National protest agenda and the dimensionality of party politics: Evidence from four East-Central European democracies

Ondřej Císař, Katerina Vrablikova

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Contemporary democracies show considerable differences in the issue composition of their protest politics, which tends to remain relatively stable over time. In countries like Germany or the Czech Republic, the vast majority of protests have been mobilised around sociocultural issues, such as human rights, peace, nuclear power or the environment, and only a tiny portion of protest has focused on economic issues. At the opposite extreme, protest in France or Poland usually has a strongly economic character and voices demands relating to material redistribution and social policy. What lies behind the cross-country differences in national protest agendas? In this article, the national protest agenda depends on what issues mainstream political parties are contesting: the content and strength of the master-issue dimension. In reference to the literature on the multidimensional political space and niche political parties, one should expect that there is a substitutive effect; where the stronger a specific master-issue dimension is in party politics, the less salient that issue dimension is in protest politics. This substitutive effect results from the tendency of electoral politics to reduce political conflict to a single-dimension equilibrium, which decreases the importance of other issues and relegates the contest over secondary, niche issues to the realm of policy-seeking strategies, with protest being a common type of this political strategy. In party systems where single-dimension equilibrium does not exist and the master-issue dimension is weaker, the same dynamics result in a more convergent relationship between party and protest politics and a greater similarity between the protest- and party-system agendas. To investigate this theory, the national protest agendas in four countries are examined. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia show four combinations of two crucial factors that are not available in the old Western democracies: the content and the strength of the master-issue dimension. The study draws on an original dataset of protest events organised in the four countries between 1993 and 2010, and on qualitative and quantitative data on issue dimensions of party politics obtained from studies on party politics and expert surveys. The results show that in the Czech Republic, where the master-issue dimension has remained strongly economic, protest has been predominantly sociocultural. In Poland between 1993 and 2001 and Hungary between 1993 and 2006, the master-issue dimensions are strongly sociocultural, while protest is predominantly economic. There is no single-dimension equilibrium in party politics in Slovakia or in post-2001 Poland and mainstream parties compete on both economic and sociocultural issues. Consequently, the substitutive dynamics between party and protest politics is weaker and the issue agendas in party and protest arenas are here more alike.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1152-1171
Number of pages20
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Issue number4
Early online date15 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2019


  • cleavages
  • comparative politics
  • protest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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