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How do Left-Right and Value Dimensions Structure Public Opinion in the EU?

Agnieszka Walczak

To the extent that positions of parties and voters on the most important political issues are structured by left/right, voters can use the information about their left/right positions and those of parties as a cue to decide which party to vote for. The left/right distance has indeed been the best predictor of party choice so far. Literature suggests that the dominant left/right dimension summarizes diverse policy issues. However, its meaning is not fixed, but may vary across countries and over time. Similarly, the degree to which issues are structured by the left/right dimension may vary across contexts. Little knowledge exists about the ways in which left/right positions and positions on concrete issues are related in EU-countries with different historical legacies. This paper raises the question to what extent positions of voters on a number of important attitude dimensions are structured by left/right. Focusing on three attitude dimensions – socio-economic, libertarian-authoritarian and integration-demarcation -the paper investigates to what extent positions of voters on a number of important issues, as captured by the three value dimensions, are structured by the left/right dimension and how those value dimensions are related to each other. In its aims to explore whether the left/right structures public opinion in all three domains, the paper explores differences between countries and generations in the established democracies of Western Europe and new democracies of East-Central Europe. This paper employs the European Election Study 2009.

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