In this thesis, I contend that the changing structure of voter preferences in recent decades has provided liberal parties with the potential to gain considerable electoral support, based on a combination of economically free-market and culturally libertarian policies. Such a policy agenda not only fits well with liberal ideological values held by a growing number of voters, but would effectively distinguish the liberal family from its major competitors. Yet while I find that many liberal parties (whom I term ‘social liberals’) occupy such 'right-libertarian' positions, this has not resulted in an increase in support for these parties, as the voters that share these positions continue to support more ideologically distant alternatives. I argue that this apparent defiance of a spatial logic of voting can be put down to two key factors. Firstly, social liberals’ attempts to win support tend to be hampered by poor 'valence' images, relating to these parties' perceived lack of governing competence and ideological clarity. Secondly, the right-libertarian voters themselves have developed strong partisan ties to other parties, ties which have endured in spite of decreasing ideological congruence as a result of right libertarians’ relatively favourable socio-economic circumstances. While these factors have tended to undermine liberal parties' chances of making significant electoral gains, however, I conclude by noting that the potential remains for social liberals to systematically increase their vote shares through demographic change and the eventual weakening of right-libertarians’ pre-existing partisanship.
Alexander Davenport is a political scientist with research interests in the areas of party competition, electoral behaviour and comparative politics. His work focuses on the political and electoral relevance of the liberal ideological tradition, using quantitative research methods to study the degree to which liberal values are capable of mobilising popular support in the twenty-first century. Before studying at the EUI, he gained a master's degree in Democracy and Elections at the University of Manchester and a bachelor's in Politics at the University of York.