effects of political knowledge on voter uncertainty.

coalition governments, voters have incentives to think beyond party voting and to consider post-electoral bargaining processes. We employ direct measures of perceived coalition policy positions to show that most voters are capable of applying the left-right dimension to coalition governments. Coalition positions, even if

hypothetical, can therefore be seen as meaningful concepts to the electorate. In line with previous research, this finding suggests that voters are able to build reasonable perceptions of coalition policy platforms (Meffert et al., 2011; Debus and Müller, 2014).

Corroborating recent research (Bowler et al., 2014), our analysis

has also shown that voters' perceptions of coalition policy positions are more than just averages of perceived party policy platforms. Rather, voter perceptions of coalition governments are shaped by partisan and uncertainty effects in addition to those that affect individual party positions. As for party policy positions, perceptual bias and uncertainty affect perceptions of coalition policy positions. Partisans of the constituent parties perceive a coalition's policy platform as being closer to their own policy preferences, and they tend to align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position. This is particularly true for coalitions that partisans prefer the most. This leads to substantial variation in the perception of coalition policy platforms. An important distinction between party and coalition policy positions is how information costs impact on the voters' uncertainty. While political knowledge decreases the voters' uncertainty for party policy positions, we find no consistent effect of political knowledge on the voters' uncertainty when evaluating coalition policy positions.

These findings have important consequences for our understanding of vote choices. As we know from research on parties and candidates, variation in voter perceptions of party policy positions due to contrast and assimilation effects affects vote choices (Calvo et al., 2014). A similar argument can be made for spatial models when voters consider policy outcomes and policy compromises under coalition governments. Moreover, voters' uncertainty about policy options affects which parties and candidates voters prefer. While some argue that voter uncertainty is detrimental to the parties' electoral performance (Shepsle, 1972; Bartels, 1986; Alvarez, 1997), others find that ambiguity actually helps political actors in attracting votes (Tomz and van Houweling, 2009; Rovny, 2012; Somer-Topcu, forthcoming). Following outcome-centric theories of vote choice, we can extend this research to analyse whether variation in voters' uncertainty about future coalition alternatives affects their electoral decisions.

Moreover, our findings have broader implications for how voters perceive coalition bargaining and policy positions. While partisans tend to align the position of the coalition with their own party's policy position, coalition politics involves power-sharing and policy compromises that may differ from the voters' perceptions (Laver and Shepsle, 1994; Warwick and Druckman, 2001). Voters with optimistic expectations of coalition positions might be disappointed when the coalition enters office, and thus be more inclined to punish their preferred parties when engaging in retrospective voting. Especially for coalitions with the radical-right FPO, individual voter perceptions of coalition policy platforms vary

significantly. Voters with more extreme policy preferences tend to emphasize the influence of the radical right, while supporters of moderate centre-left and centre-right parties believe in more centrist coalition policy positions. The actual policy output of these coalitions should thus leave some of their voters dissatisfied with their vote choice.

There are various ways in which these findings can be explored further in future research. For one, issue statements over the course of an election campaign have been shown to have clarifying effects (e.g. Franklin, 1991). Similar patterns may be observed in connection with coalition signals. It would also be interesting to study how explicit pre-electoral commitments (Golder, 2005, 2006) affect campaign learning about coalition policy positions. Our findings suggest that political knowledge helps voters to decrease uncertainty when placing the SPO-OVP coalition (see also Meffert and Gschwend, 2012), but there is no such effect for other coalition governments. This difference could be attributed to the incumbent status of the SPO-OVP coalition. Other coalition options in our analysis are potential policy alternatives and all voters have to combine and weigh information on party platforms. Pre-electoral coalitions could lower the voters' uncertainty and thus help knowledgeable voters to form reasonable expectations of these coalitions' policy positions. This is something we cannot test empirically given data from one election where such strong commitments were not made. Yet, pre-electoral coalitions may have a strong impact on voter uncertainty in another electoral context.

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the FWF (Austrian Science Fund) under grant number S10903-G11. We are particularly indebted to Thomas Gschwend and Markus Wagner for their support and feedback on previous versions of the manuscript. We also thank two anonymous reviewers, the panellists at the 2014 European Political Science Association (EPSA) conference, Edinburgh, and the research seminar at the Department of Government, University of Vienna, for helpful comments and suggestions.

Appendix. Regression tables

Table A.1

Perceptual bias and uncertainty in policy positions (SPO-Greens).

SP(3 Greens SPO-Greens

Perceptual bias

SPO partisan 0.646*** (0.184) 0.329 (0.223) 0.743*** (0.202)

OVP partisan -0.027 (0.152) -0.428* (0.183) -0.207 (0.166)

FPO partisan -0.436** (0.168) -1.017*** (0.200) -0.852*** (0.180)

Green partisan 1.095*** (0.363) 0.776 (0.448) 1.145*** (0.408)

Coalition preference 0.074*** (0.022) 0.097*** (0.026) 0.123*** (0.024)

SPO partisanXCoalition preference -0.159*** (0.033) -0.173*** (0.040) -0.211*** (0.036)

OVP partisanXCoalition preference -0.031 (0.043) 0.141*** (0.051) 0.103* (0.046)

FPO partisanXCoalition preference 0.046 (0.057) 0.177** (0.067) 0.305*** (0.060)

Green partisanXCoalition preference -0.178*** (0.050) -0.230*** (0.061) -0.279*** (0.055)

Constant 3.497*** (0.100) 2.476*** (0.119) 2.896*** (0.107)

Uncertainty

Political knowledge -0.043*** (0.009) <0.001 (0.009) 0.015 (0.008)

Constant 0.686*** (0.044) 0.671*** (0.043) 0.503*** (0.042)

P 0.288*** (0.014)

Log likelihood -6669.985

N 2139

Table A.2

Perceptual bias and uncertainty in policy positions (SPÔ-ÔVP).

SPO OVP SPO-O VP

Perceptual bias

SPO partisan -0.224 (0.216) 0.675*** (0.210) 0.139 (0.175)

OVP partisan -0.256 (0.226) 0.793*** (0.221) -0.262 (0.182)

FPO partisan -0.615*** (0.189) -0.621*** (0.184) -0.890*** (0.153)

Green partisan 0.573** (0.211) 0.985*** (0.207) 0.279 (0.172)

Coalition preference 0.024 (0.021) -0.033 (0.021) 0.026 (0.017)

SPO partisanXCoalition preference 0.011 (0.035) -0.048 (0.034) -0.052 (0.028)

OVP partisanXCoalition preference 0.001 (0.037) -0.044 (0.036) 0.059 (0.029)

FPO partisanXCoalition preference 0.052 (0.050) 0.120* (0.049) 0.104* (0.040)

Green partisanXCoalition preference -0.146*** (0.048) -0.095* (0.047) -0.084* (0.039)

Constant 3.669*** (0.108) 5.817*** (0.105) 4.970*** (0.087)

Uncertainty

Political knowledge -0.042*** (0.009) -0.037*** (0.009) -0.030*** (0.009)

Constant 0.686*** (0.045) 0.636*** (0.044) 0.414*** (0.043)

r 0.193*** (0.014)

Log likelihood -5743.289

N 2139

Note: Standard errors in parentheses; * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001.

Table A.3

Perceptual bias and uncertainty in policy positions (SPO-FPO).

SPO FPO SPO-FPO

Perceptual bias

SPO partisan -0.343** (0.127) 0.347* (0.158) 0.103 (0.135)

OVP partisan -0.401*** (0.135) -0.135 (0.168) -0.754*** (0.143)

FPO partisan -1.184*** (0.216) -0.316 (0.267) -1.198*** (0.223)

Green partisan -0.121 (0.144) 1.044*** (0.180) 0.701*** (0.155)

Coalition preference -0.058* (0.023) -0.168*** (0.029) -0.094*** (0.024)

SPO partisanXCoalition preference 0.084* (0.037) 0.008 (0.046) 0.001 (0.039)

OVP partisanXCoalition preference 0.075 (0.049) -0.099 (0.060) 0.115* (0.051)

FPO partisanXCoalition preference 0.164*** (0.040) 0.147*** (0.050) 0.288*** (0.042)

Green partisanXCoalition preference 0.081 (0.073) -0.171 (0.091) -0.088 (0.077)

Constant 3.917*** (0.086) 8.270*** (0.107) 5.667*** (0.090)

Uncertainty

Political knowledge -0.043*** (0.009) -0.034*** (0.009) 0.007 (0.009)

Constant 0.681*** (0.045) 0.859*** (0.045) 0.502*** (0.045)

r 0.084*** (0.013)

Log likelihood -6895.303

N 2139

Note: Standard errors in parentheses; * p < 0.05, ** p < 0.01, *** p < 0.001.

Table A.4

Perceptual bias and uncertainty in policy positions (OVP-FPO).

O VP FPO OVP-FPO

Perceptual bias

SPO partisan 0.269* (0.124) 0.247 (0.157) 0.455*** (0.149)

OVP partisan -0.151 (0.156) -0.449* (0.197) -0.428* (0.187)

FPO partisan -1.151*** (0.278) -0.626 (0.350) -1.466*** (0.331)

Green partisan 0.537*** (0.142) 0.903*** (0.180) 0.756*** (0.172)

Coalition preference -0.098*** (0.022) -0.206*** (0.027) -0.172*** (0.026)

SPO partisanXCoalition preference -0.056 (0.043) -0.067 (0.054) -0.114* (0.051)

OVP partisanXCoalition preference 0.183*** (0.034) 0.158*** (0.043) 0.196*** (0.041)

FPO partisanXCoalition preference 0.194*** (0.045) 0.226*** (0.056) 0.371*** (0.053)

Green partisanXCoalition preference -0.110 (0.081) -0.214* (0.102) -0.253* (0.097)

Constant 5.955*** (0.086) 8.402*** (0.108) 6.898*** (0.103)

Uncertainty

Political knowledge -0.034*** (0.009) -0.027*** (0.009) -0.011 (0.009)

Constant 0.624*** (0.044) 0.824*** (0.043) 0.695*** (0.043)

r 0.262*** (0.014)

Log likelihood -6878.639

N 2139

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