The Value of Public Opinion, Political Party Discourse and the Politics of Liberalisation in France

The Value of Public Opinion, Political Party Discourse and the Politics of Liberalisation in France

Intervenant : Kevin Brookes


Résumé (séance en anglais) :

This chapter extract first reviews previous studies accounting for the degree of liberalisation in public policies. None of the determinants pointed in the literature seem to be able to unravel the mystery of the French case. Rather, several explanatory factors would predict France to be among the most liberal countries in terms of public policy. France is open to globalisation, it belongs to the European Union, it experienced a series of economic crises during the 1970s, the level of political constraints imposed by its veto players is low (the executive has room to manoeuvre with respect to reforms), it has mainly been governed by right-wing parties, and its political system is majoritarian and semi-presidential. Yet, despite the presence of all these favourable factors, France has a more generous Welfare state, a government that spends more, and a more regulated economy than its European neighbours. To explain this research problem, we develop, in this chapter, a model based on the theory of justification costs that makes public opinion a determining variable in the spread of ideology in public policy. Based on a sample of developed countries, our empirical tests confirmed both direct and indirect effects of public opinion. There is a policy responsiveness of government in power to public opinion (direct effect) and political parties to public opinion and the content of their platform predicts the level of liberalisation (indirect effect). The empirical test of the mechanism is valid only for economic policies. We then show, focusing on the French case, that if opinion influences the direction of public policy, it is an indirect relationship that operates through the mediation of party platform. The low level of support for neoliberalism among the parties, as well as its sharp decline at the end of the 1980s, thus explains the absence of significant neoliberal turn in public policies in France over the period studied. No neoliberal revolution took place there, because no legitimating discourse of sufficient magnitude arose in the political arena, because it was too costly to support it politically. At the bottom line, public opinion was resistant to neoliberal discourse across the period, and the cost of opposing interventionism was even higher than in other countries.

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