The asymmetrical structure of left/right disagreement Left-wing coherence and right-wing fragmentation in comparative party policy

Christopher Cochrane


The left/right semantic is used widely to describe the patterns of party competition in democratic countries. This article 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 and 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 article concludes with an outline of the potential implications of left/right asymmetry for unified theories of party competition.