Marta Gallina - Where is the structure? The ecological foundations of voters’ consistency

ESPO Louvain-La-Neuve, Mons

07 septembre 2021


LECL60 et par Zoom

Le Recteur de l'Université catholique de Louvain fait savoir que

Mme Marta Gallina

soutiendra publiquement sa dissertation pour l'obtention du titre de Docteur en sciences Politiques et Sociales

Where is the structure? The ecological foundations of voters’ consistency

Lien Zoom


This dissertation lies in the field of electoral studies and it investigates the structure of voters’ issue attitudes by focusing on its measurements and its (both individual and contextual) sources. The literature investigating public opinion usually builds on the assumption that voters should structure their political opinions according to abstract ideological categories, such as conservative vs liberal, right vs left, etc. However, over the decades, scholars have often found that voters are non-ideological, concluding that they fall short of political knowledge and cognitive consistency. More recent research seems instead to suggest that voters structuring their issue attitudes not in line with traditional ideological opposites are still able to organize their attitudes meaningfully. This casts doubt on the actual sources of consistency: do mass issue attitudes build on ideology? Or, in alternative, is it possible to extend the study of consistency to concrete contextual sources enabling to understand opinions’ structure in a more comprehensive way?

This dissertation aims to deal with these questions. First, it wants to understand whether voters (at least those who are more politically sophisticated) constrain their issue attitudes to one single underlying dimension, coherently with their ideological orientations. Second, since analyses do not find generalized evidence of the interplay between issue attitudes’ structure and ideology, it proposes to study consistency of voters in relation to parties’ issue platforms by building on the so-called ecological approach to the public opinion study. Third, it investigates under what specific conditions characteristics of politics and parties’ rhetoric can make voters more (or less) consistent in their issue opinions.

The dissertation is structured in four parts: a state of the art, a methodological paper and two empirical articles. Analyses focus on the European case, characterised by fragmented and heterogeneous structure of issue attitudes, by combining voter studies (2014 and 2019 European Election Studies) and expert surveys (2019 Chapel Hill, V-Dem v10, 2018 Populist and Political Parties Expert Survey, etc.). Results suggest that ideology underlies the structure of voters’ issue attitudes only in a small group of European countries. A validity test shows that an index of consistency using parties’ issue positions as reference point to assess voters’ consistency behaves in line with the theoretical expectations. Finally, findings demonstrate that, affective polarization at the societal and at the political level undermines voters’ consistency. Overall, the dissertation suggests that voters and their opinions should be studied within their political contexts in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of how they actually organize their political attitudes.

Membres du jury 

Prof. Lieven de Winter (UCLouvain), President
Prof. Pierre Baudewyns (UCLouvain), Supervisor and Secretary
Prof. Ruth Dassonneville (UdeM), Co-supervisor
Prof. Paolo Segatti (UniMi), Steering Committee Member
Prof. Delia Baldassarri (NYU), Steering Committee Member
Prof. Jean-Benoit Pilet (ULB), Steering Committee Member
Prof. Cees Van der Eijk (UoN), Jury Member
Prof. Lorenzo De Sio (LUISS), Jury Member

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