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Explaining party systems I. Reading: Sartori. Guiding Questions . What are party systems? How do we characterize/explain party systems? Why do we study party systems? Which variables do competition theories privilege? How do we evaluate competition theories of party systems?.

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Explaining party systems i

Explaining party systems I

Reading: Sartori

Guiding questions
Guiding Questions

  • What are party systems?

  • How do we characterize/explain party systems?

  • Why do we study party systems?

  • Which variables do competition theories privilege?

  • How do we evaluate competition theories of party systems?

Party systems defined
Party Systems Defined

  • Ware 1996

  • Units: political parties

  • Systems: “patterns of competition and co-operation between the different parties [within a given] system”

Why do we care
Why Do We Care?

  • It was believed that the number of parties within a system exerted a large influence on party behavior.

    • Two party systems promote moderation.

  • Also argued that democratic stability was predicated on the number of parties within a system.

    • Examples: French Third and Fourth Republics, Italian First Republic, Weimar Germany.

  • But the number of political parties within the system only tells us part of the story.

    • These cases also had other factors which promoted instability.

    • Multiparty systems are not necessarily less moderate than two party systems.

    • Two party systems are not necessarily more moderate than multiparty systems.

Why do we care1
Why Do We Care?

  • Understanding the party system gives us a basic understanding of the political system.

    • An “entry level” discussion of a political system.

  • Knowing the number (and types) of parties present within a system provides a basis for analysis and comparison with other systems.

    • Are there anti-system parties?

    • How polarized is the political system?

  • Understanding party systems helps us to identify whether or not broad political change is occurring.

    • Are the “old guard” parties holding their own?

    • Are new movements eclipsing the older parties?

What shapes party systems
What Shapes Party Systems?

  • DV: Party systems

  • Competition theories (e.g. Sartori 1976)

    • IV: patterns of political competition

  • Sociological theories (e.g. Lipset and Rokkan 1967)

    • IV: social divisions/cleavage patterns

  • Institutional theories (e.g. Duverger 1951; 1954).

    • IV: electoral systems; number of parties

Competition theories fragmentation
Competition Theories: Fragmentation

  • Sartori 1976

  • Number of parties (fragmentation) shapes complexity of the system.

    • But this begs the question: Which parties should be counted?

  • Parties are relevant if they possess:

    Coalition potential

    Blackmail potential

Competition polarization
Competition: Polarization

  • Sartori 1976

  • Fragmentation only tells us part of the story.

    • Ideological spread of relevant parties (polarization) also matters.

  • Classifies party systems on the basis of fragmentation (number of parties) and polarization (ideological spread and intensity).

    • Identifies seven categories.

      • Known for discussion of moderate vs. polarized pluralism

Multiparty systems polarized pluralism
Multiparty Systems: Polarized Pluralism

  • Sartori 1976

  • Fragmentation:

    • Five to six relevant political parties.

  • Polarization:

    • Center of spectrum is occupied.

    • Relevant anti-system parties exist.

      • Bilateral oppositions force coalitions of the center.

  • Patterns of competition:

    • Centrifugal

    • Polarization creates center fleeing effects.

  • Consequences for the party system:

    • Ideological patterning, irresponsible oppositions, and a politics of outbidding.

  • Example: Weimar Republic; Italian First Republic

Multiparty systems moderate pluralism
Multiparty Systems: Moderate Pluralism

  • Sartori 1976

  • Fragmentation:

    • 3-5 parties exist

  • Polarization:

    • Center of spectrum is not occupied.

    • No anti-system parties or bilateral oppositions

  • Patterns of Competition:

    • Centripetal

    • Lack of polarization creates center seeking effects.

  • Consequences for the party system:

    • Bipolar coalition structure; alternation in government occurs.

  • Example: Italian Second Republic, Germany, amongst others.

Two party systems
Two Party Systems

  • Sartori 1976

  • Fragmentation:

    • Two parties

  • Polarization:

    • No anti system parties

  • Pattern of competition:

    • Two parties can conceivably win a majority of the seats.

    • One of the two parties always win a parliamentary majority.

  • Consequences for the party competition

    • Majority party is willing to govern alone.

    • Alternation of government is expected or possible

  • Example: United Kingdom (2.5 parties)

Evaluating sartori
Evaluating Sartori



  • Useful in terms of determining relevant political parties.

  • Appear to be links between the number of political parties within a system and its polarization.

  • Pattern of competition does appear to shape coalition formation.

  • Classification lumps most systems into the moderate pluralist category.

    • Although if we relax the assumption about anti system parties, this changes

  • Extreme parties, whether or not anti-system, may create centrifugal tendencies.

    • Far right parties not “anti-system” but they do shift patterns of competition

  • Appeals in two party systems are not always moderate.

Sociological and institutional rejoinders
Sociological and Institutional Rejoinders

  • Sartori hints at aspects of society that foster moderate politics.

    • Boosts sociological explanations.

  • Discussion glosses over how institutions frame competition within the system.

    • If institutions frame competition this suggests that institutional explanations are relevant.

      • Is competition epiphenomenal?

Next unit
Next Unit

  • Theme: Explaining Party Systems II

    • Readings: Lijphart 62-77 and 143-170, Lipset and Rokkan, Duverger, Cox


        • 1) Cleavage patterns and party systems.

        • 2) Critical junctures and issue dimensions.

        • 3) Relationships between electoral systems and party systems.