Analyzing Parties’ Equality Concepts at Scale: The Case of Germany, 1970 – 2021

About this Session


Fri. 08.04. 09:00



Speaker: Alexander Horn, Co-Authors: Martin Haselmayer, Jonathan Klüser

One of the key challenges in the study of the politics of inequality is that we lack meaningful large-N data on (in)equality preferences and conceptions of inequality for political parties. While ever more sophisticated data is available on voters, the lack of data on parties’ inequality perceptions beyond misleading proxy-measures (such as positions on a left-right scale or the affiliation to historical party families) makes it impossible to understand if, how, and why parties – after all the decisive actors in representative democracy – react to changes in inequality and preferences towards redistribution.
We suggest an innovative combination of computational analyses, expert judgments, and online crowd coding to address this gap. Distinguishing among five facets of (in)equality – economic equality, equal rights and antidiscrimination, equal chances, unspecific lip-service to egalitarianism (“we are the party of equality”), and more narrow foci (such as Die Linke’s focus on regional inequality) – we map equality concepts of German parties from 1970 until the 2021 federal election. As textual basis, we look at party manifestos and identify over 10.000 relevant (quasi-)sentences. We can show that the different equality concepts do not develop in synch and that neither classic party families nor left-right categorizations are indicative of how a party conceives of inequality. For instance, the three German parties on the center-left each champion different concepts of equality: While Die Linke stresses economic equality, the Social-Democrats highlight equal chances, and the Greens focus on anti-discrimination and equal rights. However, our new data also enables us to track the stability of dominant equality concepts over time. For example, we can show that the SPD-focus on economic equality has declined post-1998 and only increased again since 2017 and again in 2021. By contrast, the Greens have strongly prioritized equal rights and antidiscrimination in all campaigns since 1983.