One of the most significant changes in West European politics in the past 40 years is the emergence of the new cultural divide. However, there is substantial variation across countries, over time and between issues in how the issues comprising the new cultural divide, such as immigration, European integration and the environment, have manifested themselves in West European party systems. This development raises the question of what mechanisms bring these new issues into established party systems. The literature has so far focused on the role of new political parties and critical junctures like the Eurocrisis or the 2015 migration crisis. This talk argues that the left-right structure and the incentives it provides for mainstream parties to expand political conflict to include new issues is a key condition for the integration of new political issues into party competition. Rather than seeing the integration of new issues as a matter of the emergence of a new, second conflict, it argues that new issues become central to party competition if the existing conflict structure, which in Western Europe means the left-right structure, presents established mainstream parties with vote-seeking or coalition-building incentives to focus on new political issues. If such incentives are not present, new political issues will not establish themselves as central issues in party competition. The talk uses Ireland as a negative case study to develop the argument.
Christoffer Green-Pedersen is a Professor of Political Science at Aarhus University. He has published extensively on party competition, agenda setting, and public policy in comparative perspective.