Henrik Seeberg

Henrik Seeberg | The Power of the Loser: Opposition Policy Influence through Agenda-Setting

Though vital to politics, the opposition party has received surprisingly scant attention by political scientists in comparison to the government party. This dissertation seeks to remedy this shortcoming by shedding light on the power of the loser. The opposition is argued to be able to pressurize the government and make it legislate through its opportunities to set the political agenda. Because the government has the policy responsibility and will be held to account in the following election, it is vulnerable to blame and concerned with avoiding opposition criticism. Legislating is a way to silence opposition criticism. A systematic effect of opposition criticism on government legislation is demonstrated on new quarterly data spanning several decades, different governments, and including the issues of crime, health, education, asylum/immigration, unemployment, tax, and the environment in the UK and Denmark. The analysis shows that the opposition not only makes the government legislate, but adopt legislation that in its content moves policy closer to the opposition’s stance. The policy impact of opposition criticism is even stronger if the opposition can draw on ownership of the issue in question as well as media coverage or actual societal problems concerning the issue, such as high crime rates. The dissertation thus not only directs attention to the opposition party but also in important ways broadens our perspective on how partiers matter to policy.

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