The Importance of Three Ideological Dimensions

Mike Medeiros, McGill University
Jean-Philippe Gauvin, University of Montreal
Chris Chhim, McGill University

What is the story?

Politics in regions or countries with a salient ethno-regionalist cleavage take on a unique dynamic. In addition to ideological positioning on economic and social stances, centre-periphery issues add a third ideological dimension that needs to be considered for grasping the complexity of vote choice. Yet, electoral research has rarely given appropriate attention to these three ideological dimensions independently.

In a forthcoming paper in Electoral Studies, we take up this challenge by presenting a three-dimensional ideological model of vote choice. We theorise that the three ideological dimensions have a determining and independent influence on voting in ethno-regional political contexts.


We use pre- and post-election panel surveys from the Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW) for the September 2012 Quebec and November 2012 Catalan elections. The three ideological dimensions are captured by creating summative rating scales based on survey questions. While vote intentions are taken from post-electoral questions, controls and main predictors come from the pre-electoral wave of the survey.


The findings support our theoretical assumption. Figure 1 (Quebec) and Figure 2 (Catalonia) illustrate the analytical necessity of presenting the positions of party supporters across the three dimensions. The figures, supported by independent sample t-tests, demonstrate that electors for specific parties in both regions tend to be grouped in different parts of the three-dimensional space.

Positioning of Quebec Voters by Party

Positioning of Catalan Voters by Party

Furthermore, multinomial logistic regressions, with a series of control variables (age, gender, education, income, political interest, and mother tongue), were used to measure the dimensions’ specific influence on the vote for the four major parties in each region. The results clearly show that the three dimensions were distinct determinants of vote choice for the 2012 sub-national elections in Catalonia and Quebec.


As these data show, economic and social dimensions are not necessarily congruent and must be taken into account separately. It does not necessarily follow that voters who are more socially conservative are also economically conservative. Thus, while previous studies of electoral behaviour in ethno-regional contexts have included the centre-periphery axis, we propose that including this factor should not come at the expense of not considering the importance of the ‘traditional’ economic and social dimensions in structuring political outcomes.

We recommend employing our three-dimensional vote choice model to other party systems divided along the centre-periphery dimension, such as Scotland, Belgium and Bavaria, but also to cases not necessarily structured along this axis but that have been shown to have regions where centre-periphery issues are meaningful, such as Australia and the United States.

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