This question is inspired by two papers I encountered, which came to the same conclusion using different sources to quantify the ideological distance between political parties in various countries: one used public opinion surveys and the other used the Encyclopedia Britannica's description of the party's ideology. (Both papers used a simple, unidimensional Left-Right ideological scale.)

What I want to ask here is: is there usually an agreement (this can be quantified e.g. as inter-rater agreement) between expert assements of party's ideology and public perception of said ideology? Or is there generally an agreement (between experts and public opinion) at least on the ideological distance between parties?

  • VTC: answered on 538 :P
    – user4012
    Aug 19, 2018 at 14:03
  • 1
    Rank order would be much more consistent than distance, as there is no generally accepted unit by which to measure political distance between parties. Descriptive characterizations of party ideologies on issues might also be fairly consistent.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 20, 2018 at 20:31

1 Answer 1


In general it is a requirement for political parties in countries with free elections to maintain the fiction that they are vastly different - even if the expert opinion is that there is little difference between their ideology. The reason is if you don't give people the perception that they have a real choice, they lose interest and don't vote at all. So every party is going to concentrate on creating a base then stirring it up - if they have differences then great, if they don't then they magnify minute differences. The Law of Triviality dictates that it is easier to get people stirred up the more meaningless the argument is so even with parties that have large ideological differences it is common for them to engage in arguments over trivialities because those are easier for their bases to understand and participate in.

So public perception is always going to be that there's a huge difference between parties in ideology - whether there is or not. If there is a big difference the parties have a vested interest in emphasizing this, if there is little difference the parties have a vested interest in manufacturing trivialities and getting the public to think that there is a huge difference.

  • "public perception is always going to be that there's a huge difference between parties in ideology - whether there is or not". Actually no, that's not the case. If you actually look at the data in my other question you tried to answer, there's substantial variation in public perception of distance. politics.stackexchange.com/questions/33069/… Aug 19, 2018 at 9:22

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