Bonnie M. Meguid’s Research





Party Competition between Unequals: Strategies and Electoral Fortunes in Western Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008                       

        Winner of the 2010 Council for European Studies Best Book Prize, the 2009 William H. Riker Award (best book, Political Economy Section, APSA) and the 2009 Best Book Award by the European Politics and Society Section (APSA).


Why do some parties flourish while others flounder?  In this book, I provide a strategic answer.  I explore how mainstream political party strategies shape – undermine and bolster – the electoral success of niche parties (e.g., green, radical right and ethnoterritorial parties) and, as a result, their own electoral fortunes.  The book recognizes that parties have access to a wider and more effective range of strategies than previously recognized.  The book explores how and why these reconceptualized strategies are adopted, drawing upon evidence from quantitative and case study analyses of party competition in Western Europe.  




        Reviews of Party Competition between Unequals


·          Perspectives on Politics, June 2009

·          Journal of Politics, July 2009





“Issue Salience, Issue Ownership, and Issue-Based Vote Choice.” (co-authored with Éric Bélanger), Electoral Studies, 27 (September 2008): 477-91.


Abstract:        According to the issue ownership theory of voting, voters identify the political party that they feel is the most competent, or the most credible, proponent of a particular issue and cast their ballots for that issue owner.  Yet the actual micro-level mechanism of such behavior has seldom been examined in the literature.  We explore the mechanism and, in the process, offer a refinement to the original model of issue ownership.  We argue that, while party ownership of an issue is important to vote choice, its effect is mediated by the perceived salience of the issue in question.  Through individual-level analyses of vote choice in the 1997 and 2000 Canadian federal elections, we demonstrate that issue ownership affects the voting decisions of only those individuals who think that the issue is salient.  These findings suggest that salience should be more explicitly integrated into the formulation and testing of the theory.



“Competition Between Unequals: The Role of Mainstream Party Strategy in Niche Party Success.” American Political Science Review, 99.3(August 2005): 347-59.


Abstract:        What accounts for variation in the electoral success of niche parties?  Although institutional and sociological explanations of single-issue party strength have been dominant, they tend to remove parties from the analysis.  In this article, I argue that the behavior of mainstream parties influences the electoral fortunes of the new, niche party actors.  In contrast to standard spatial theories, my theory recognizes that party tactics work by altering the salience and ownership of issues for political competition, not just party issue positions.  It follows that niche party support can be shaped by both proximal and non-proximal competitors.  Analysis of green and radical right party vote in 17 Western European countries from 1970 to 2000 confirms that mainstream party strategies matter; the modified spatial theory accounts for the failure and success of niche parties across countries and over time better than institutional, sociological and even standard spatial explanations.



Book Review of Marcus Kreuzer’s Institutions and Innovation: Voters, Parties, and Interest Groups in the Consolidation of Democracy – France and Germany, 1870-1939, Comparative Political Studies, 35.6(2002): 744-48.




Papers under Review and Work in Progress



“Institutional Change as Strategy: The Role of Decentralization in Party Competition.”   

Under Review Winner of the 2010 James B. Christoph Prize for the Best Conference Paper on British Politics presented by a junior faculty member, awarded by the British Politics Group.


Abstract:        Why do governing parties voluntarily transfer significant political and/or fiscal powers to subnational authorities?  Contributing to the literature on the origins of institutions, this paper views decentralization as an electoral strategy.  Unlike existing strategic explanations, however, I argue that decentralization is a means to bolster a governing party’s national-level electoral strength.  It is a tool, akin to policy appeasement, used to co-opt pro-decentralization regionalist party voters.  By conceiving of decentralization in this manner, we can understand why parties propose devolution reforms that would sabotage their control of the newly created subnational bodies.  Because the costs of this institutional strategy are disproportionately concentrated at the subnational level, the policy will only be adopted and implemented by centralized parties that prioritize national-level power.  I illustrate the power of the institutional appeasement theory by examining intranational variation in the degree and timing of decentralizing reforms in the regions of Great Britain.



“The Critical Role of Non-Proximal Parties in Electoral Competition: Evidence from France.”


Abstract:        A spatial approach has long dominated theories of party behavior and political competition. However, recent findings on the importance of issue salience and ownership for a party’s electoral success introduce the possibility of non-positional conceptions of party strategy.  Based on this observation, I construct a modified spatial theory of party interaction in which parties manipulate electoral support by shifting the salience and ownership of new issues for political competition. Consequently, competition is no longer restricted to ideologically-proximal parties; non-proximal parties play a critical role in determining the electoral fortunes of other actors. An examination of party competition in France and its effect on the electoral trajectory of the Front National confirms these claims. The phenomenal success of the French radical right party is a result, not of the weak accommodative tactics of the proximal RPR, but rather of the timely adversarial strategies of the distant PS.



Endogenous Institutions: The Origins of Compulsory Voting Laws.” (co-authored with Gretchen Helmke)  Under Review


Abstract:        Between 1862 and 1998, 18 democracies adopted compulsory voting laws, the majority in Western Europe and Latin America.  Although there is a broad literature on the effects of compulsory voting on voter turnout, far less is known about when and why compulsory voting has been adopted.  Using an original cross-national dataset on compulsory voting laws, we find evidence that strategic considerations – whether governing parties believe they will benefit or be harmed electorally under compulsory voting rules – shape the decisions to adopt such laws.  More generally, our paper aims to contribute to the emerging literature on the adoption of electoral systems by examining the degree to which electoral institutions are the result of party strategy and, thus, are endogenous to party competition.



“Bringing Government Back to the People?  The Impact of Political Decentralization on Voter Engagement in Western Europe.” Under Review


Abstract:        Political actors have often justified processes of political decentralization as means to “bring government back to the people.”  While this claim is consistent with broader scholarly theories of voter engagement, aggregate-level analysis does not reveal the expected shifts in voter attitudes and behavior in decentralizing countries of Western Europe.  Rather than these results signaling the relative unimportance of institutional reform for voter engagement, I find that decentralization differentially affects members of the electorate.  In line with the idea that the winners of decentralization are more likely to be receptive to the effects of these reforms than the losers, analysis of survey data from the decentralizing case of Scotland reveals that partisans of the Scottish National Party, unlike their mainstream party counterparts, experience increased engagement levels.  This paper suggests that the effect of institutions on voter attitudes and behavior is mediated by the individual-level characteristics of those voters.




“Institutional Change and Ethnoterritorial Party Representation at the European Level.” Under Review


Abstract:        Over the past forty years, Western European countries have faced both pressures to decentralize and, conversely, pressures to transfer competencies to the supranational level of the EU. Despite the joint occurrence of these processes, the existing literature has typically explored only their separate effects. This paper begins to fill this lacuna by examining the effect of decentralization on the European electoral fortunes of some of decentralization’s most prominent supporters, ethnoterritorial parties. Consistent with the claim that ethnoterritorial parties in decentralized regions still see the European Union as a useful arena for expressing enhanced regionalist identities and pursuing additional political and financial legitimacy, cross-sectional time-series analyses reveal that decentralization increases the vote shares of ethnoterritorial parties. Thus, counter to the fears that increasing the number of levels of government will create competing centers of power and serve to demobilize voters, these results suggest that – for at least some parties – these political environments prove complementary.



“Multilevel Elections and Party Fortunes: The Electoral Impact of Decentralization in Western Europe.” Work in progress.


Abstract:        Despite an extensive literature on the effects of political and fiscal decentralization on a variety of outcomes, little is known about these reforms’ effects on the parties that implement them and the ethnoterritorial parties that demand them.  This paper approaches this question from the perspective that decentralization is not simply the multiplication of subnational offices as previously argued, but it is also a strategy to bolster a party’s national vote share, by appeasing voters of threatening regionalist parties.  Consistent with the appeasement theory, statistical analyses of election results from the regions of/at the regional level from 17 Western European countries find that governing parties gain support at the national level following significant decentralization.  Token decentralization fails to satisfy decentralization voters and leads instead to further ethnoterritorial party gain and governing party loss in national elections.  At the subnational level, ethnoterritorial parties benefit electorally from extensive decentralization, whereas the nationally focused governing parties lose support.




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