A perennial question for students of democracy is the extent to which government policies align with voter preferences. This is often studied by comparing median voter opinion on a left–right scale with the cabinet weighted mean, that is, the mean left–right position of cabinet parties, weighted by their legislative sizes. Government positions may also be estimated from their declarations, however. In a recent investigation, McDonald and Budge found that declared government policy better accords with the voter median than with the cabinet weighted mean, a finding they interpreted as consistent with their hypothesis that actual government policy tends to reflect a “median mandate.” This investigation retests the McDonald–Budge model using a time-series cross-section methodology and an expanded data set. It finds no support for a median mandate interpretation but strong evidence that declared government positions respond to the positions of cabinet parties and, where present, external support parties. It also reveals a tendency for declared positions to be shifted to the right of the cabinet mean, a tendency that increases with the length of time that has elapsed since the last election (particularly for left-wing governments). This evidence that the policies governments set out to implement are systematically “right shifted” bears major consequences for our understanding of representative democracy.
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