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Polacko, M. (2023). “Who benefits from the social democratic march to the middle?.” European Political Science Review. 

Social democratic parties have experienced considerable electoral decline recently, which has often been attributed to their rightward policy movement. This paper advances this literature by examining who benefits from this moderation strategy and who is abandoning the social democrats. It does so by analyzing aggregate-level election results and individual-level Comparative Study of Electoral Systems data, on a sample of 21 advanced democracies, over 327 elections, from 1965 to 2019. I find little support for the assertion that social democrats are defecting to one party. However, in agreement with the spatial theory of party competition, results reveal that the radical left increasingly and significantly benefit from social democratic economic rightward positions, which is magnified when combined with rightward sociocultural positions. This predominantly occurs because left-leaning voters migrate to the radical left. The findings provide notable ramifications for party strategy and contribute to explanations for the rise of challenger parties, at the expense of mainstream parties.

Polacko, M., S. Kiss & P. Graefe (2022).“The Changing Nature of Class Voting in Canada, 1965–2019.” Canadian Journal of Political Science. 55(3): 663–686.

Much attention has been paid to the changing class cleavage that structured political conflict in the twentieth century. In contrast to most advanced democracies, class voting has traditionally been weak in Canada. Using the entire series of the Canadian Election Study (1965–2019), we find the historic pattern of working-class voting for the New Democratic Party (NDP) held outside of Quebec in recent elections, before suddenly falling off in 2019. Starting in 2004, we find a clear and distinct trend where the working class has increased its support for the Conservatives. Although greater partisan sorting is occurring over the economy, cultural issues such as moral traditionalism and anti-immigration are now significant drivers of working-class Conservative support. The findings carry important implications for class-party relationships and reveal that Canada, despite its comparatively weak nativist cleavage, is not immune from the tensions social democratic parties have recently experienced in maintaining cross-class coalitions amid socio-economic structural changes.

Polacko, M. (2022). “The Politics of Income Inequality: Redistribution, Turnout and Responsiveness.” Statistics, Politics and Policy. 13(2): 201–218.

Previous research into the relationship between income inequality and turnout inequality Income inequality is viewed as one of the greatest challenges facing democracies today. Democracy is predicated on the ideal of equality, but political inequality occurs when the preferences of some are systematically afforded more weight in the political process than others. This research paper investigates the causal chain that allows for political inequality to arise through preference formation, articulation, and aggregation, by outlining the effects that income inequality can have on preferences for redistribution, political participation, and policy responsiveness. It finds that the policy choices presented to the electorate substantially matter for democracy, especially so in this age of increasing income inequality. There appears to be a lack of policy choice provided by political parties resulting in unequal policy responsiveness to the preferences of lower-income earners.

Polacko, M. (2022). “Inequality, Policy Polarization and the Income Gap in Turnout.” Party Politics. 28(4): 739–754.

Previous research into the relationship between income inequality and turnout inequality has produced mixed results, as consensus is lacking whether inequality reduces turnout for all income groups, low-income earners, or no one. Therefore, this paper builds on this literature by introducing supply-side logic, through the first individual-level test of the impact that income inequality (moderated by policy manifesto positions) has on turnout. It does so through multilevel logistic regressions utilizing mixed effects, on a sample of 30 advanced democracies in 102 elections from 1996 to 2016. It finds that higher levels of income inequality significantly reduce turnout and widen the turnout gap between rich and poor. However, it also finds that when party systems are more polarized, low-income earners are mobilized the greatest extent coupled with higher inequality, resulting in a significantly reduced income gap in turnout. The findings magnify the negative impacts income inequality can exert on political behavior and contribute to the study of policy offerings as a key moderating mechanism in the relationship.

Polacko, M. (2022).“The Rightward Shift and Electoral Decline of Social Democratic Parties Under Increasing Inequality.” West European Politics. 45(4): 665–692.

Recent electoral results reveal a pronounced decline in the fortunes of Social Democratic parties. Much of the decline debate has revolved around their rightward policy shifts, which have turned Social Democrats away from their founding principle of equality in an age of increasing inequality. Thus, this article examines the interconnections of these major changes in the Western political economy. In doing so, it contributes to the identification of income inequality as a key mechanism moderating Social Democratic policy offerings and their support. It does so through aggregate-level election results and individual-level survey responses on a sample of 22 advanced democracies, over 336 elections, from 1965–2019. Results reveal that rightward economic movements of Social Democrats significantly reduce their vote share under higher levels of income inequality or when they are combined with rightward socio-cultural movements. The findings provide an important explanation for the pronounced electoral decline of Social Democratic parties.

Polacko, M., O. Heath, M. Lewis-Beck & R. Dassonneville. (2021). “Policy Polarization, Income Inequality and Turnout.” Political Studies. 69(2): 455–477.

Past research on the relationship between income inequality and turnout has produced mixed results, with some studies suggesting that income inequality leads to lower turnout while other studies find little or no significant effects. In this article, we investigate the extent to which these mixed results are due to the contingent nature of inequality on turnout, which depends upon the nature of the policy options that are presented to the electorate. We test these expectations on data from national elections in 30 established democracies from 1965 through 2017 covering 300 elections. Regression analysis using country-level fixed effects reveals consistent evidence in favor of our hypotheses: Inequality tends to have a negative impact on turnout, especially in depolarized party systems, but as party system polarization increases the negative impact of inequality is mitigated.

Polacko, M. (2021). “Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality – An Overview.” Statistics, Politics and Policy. 12(2): 341–357.

Rising income inequality is one of the greatest challenges facing advanced economies today. Income inequality is multifaceted and is not the inevitable outcome of irresistible structural forces such as globalisation or technological development. Instead, this review shows that inequality has largely been driven by a multitude of political choices. The embrace of neoliberalism since the 1980s has provided the key catalyst for political and policy changes in the realms of union regulation, executive pay, the welfare state and tax progressivity, which have been the key drivers of inequality. These preventable causes have led to demonstrable harmful outcomes that are not explicable solely by material deprivation. This review also shows that inequality has been linked on the economic front with reduced growth, investment and innovation, and on the social front with reduced health and social mobility, and greater violent crime.

Polacko, M. (2020). “Party Positions, Income Inequality, and Voter Turnout in Canada, 1984-2015.” American Behaviorial Scientist. 64(9): 1324–1347.

Scholars have focused on the relationship between income inequality and voter turnout cross-nationally and within the United States. However, rising inequality and declining turnout has afflicted Canada to a greater extent than most other Western countries. As turnout in Canadian federal elections began to decline appreciably in the 1990s, inequality began to rise. With multilevel pooled analysis utilizing Canadian Election Studies from 1984 to 2015, party manifesto data, and measures of inequality at the subnational level, this article tests the effects of income inequality on turnout in Canada, and whether the relationship is conditioned by party policy programs. In line with relative power theory, mixed-effects regressions indicate that inequality is negatively associated with turnout, especially for low-income earners. However, latent conflict is manifested when political parties propose greater redistribution, as the negative effects of inequality on turnout are then significantly alleviated.

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