According to spatial models of elections, citizen perceptions of party policy positions are a key determinant of voting choices. Yet recent scholarship from Europe suggests that voters do not adjust their perceptions according to what parties advocate in their campaigns. This article argues that voters develop a more accurate understanding of parties' ideological positions following a leadership change because a new leader increases the credibility of party policy offerings. Focusing on Western European parties in the 1979&-2012 period, it shows that having a new leader is a necessary condition for voters to more accurately perceive the left&-right placements of opposition parties. Voters do not use party platforms to form perceptions of incumbent parties'positions, regardless of whether the leader is new or veteran. These results have important implications for models of party competition and democratic representation.
spatial models; voter perceptions; party leader; party manifestos; western europe