"A values based electorate?"How do voters in West European Democracies convert their political values into vote choice preferences?

  • Thomas Loughran

Student thesis: Phd


It has long been argued that underlying values should hold a central role in political analysis. This would seem particularly relevant in an era of de-alignment and catch-all parties in which political actors often make direct values orientated appeals to the electorate. With the expansion in appropriate data and measures available to empirical researchers, the last two decades have seen a substantial increase in the number of studies directly addressing the values-voting relationship. Values based explanations of vote choice have contributed to a more nuanced understanding of the processes underlying voter preferences and the structure of public opinion within democratic electorates. This existing empirical literature has generally focused on analysing the role of values on voting in single electoral contexts. While this approach has generated many useful findings that establish the role of values in differentiating political choice, it has only partially explored the contextual mechanisms through which values influence vote choice. This is necessary in order to understand under what political conditions values are likely to become more relevant to vote choice decisions. This thesis is an attempt to address three aspects of this gap in the cross-national research literature on values and voting using analyses of data from the 1990 and 2008 waves of the European Values Survey. Firstly it provides a cross-national analysis of core political values that enables a comparison of the role of values in structuring electoral competition across 15 West European countries. Secondly, it estimates the role that left-right political identity has in mediating the influence of values on vote choice using a structural path model. This provides a cross-national test of this mechanism and therefore assesses variation in the values-voting relationship across different national contexts. Thirdly, the thesis provides a systematic empirical analysis of the influence of political context on the values-voting relationship by testing the effect that macro level system factors, such as polarisation and the number of parties, have on the influence of values. The headline findings of the thesis are that political values are dynamic constructs that can demonstrate subtle variations in the preferences of voters across different electoral contexts. Political values have a multi-dimensional influence on electoral choice; with variation in voter preferences being highlighted by both value differentiation (having opposite preferences for the same value dimension) and emphasis (having a preference for different values). Left-right identity can act as both a mediator and a confounder of political values influence on vote choice. Political context is primarily relevant to the influence of values on voting through the content of supply side party competition as opposed to the structure of that competition. Overall, the study argues the findings show that supply side political context plays a crucial role in defining the parameters and strength of the values-voting relationship in each specific electoral arena.
Date of Award1 Aug 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorEdward Fieldhouse (Supervisor) & David Cutts (Supervisor)


  • Values, Voting, Cross-National, Party Systems, Polarisation, Structural Equation Modelling

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