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The Parties Come to Order! Dimensions of Preferential Choice in the West German Electorate, 1961-1976

Helmut Norpoth
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 73, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 724-736
DOI: 10.2307/1955400
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1955400
Page Count: 13
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
The Parties Come to Order! Dimensions of Preferential Choice in the West German Electorate, 1961-1976
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Abstract

Spatial analyses of party systems typically construe the dimensions of party configurations in terms of policy-defined issues and ideologies such as the left-right framework. But as far as the mass public is concerned, perceptions and evaluations of parties in those terms require a degree of political sophistication beyond the grasp of the average voter. That is why this article explores the impact of alternative criteria. Its main thesis is that in multiparty systems with coalition governments the party alignments in government--and possibly in opposition--provide a cue to the public of great consequence for its preferential choice. Party preference orders of the West German electorate are examined by way of unfolding analysis. The data come from a series of surveys collected during the period 1961-1976. The results of the analysis reveal traces of the two dominant cleavages of German politics, namely social class and religion, but fail to show any significant influence of the left-right framework. What is most conspicuous is the susceptibility of preferential choice to cues emanating from the coalition behavior of party leaders. Given a context of changing coalition alignments among parties in government, that susceptibility prevents any fixed configuration of parties from governing voters' preferential choice.

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