No Substitute for Competence. On the Origins and Consequences of Issue Ownership. Rowman & Littlefield International / ECPR Press


Issue ownership theory is a tale of two actors. On the one hand, it theorizes how parties compete with each other in their struggle for votes. On the other hand, issue ownership is about the citizen. It claims that voters are more likely to support a party if they think it is competent to handle issues they care about.

This book provides unique insights into the undertheorized and understudied links between party competence and the vote. It argues that issue ownership voting (or competence-based voting) consists of three assumptions: First, voters are primarily interested in having issues handled by a competent party. Unlike in other issue voting models this implies that voters are reluctant (or unable) to deal with the specificities of the exact solution to a political problem. Though positional considerations feed into evaluations of party competence, other factors are important, too. This is reflected by the second assumption, following which issue handling competence is a subjective preference with various sources. Third, competence is more decisive in the decision-making process if the voter cares deeply about the issue. These three assumptions yield the key formula of issue ownership voting: Voters support the most competent party on the most important issue.

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Praise for the book

Simon Lanz’s innovative and important new book offers a comprehensive, cross-national study of issue ownership. His careful, convincing analysis shows where party competence perceptions come from and when and why they matter for how people vote. This study will be essential reading for all those who want to understand how perceptions of competence explain voting decisions and election outcomes. Markus Wagner, Department of Government, University of Vienna, Austria

This book represents a major contribution to the analysis of how citizens perceive parties’ issue competence, and how these perceptions influence their voting choices. It is theoretically and empirically ambitious, and it demonstrates convincingly that issue competence should be seen as a central factor in the study of electoral competition. Romain Lachat, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Sciences Po, France

Issue ownership has become an important focus in studies of voting behavior. Its origins and effects, however, are likely to vary across electoral contexts. Simon Lanz shows in his broadly comparative study how parties come to “own” issues, how this issue ownership affects their vote choices and how these effects depend on the electoral context. Using novel approaches enables Lanz to make a path-breaking contribution to the study of issue ownership. Simon Hug, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Université de Genève, Switzerland

Book Review

2020, Jonas Lefevere, Swiss Political Science Review.