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Left-Right Politics Print E-mail

2015. Left and Right: The Small World of Political Ideas.  Forthcoming.

This book investigates the peculiar phenomenon of left/right disagreement in Western democratic countries. It is ultimately up to the reader to decide how successfully a book makes its case. Thus, setting aside in the interests of clarity a good deal of “intellectual debt” that will soon be readily apparent, my contention is that the dominant understanding of left/right is largely wrong, that the concepts employed to investigate it are at the root of the problem, and that this misunderstanding underpins a good deal of disagreements about the nature of the left/right divide, including about the “meaning” of left and right, about the longevity of the left/right distinction, and about what people convey when they orient themselves in left/right space. To be sure, left/right does not apply to everything; it does not manifest itself in exactly the same way in every time and place; and it is not always and everywhere present, let alone always and everywhere the most important component, or even an important component, of political disagreement. Indeed, left/right is interesting precisely because it does not apply to everything; it is still worth studying, despite already extensive coverage, precisely because, like a stereographic picture, it seems to appear to everybody when they look at it closely, and then fade from view when they look at it too closely; and it is especially interesting, from a Canadian standpoint, because it did not exist for three-quarters of the country’s history, and then emerged, seemingly all of a sudden, in more recent decades. The goal of this book is to show that the left/right divide is an emergent property of a network of tangible connections that binds actors and ideas across countries and throughout history. Left and right evolve over time, and persist across countries, as “’family resemblances.” This is what existing measures detect as left/right; it is what experts perceive as left/right; and it is what citizens in democratic countries orient themselves to, and in substantively meaningful ways, in left/right terms. The left/right divide is simple and visible and thus easy for people to see, but it is not nearly as simple as we sometimes make it out to be.

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2012. “The Asymmetrical Structure of Left/Right Disagreement: Left-Wing Coherence and Right-Wing Fragmentation in Comparative Party Policy.” Party Politics 19(1): 104-121.

The left/right semantic is used widely to describe the patterns of party competition in democratic countries. This paper examines the patterns of party policy in Anglo-American and Western European countries on three dimensions of left-right disagreement: wealth redistribution, social morality, and immigration. The central questions are whether, and why, parties with left-wing or right-wing positions on the economy systematically adopt left-wing or right-wing positions on immigration and social morality. The central argument is that left/right disagreement is asymmetrical: leftists and rightists derive from different sources, and thus structure in different ways, their opinions about policy. Drawing on evidence from Benoit & Laver’s (2006) survey of experts about the policy positions of political parties, the results of the empirical analysis indicate that party policy on the economic, social and immigration dimensions are bound together by parties on the left, but not by parties on the right. The paper concludes by outlining implications of left/right asymmetry for unified theories of party competition.

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Public Opinion Print E-mail

2013. "The Structure and Dynamics of Public Opinion," in James Farney and David Rayside eds. Conservatism in Canada, pp.21-42. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

This chapter argues that the electoral struggles of the political left, and the longevity of the political right, stem in part from a fundamental asymmetry at the elite level between the left and the right in the ways that individuals organize their opinions about left/right issues.

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2013. "The Effects of Islam, Religiosity, and Socialization on Muslim-Canadian Opinions about Same-Sex Marriage." Comparative Migration Studies 1(1): 147-178.

Critics of Islam often frame anti-Islamic positions as a defense of tolerance against intolerance, and of equality against inequality. Islam, for this perspective, poses challenges for the ideological integration of Muslim immigrants in Western societies. The Canadian context provides an opportunity to examine whether the integration of Muslim immigrants poses challenges that the integration of other immigrant groups do not. This paper examines Canadian Muslims' opinions about same-sex marriage. The analysis suggests that Canadian Muslims, as a group, do have distinctively negative opinions about same-sex marriage, but that there is substantial and systematic variation in opinions about this issues within the Muslim-Canadian community. Indeed, it is religiosity in general, rather than Islam in particular, that generates negative opinions about gay marriage. Exposure to the Canadians context, and especially postsecondary education, appears to largely undo the distinctiveness of Canadian Muslims' opinions about this issue.

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2012. “Regions, Regionalism, and Regional Differences in Canada: Mapping Economic Opinions.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 45(4): 829-853 (w/ Andrea Perrella).

Regional variations generate theoretical, conceptual, and methodological questions for political scientists. From the standpoint of social science theory, the main question is about the origins of these variations. What is it about the relationship between people and their environment that generates interregional variations in opinions and behaviour? The challenge here is to identify causal mechanisms. The focus on regional and contextual effects, however, raises clear level of analysis issues. Each individual belongs to many regions simultaneously. From a methodological standpoint, then, testing hypotheses about the variations between people in different regions requires empirical analyses that include variables measured at different levels of analysis. Some are measured at the individual-level, others at some higher level of analysis, and still others at yet higher levels. The methodological challenge is to integrate these variables into a single model of opinion or behavior. This paper examines these challenges in the context of an analysis about the regional distribution of Canadians’ opinions about government involvement in the economy.

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Anti-Immigrant Sentiment Print E-mail

2014. “Scapegoating: Unemployment, Far-Right Parties, and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment.” Comparative European Politics 12(1): 1-32 (w/ Neil Nevitte).

Far-right parties blame immigrants for unemployment.  We test the effects of the unemployment rate on public receptivity to this rhetoric.  The dependent variable is anti-immigrant sentiment.  The key independent variables are the presence of a far-right party and the level of unemployment.  Building from influential elite-centered theories of public opinion, the central hypothesis is that a high unemployment rate predisposes citizens to accept the anti-immigrant rhetoric of far-right parties, and a low unemployment rate predisposes citizens to reject this rhetoric.  The findings from cross-sectional, cross-time and cross-level analyses support this hypothesis. It is neither the unemployment rate nor the presence of a far-right party that drives anti-immigrant sentiment; it is the interaction between the two.

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2007. “Support for Far-Right Anti-Immigration Political Parties in Advanced Industrial States: 1980-2005.” General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research. University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy (September 6-8). (w/ Neil Nevitte)

This paper explores the relationship between economic performance, immigration, and support for far-right, anti-immigration parties (FRAIPs) in 126 legislative elections in 21 OECD countries between 1980 and 2005. The focus on economic performance and immigration provides a platform for testing two plausible answers to an important question: if economic performance and levels of immigration are related to levels of electoral support for FRAIPs, how do these effects work? The paper tests explanations derived from realistic conflict theory and theories of economic voting. The findings show, first, that it is not just the economy or levels of immigration that matters, rather it is the interaction of these effects. Second, the electoral context of FRAIPs matters. And third, measurement matters.

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