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Article

Predicting Party Systems from Electoral Systems  

Rein Taagepera and Matthew Shugart

The Seat Product Model matters to electoral and party systems specialists in what it is able to predict, and to all political scientists as one example of how to predict. The seat product (MS) is the product of assembly size (S) and electoral district magnitude (M, number of seats allocated). Without any data input, thinking about conceptual lower and upper limits leads to a sequence of logically grounded models that apply to simple electoral systems. The resulting formulas allow for precise predictions about likely party system outputs, such as the number of parties, the size of the largest party, and other quantities of interest. The predictions are based entirely on institutional inputs. And when tested on real-world electoral data, these predictions are found to explain over 60% of the variance. This means that they provide a baseline expectation, against which actual countries and specific elections can be compared. To the broader political science audience, this research sends the following message: Interconnected quantitatively predictive relationships are a hallmark of developed science, but they are still rare in social sciences. These relationships can exist with regard to political phenomena if one is on the lookout for them. Logically founded predictions are stronger than merely empirical relationships or predictions of the direction of effects. Finally, isolated equations that connect various factors are nice, but equations that interconnect pack even more predictive punch. Political scientists should strive for connections among connections. This would lead to a more scientific political science.

Article

Political Parties and Democratization  

John Ishiyama

Parties are indispensable to the building and maintenance of democracy. This is because parties are purported to promote representation, conflict management, integration, and accountability in new democracies. Second, the failures of parties in helping to build democracy in systems in transition are because they have not performed these functions very well. Third, there are three emerging research agendas to be explored that address the relationship between parties and democratic consolidation: (a) the promotion of institutional innovations that help build institutionalized party systems; (b) the role of ethnic parties in democratization and democratic consolidation; and (c) the role of rebel parties in building peace and democracy after civil wars. Although not entirely exhaustive, these three agendas represent promising avenues of research into the role political parties play in democratization.

Article

Party-System Change in Latin America  

Jason Seawright

From one point of view, Latin America’s party systems are in a constant state of change, with high levels of electoral volatility, recurrent episodes of personalism, and a generally low level of predictability. From a deeper analytic perspective, however, there are clear differences between periods of massive, essentially region-wide party-system change, as at the birth of mass politics in the first half of the 20th century and during the neoliberal era, and periods of relative stability, such as the period of the Cold War. Latin American party politics is thus characterized by a rhythm of (sometimes long) periods of continuity interrupted by episodes of crisis and change. Episodes of change occur when the foundations of political competition are revised: at the dawn of mass politics in the early 20th century, for example, or during the period of political and economic reform that marked the end of the Cold War. A distinctly Latin American puzzle for the study of party systems emerges from taking the long view of these periods of stability and disruption. For the most part, party systems in the region are distinctly central to politics and electoral in origin, in contrast to many other developing countries where parties are noncentral, volatile, or oriented toward nonelectoral forms of governance. Yet, these same party systems are largely unable to adjust their appeals when faced with fundamental transformations to the social, political, or economic landscape—in contrast to the party systems of much of North America and Western Europe, where many parties and party systems have successfully navigated multiple such transformations with the identities of key parties intact.

Article

Party Systems: Types, Dimensions, and Explanations  

Zsolt Enyedi and Fernando Casal Bértoa

The study of political parties and party systems is intimately linked to the development of modern political science. The configuration of party competition varies across time and across polities. In order to capture this variance, one needs to go beyond the analysis of individual parties and to focus on their numbers (i.e. fragmentation), their interactions (i.e. closure), the prevailing ideological patterns (i.e. polarization), and the stability of the balance of power (i.e. volatility) in all spheres of competition, including the electoral, parliamentary, and governmental arenas. Together, these factors constitute the core informal institution of modern politics: a party system. The relevant scholarship relates the stability of party systems to the degree of the institutionalization of individual parties, to various institutional factors such as electoral systems, to sociologically anchored structures such as cleavages, to economic characteristics of the polity (primarily growth), to historical legacies (for example, the type of dictatorship that preceded competitive politics) and to the length of democratic experience and to the characteristics of the time when democracy was established. The predictability of party relations has been found to influence both the stability of governments and the quality of democracy. However, still a lot is to be learned about party systems in Africa or Asia, the pre-WWII era or in regional and/or local contexts. Similarly, more research is needed regarding the role of colonialism or how party system stability affects policy-making. As far as temporal change is concerned, we are witnessing a trend towards the destabilization of party systems, but the different indicators show different dynamics. It is therefore crucial to acknowledge that party systems are complex, multifaceted phenomena.

Article

Activism of Political Parties in Africa  

George M. Bob-Milliar

Since the early 1990s, African states have been democratizing. Political parties now dominate the public spaces in many African democracies. The past 26 years have witnessed the growth and consolidation of “party democracy” in Africa. This is the longest period of uninterrupted growth of electoral politics in many countries on the continent. Recent Afrobarometer surveys show that almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans support pluralistic politics. Party identification in sub-Saharan Africa has also been on the rise. Across 16 states Afrobarometer surveyed, a majority of Africans (65%) claim they “feel close to” a political party in their country. The mass public who identified with a particular political party increased by 7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015. Political parties are the vehicles for citizens to engage in party activism. The women and men who join a political party become the party activists. Party activists are the lifeblood of the party organization. And political party activism in sub-Saharan Africa is geared toward the election of the party and its candidates into office. Consequently, party activism is a continuum of high-intensity and low-intensity political activities. Party activists vary in their levels of involvement. Thus, it is a mixture of fanfare and aggressive participation. Political party activism is a multifaceted process where party members undertake any of the following political activities: display a poster, donate money, help with fund-raising, deliver election leaflets, help at a party function, attend party meetings, undertake door-to-door campaigning, and run for party office. The involvement of party members usually varies from active engagement to passive attachment to the party. There were several motives for party activists getting involved in “high-intensity participation.” Because of the crucial role party activists play in the intra- and inter-party competition, the parties provide some incentives to get members commitment. At the organizational level, party activists present themselves for election into party offices at the grassroots, regionally or nationally. They devote their time and financial resources in furtherance of the party agenda. In return, party activists expect the party to reward them with selective incentives when power is won. That said, more research is required at the country level to enable us to construct the profile of the African party activists.

Article

Citizen Representation and Electoral Systems  

Benjamin Ferland and Matt Golder

One common way to think about citizen representation is in terms of the ideological distance between citizens and their representatives. Are political elites ideologically congruent with citizen preferences? Electoral systems are an especially important political institution to consider when studying citizen representation because they influence the size and ideological composition of party systems, how votes are translated into legislative seats, the types of governments that form after elections, and the types of policies that get implemented. In effect, electoral institutions affect each stage of the representation process as one moves from citizen preferences to policy outcomes. Research on ideological congruence indicates that electoral rules can cause distortions in citizen-elite congruence to emerge and disappear as one moves through the representation process. In this regard, studies show that proportional electoral systems enjoy a representational advantage over majoritarian systems when it comes to legislative congruence (the ideological distance between the median legislative party and the median citizen) but that this advantage disappears when it comes to government congruence (the ideological distance between the government and the median citizen). Although research on citizen-elite ideological congruence has made significant progress over the last two decades, several new lines of inquiry are still worth pursuing. One is to move beyond the traditional focus on the left–right ideological dimension to evaluate citizen representation in a truly multidimensional framework. Another is to develop a unified theoretical framework for thinking about ideological congruence and ideological responsiveness. For too long, scholars have conducted studies of citizen-elite congruence and responsiveness in relative isolation, even though they address fundamentally related issues. In terms of measurement issues, progress can be made by developing better instruments to help locate citizens and elites on a common metric and paying more attention to the policymaking dynamics associated with minority and coalition governments. Existing studies of ideological congruence focus on the United States and the parliamentary democracies of Western Europe. Scholars might fruitfully extend the study of citizen representation to presidential democracies, other regions of the world, and even authoritarian regimes. Among other things, this may require that scholars think about how to conceptualize and measure citizen representation in countries where parties are not programmatic or where elites are not necessarily elected.

Article

Politometrics: Quantitative Models of Political Institutions  

Josep M. Colomer

Logical models and statistical techniques have been used for measuring political and institutional variables, quantifying and explaining the relationships between them, testing theories, and evaluating institutional and policy alternatives. A number of cumulative and complementary findings refer to major institutional features of a political process of decision-making: from the size of the assembly to the territorial structure of the country, the electoral system, the number of parties in the assembly and in the government, the government’s duration, and the degree of policy instability. Mathematical equations based on sound theory are validated by empirical tests and can predict precise observations.

Article

Party Systems in Latin America  

Laura Wills-Otero

Since the beginning of the third wave of democratization in the late 1970s, Latin American party systems have confronted several challenges, and they have frequently been transformed. There have been various types of changes. While some systems collapsed in the 1990s (e.g., Venezuela and Peru), others realigned (Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay), or expanded (Argentina and Mexico), or were able to become consolidated and ensure their stability over time (e.g., Brazil). What factors explain the transformations in party systems during the past three decades, and how can Latin American party systems be classified according to their attributes? In trying to answer these questions, scholars of Latin America have undertaken studies that are both theoretically and empirically rich. Their work has increased our knowledge of the party systems and representative democracies in the region. Different factors have been highlighted in order to explain the changes these systems have undergone since the third wave of democratization. Some works emphasize the importance of institutional reforms introduced by politicians or by constitutional assemblies. The questions they address are the following: What political reforms have been introduced into Latin American political systems, and what effects have they had on the party systems in different countries? The researchers do not limit their attention to reforms of electoral systems. For example, some of them also study decentralization processes and their effects on party systems. From a different perspective, other authors focus on changes in electoral preferences and their effects on the configuration of political power, exploring how regional economic, political, and social changes have affected voter preferences and the political configuration of party systems. Still others consider the crises of democratic representation in these countries, underlining the decline in the programmatic character of parties as an explanatory variable for the crises and noting that the level of institutionalization of a party system declines when parties abandon this distinctive feature and become clientelistic or personalistic instead. On the other hand, in order to describe party systems and to observe the changes they have undergone, academics have proposed a set of concepts and measurements that make it possible to identify their levels of institutionalization (i.e., stability vs. volatility), nationalization, and programmatic structuration, among other aspects. The operationalization of these concepts has provided researchers with useful data for describing, comparing, and analyzing the party systems of the region transversely over time. Understanding the transformation and characteristics of Latin American party systems over time sheds light on both the progress democratic regimes have made and the setbacks they have suffered within specific countries and in the region at large.

Article

Parties and Regime Change in Latin America  

Laura Gamboa

The importance of political parties has been at the heart of the debate about regime and regime change. Parties are essential actors for democratic politics. They can trigger transitions from and to democracy, polarize making democracies vulnerable to breakdown, or manage conflict to protect democratic institutions. However, not all parties or party systems are equal. The levels of fragmentation, polarization, and institutionalization in any given party and/or party system are key to understanding the rise, fall, and survival of democracy. In Latin America, the literature has focused, mostly, on party and party system institutionalization. In general, scholars agree that institutionalization fosters democracy. The organizational strength and embeddedness of political parties in society and the extent to which they interact regularly in stable ways, they argue, is key to the survival of democratic politics. There are instances, however, that suggest that this relationship is more problematic than the literature assumes. In contexts of crisis, highly institutionalized parties and party systems can be slow to adjust to new groups or demands and stiffen party leaders’ ability to respond to new issues. When facing a polarizing potential autocrat, for instance, high levels of party and party system institutionalization could hurt more than help democracy. They can reduce the ability of politicians to attract moderate voters from opposing parties, hinder their capacity to counteract antisystemic trends in order to lead opposition efforts, or limit the extent to which they can reach across the aisle to build ideologically diverse prodemocratic coalitions.

Article

Electoral Volatility in Latin America  

Miguel Carreras and Igor Acácio

Latin American political systems experience significant levels of institutional uncertainty and unpredictability. One of the main dimensions of this institutional and political instability is the high level of electoral volatility in the region. In the last 30 years, traditional parties that had competed successfully for several decades abruptly collapsed or weakened considerably in a number of Latin American countries. New parties (or electoral movements) and political outsiders have attracted considerable electoral support in several national and subnational elections in the region. Even when the main partisan actors remain the same from one election to the next, it is not uncommon to observe large vote swings from one established party to another. While some scholars and observers expected that the instability in electoral outcomes would decline as democracies aged and consolidated, electoral volatility has remained high in recent decades in many Latin American countries. However, in other Third Wave Latin American democracies (e.g., Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Uruguay), the patterns of interparty competition have been much more stable, which suggests we should avoid blanked generalizations about the level of party system institutionalization and volatility in the region. Cross-national variation in the stability of electoral outcomes has also motivated interesting scholarly work analyzing the causes and the consequences of high volatility in Latin American democracies. One of the major findings of this literature is that different forms of institutional discontinuity, such as the adoption of a new constitution, a significant enfranchisement, electoral system reforms, and irregular changes in the legislative branch (e.g., a dissolution of Congress) or in the executive branch (e.g., a presidential interruption), can result in higher volatility. Another major determinant of instability in electoral outcomes is the crisis of democratic representation experienced by several Latin American countries. When citizens are disenchanted with the poor performance and moral failures (e.g., corruption) of established political parties, they are more likely to support new parties or populist outsiders. Weak party system institutionalization and high electoral volatility have serious consequences for democratic governability. Institutionalized party systems with low electoral volatility promote consensus-building and more moderate policies because political parties are concerned about their long-term reputation and constrain the decisions of political leaders. In contrast, party systems with high volatility can lead to the rise of outsider presidents that have more radical policy preferences and are not constrained by strongly organized parties. Electoral volatility also undermines democratic representation. First, the fluidity of the party system complicates the task of voters when they want to hold the members of the incumbent party accountable for bad performance. Second, high instability in the patterns of interparty competition hinders citizens’ ability to navigate programmatic politics. Finally, electoral volatility augments the cognitive load required to vote and foments voter frustration, which can lead to higher rates of invalid voting.

Article

Coalition Politics and Foreign Policy  

Sibel Oktay

Coalition governments are observed frequently in parliamentary systems. Approximately 70% of all governments in postwar Europe have been one type of coalition or another. Israel has never been ruled by a single-party government in its history. Recently, majoritarian systems like Britain produced coalitions, taking many by surprise. The prominence of coalitions in parliamentary democracies compels researchers to study them more closely. The Comparative Politics literature investigates, in particular, the dynamics of coalition formation and termination, as well as the domestic policy outputs of coalitions, especially compared to governments ruled by a single party. Coalitions have generated interest on the International Relations front as well. One avenue of research transcends the “political party” as a building block and conceptualizes coalitions as a “decision unit” by focusing on the group of veto players in a regime’s foreign policy apparatus. Another line of scholarship, situated in the “Democratic Peace” framework, looks at coalitions as a domestic-institutional factor to observe their effects on the likelihood of international conflict. Departing from the “Democratic Peace” tradition, more recent research in Foreign Policy Analysis rejuvenates the study of coalitions in international politics. This literature not only encourages theory development by scrutinizing why coalitions behave differently than single-parties in the international arena but also bridges the gap between International Relations and Comparative Politics. Emphasizing the organic relationship between domestic politics and foreign policy, foreign policy researchers dissect coalition governments to highlight the role political parties play on foreign policy formulation and implementation. This literature also illustrates the merits of methodological plurality in studying foreign policy. Using a combination of comparative case studies, process tracing, Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) and regression modeling, it sheds light not only on the broader trends that characterize coalition foreign policy but also on the causal mechanisms and contextual factors which often go unaccounted for in purely statistical analyses. The recent advances in role and image theories in Foreign Policy Analysis are expected to influence the study of coalitions and their foreign policies, offering an interpretivist take alongside this positivist trajectory.

Article

Party System Polarization and Electoral Behavior  

Ruth Dassonneville and Semih Çakır

When deciding whether to turn out to vote and what party to support, citizens are constrained by the available options within their party system. A rich literature shows that characteristics of this choice set, which capture how “meaningful” the choice is, have pervasive effects on electoral behavior and public opinion. Party system polarization in particular, which captures how ideologically dispersed the parties are, has received much attention in earlier work. More ideologically polarized party systems are associated with higher turnout rates, while both proximity voting and mechanisms of accountability appear strengthened when parties are more ideologically distinct. However, party system polarization also strengthens party attachments and entails a risk of fostering mass polarization.

Article

Party Systems in Africa  

Matthias Basedau

Political party systems are an important element of political systems in Africa and elsewhere. They form the central intermediate institution between the general population and the government. Party systems represent and aggregate diverse political views and group interests, and they form coalitions that then form governments with potentially important consequences of democracy and political stability. Unlike the case in the period directly after independence, African party systems have been overwhelmingly multiparty since the 1990s. As a result, the literature has grown significantly, although most works focus on political parties rather than party systems. Many efforts have been devoted to classification, referring to the legal context as well as, more specifically, the number of relevant parties, the levels of institutionalization, and, less often, the degree of ideological or other polarization. While levels of institutionalization and ideological differences are generally not pronounced, more than half of African party systems have been one-party dominant, of which most are authoritarian. In contrast, two-party and pluralist-party systems, which make up approximately one half of all multiparty systems, are generally more democratic. Besides determining classifications, most analytical work focuses on the determinants of African party systems using quantitative and qualitative as well as macro- and micro-level methodologies. Three determinants are debated: first, ethnicity, which has been cited as the main social cleavage behind African party systems; however, while ethnicity matters, its effects vary and are limited; second, political institutions, especially electoral systems for legislative elections, which only partly explain fragmentation or other features; third, the performance of political parties and rationalist approaches. Scholars largely agree that all of these elements need to be taken into account. While certain functions of party systems may facilitate democratization and political stability or other outcomes, little empirical work exists on the consequences of party systems. Some evidence suggests that highly institutionalized, moderately fragmented, and polarized systems promote democracy. Future research faces many challenges, in particular the development of integrated theory and more fine-grained data, as well as an increased focus on the consequences of party systems.