How Political Parties Respond: Interest Aggregation Revisited

By Kay Lawson; Thomas Poguntke | Go to book overview
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5

From aggregation to cartel?

The Danish case

Karina Pedersen

Parties in Western post-industrial democracies are experiencing new challenges because their environments are changing rapidly due to social, political, organizational, technological and institutional changes (Strøm and Svåsand 1997). The erosion of class cleavages has created a more heterogeneous and individualistic society with increased volatility among the electorate and a decrease in the traditional social anchorage of political parties. Cognitive mobilization has decreased the need of citizens for mediating structures like parties. Post-industrial society has created well-educated and resourceful citizens who can do without party organizations both at elections and as an outlet for political participation. As the welfare states have been consolidated, voters have focused on new values, forcing the parties to provide policies on new issues and answers to new questions. Alternative ways of political participation, such as grassroots movements and single-issue pressure groups, and new types of political participation have challenged the parties, together with other leisure-time activities. New information and communication technologies such as the Internet and new campaign techniques such as focus groups, opinion polls and the art of spin doctors and communication experts bring forth not only opportunities but also challenges to parties.

These are some of the challenging changes parties in Western post-industrial democracies are facing. Parties may choose to adjust to their new environment, both by adapting themselves through changes in their organization, appeal or activities, and by influencing their environment and thereby their own context, or by a combination thereof (Deschouwer 1992). These and other challenges may have an impact on many aspects of political parties but of particular concern here is how the responsiveness of the parties is affected, as the focus of this chapter is on how political parties are responsive towards their members.

Many West European parties have been membership organizations in (part of) the twentieth century, because this type of party was found to be an adequate response to the challenge of mobilizing voters (Scarrow 1996:1). Some of these parties have only formally had members, whereas others have relied on the contributions of their members, but they have in

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