From Valence to Positional Conflict? How Parties’ compete on Climate Change


For the longest time, climate change action was construed as a prime example for a valence issue, with political conflict mainly structured around issue emphasis, ownership and perceived competence (Farstad, 2018). The political competition rested mainly on selective emphasis of the issue based on underlying cross-party consensus on the policy goals of successful mitigation of, and adaptation to climate change. However, in recent years, climate change issues got increasingly politically intertwined with a wide range of different policy fields and goal conflicts. Today, most proposed climate mitigation efforts are linked to other policy fields like taxation, transport, energy, housing, or even international relations and incorporate fundamental changes to our industrial economies and our way of life (Compston and Bailey, 2013; Carter and Little, 2021). This transformed the former valence conflict into a much more positional competition. Especially when framing climate change mitigation as a trade-off with economic growth, parties, as well as the electorate, clearly take very different positions (Gemenis, Katsanidou, and Vasilopoulou, 2012). Most prominently, right-wing populist parties are repeatedly found to engage in distinctively anti-climate protection messages and policy positions (Küppers, 2022; Lockwood, 2018). Even though this transformation in the political conflict around climate change can be observed in everyday politics, scientific inquiries into the emergence and nature of today’s conflict lines are scarce. Using quantitative text analysis and text-scaling algorithms on parliamentary speeches and manifestos across Europe, I investigate how party positioning on climate change (1) developed over time, and (2) compares to parties’ positioning in a number of related policy fields. I expect positional competition and criticism of climate protection to emerge and intensify with growing attention to the issue, mirroring parties incentives to counter the issue ownership of Green parties. With respect to parties’ positioning, I expect parties to only emphasize climate change when their overall positioning on related issues enables them to easily implement climate change mitigation in the respective policy profile. Further, I expect that parties whose overall policy positions are less compatible to climate change mitigation express more criticism of climate change mitigation and even the existence of climate change as a phenomenon in general. My findings speak to the emerging literature on climate change competition and party competition in general. They offer valuable insights in the party conflict on an increasingly important political issue, as well as help understand the dynamics by which competition on policy issues develops over time.

May 2, 2024 12:00 AM — May 4, 2024 12:00 AM
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam