A promising strand of research is adopting survey experimental approaches to assess the extent to which parties not only aggregate preferences, but are also able to shape them – a research question which becomes crucial as the economic crisis is weakening trust in parties and the party system in many European countries. Typical survey experimental designs adopt party-mention treatments, in order to assess difference in policy support based on the mention of a party to which the respondent has some kind of affinity. Results obtained so far in a variety of countries show the significant presence of party-cuing effects; however, existing research has been mostly experimenting on artificial, low-saliency issues, thus raising concerns of external validity.
In this paper we report findings from a survey experiment on real-world, high-saliency issues, which was included in the 4th wave of the CISE (Italian Center for Electoral Studies) Electoral Panel. The panel started in early 2012, covering about 12 months before recent general elections, a period of time during which the economic crisis expressed his deepest effects. The design included three issues selected in order to maximize variance on issue complexity and content: rights for gay couples, house property tax and electoral reform. On each policy issue, respondents in the control group were asked to choose among four different policy options, while respondents in the treatment group received the same options, but each accompanied by a proponent party.
Results show effects of party cuing that are large and significant. Respondents tend to support more a policy if they are informed that such policy is proposed by their preferred party. This effect however varies across issues. The paper also investigates variation across party identification, with findings that confirm theoretical expectations: party identifiers show stronger cueing effects than non-identifiers, although different levels of party closeness do not always correspond to cueing effects that are significantly different.
Finally we compare cueing effects across groups characterized by different levels of exposure to the economic crisis: we hypothesize that among those who are experiencing economic difficulties such effects should be weaker, expressing less trust in the party system and in specific parties.