(In)Congruence: A Study of Opinion-Policy Distance in 33 Democracies

This thesis seeks to answer two questions. First, is government policy in contemporary democracies congruent with public opinion? Second, what are the factors that determine opinion-policy congruence? I conceptualize opinion-policy incongruence as the distance between actual government policy and the policy preferred by the median voter. I apply this measure of opinion-policy incongruence to international survey data that assessed citizen` preferences regarding government spending. For each of the 33 countries involved, I obtain a measurement of the distance between the median voter and actual government policy for eight different policy areas. The results suggest that opinion-policy congruence is more often absent than present in contemporary democracies. Nevertheless, there is significant variation both between countries and between policy areas, Among policy areas, opinion-policy congruence tends to be highest for defense and unemployment and lowest for health, education, and retirement. The variation in opinion-policy congruence among countries is explored using fuzzy-set Quantitative Comparative Analysis, a data analysis technique based on a set theory. I identify two causal paths that lead to opinion-policy congruence; to achieve opinion-policy congruence, a country must either be rich and have a relatively equal distribution of income or it must be rich, decentralized, and use a non-proportional electoral system. I end by discussing the implications of these results. I pay special care to the question of weather opinion-policy congruence, in the countries where it is present, is robust to increase in income inequality or to different institutional changes.

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