Combining retrospective voting and spatial voting theory: Positional retrospective evaluations and support for niche parties in Western Europe
In the last decades, parties that focus on a single or a small set of issues have received increasing electoral support. This trend has put pressure on traditional theories of voting behaviour. This project aims to revise these theories in light of a changing electoral context, by combining the insights of two main theories of voting behaviour. More specifically, the focus is on the retrospective voting theory and spatial voting theory. The main distinction between these theories is their assumption about the main issues driving voters’ choices: whereas retrospective voting theory assumes that voters evaluate incumbent parties based on valence issues, spatial voting theory focuses on positional issues. Despite their prominence, so far, these two lines of research have developed mostly separately. By bringing together the insights from both theories, this project will examine to what extent retrospective evaluations of parties’ performance on positional issues determine electoral choices. I argue that this mechanism can help explaining recent electoral developments. To investigate this, I proceed in three steps. First, I will investigate how parties can create “ownership” over their core issue. Second, I will study the role of retrospective evaluations of positional issues for explaining the vote. Third, using a dynamic perspective, I will examine whether combining retrospective and spatial voting theory provides an explanation for recent electoral trends in Western Europe.