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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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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.