David Rueda -Nuffield College, Oxford University

Median Voters, Mainstream Parties, and Electoral Competition

(with Johannes Lindvall and Haoyu Zhai)



Political parties in democracies face a crucial trade-off between electoral and partisan goals: should they put electoral goals first, pursuing the policies they think will win them the most votes in the next election, or should they put partisan goals first, pursuing the policies their members, activists, and most loyal voters prefer? In this paper, we argue that political parties make different choices depending on the information environment they’re in. They have strong incentives to approach the median voter’s position when that position is well-known to them, but when there is more uncertainty about the median voter’s position, they have strong incentives to adopt policies they themselves prefer (since uncertainty makes party leaders more willing to bet that the party’s preferred policies are also vote winners). We develop an empirical analysis of how the main parties on the left and the right in 34 democracies changed their platforms from election to election over the past 50 to 100 years.


David Rueda is Professor of Comparative Politics at the Department of Politics and IR and Professorial Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford University. He is the author of Social Democracy Inside Out (Oxford University Press, 2007) and, with Daniel Stegmueller, of Who Wants What? Redistribution Preferences in Comparative Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2019). His articles have appeared in the Annual Review of Political Science, American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science, Comparative Political Studies, Comparative Politics, Journal of Politics, Perspectives on Politics, Quarterly Journal of Political Science, and World Politics. He has received numerous research awards, including a British Academy Research Development Award (2008-2010). He has been a Visiting Professor of Comparative Politics at the Centre d’Études Européennes (Sciences Po, Paris) and at the University of Vienna, a Visiting Professor in Political Science and Senior Fellow in the Program on Democracy (Yale University), a Visiting Senior Research Scholar at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics (Princeton University), and a fellow at the Summer Institute at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences (Stanford University). His current research focuses on the causes and consequences of inequality, the determinants of redistribution preferences, the role of the welfare state in times of crisis, and insider-outsider politics.

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