Project Details


The project’s foci (mainstream party positioning, and changes thereof, on EU membership/immigration) are highly topical. The research adopts a three-fold approach to these issues (‘degrees of issue ownership’; ‘ability to manage conflicting ideological streams’ and ‘cleavage effects on positional changes’) when explaining party positioning; level of issue politicisation and the type of manifesto positional changes. The project also constructs a novel measurement tool to capture parties’ ideological stances and the positions they hold on ‘immigration’ and ‘the EU’.
Conventional narratives refer to the impact of populist-radical right challengers; declining role/relevance of ideological motivators and electoral grievances when explaining how parties (re)position their stances. While important, the conducted research finds that party competition is increasingly becoming detached from these stimuli in favour of more strategic reasoning and elites’ ability to negotiate issue priorities. The project’s novel approaches to two pertinent issues in West European politics tap into the changing nature of mainstream party competition. As such, they are beginning to gain momentum among scholars working on questions of immigration and the EU.

Layman's description

What explains the policy position(s) that parties adopt and campaign on? When – and why - do these stances change? What are the drivers behind party conflict? These questions are particularly important to address when parties compete on, and negotiate, issues that fall outside of traditional dimensions of contestation. The project has analysed mainstream parties’ relationship(s) with ‘immigration’ and ‘the EU’, two particularly challenging issues for parties to handle. By comparing parties in Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden, the project finds that the cross-cutting nature of these two issues push parties to compete over issue ownership, thus explaining the variance found in policy stances, positional changes and level of issue attention and conflict. Furthermore, whether immigration, or the EU, become politicised issues is not only, or necessarily, dependent on institutional conditions, electoral grievances or a populist-radical right presence but also on parties’ ability to handle and negotiate a set of conflicting ideological streams and issue priorities.

Key findings

The project has addressed three questions:
First, what is the relationship between parties’ ideological placement(s) and where they stand on immigration and the EU? Second, how can we account for changes in party positioning on these issues? Third, what drives party competition on the immigration and EU ‘questions’ and have these drivers changed over time?
Explaining Party Positions
Solely focusing on parties’ ideological positions is insufficient for understanding the position(s) that parties adopt on ‘immigration’ and ‘the EU’. A more fruitful approach is to simultaneously consider the degree of ownership – the strategic advantage – that parties have on particular conflict dimensions and parties’ spatial location therein.
Output: ‘Party competition and positions on immigration: strategic advantages and spatial location’, Journal of Comparative European Politics (2012) 10(1):1-22.

Changing Policy Positions: When, how and why?
Changes to parties’ policy position depend less on the success of populist-radical right/Eurosceptic challengers, or shifting public sentiments, and more on the perceived impact that immigration and the EU will have on domestic politics. The relative fit between this perceived impact and pre-existing lines of conflict will determine the extent of the changes made to parties’ manifesto positions.
Output: ‘Turning contentious issues into electoral advantages? The dynamics of party competition on “the immigration issue” in Sweden and the Netherlands’, [final draft] (co-authored w/ Betsy Super).
Different Modes of Party Competition
Immigration and the EU can crystallise conflicting ideological streams: market liberalism vs. value conservatism (for centre-right parties) and international solidarity vs. welfare state/labour market protectionism (for centre-left parties), and stressing the ‘wrong’ stream detracts attention from parties’ core competencies. Since competition on ‘immigration’ and ‘the EU’ tends to revolve around issue ownership, parties that are less trusted on these issues will divert attention to areas of higher competence. Whether immigration and/or the EU become politicised is not necessarily dependent on electoral grievances or a populist-radical right presence but on parties’ ability to handle and negotiate these conflicting streams and issue priorities.
Output: ‘Political parties and ‘the immigration issue’: issue ownership in Swedish parliamentary elections 1991-2010’, West European Politics 34(5) pp. 1070-1092, (2011)
Effective start/end date1/01/0930/06/11


  • ESRC: £286,785.00


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