How Political Parties Respond: Interest Aggregation Revisited

By Kay Lawson; Thomas Poguntke | Go to book overview

9

Paying for party response

Parties of the centre-right in post-war Italy

Jonathan Hopkin

Political parties in Western democracies are under pressure. A variety of social, cultural and economic forces have undermined their traditional organizational and electoral practices, forcing them to change their strategies of electoral mobilization. Although the strength of these pressures varies across democratic states, and some parties are coping rather better than others, several major European parties have fundamentally changed the way they respond to their electorates over the last two or three decades. The case I will examine in this chapter, Italy, is a rather extreme example of this phenomenon. In the immediate post-war period, Italian politics was dominated by the sharp division between Communism and conservative Catholicism, represented by two parties that carried out the 'classic form' of interest aggregation. The left electorate was largely represented by the Communist Party (PCI), a classic mass workers' and peasants' party, and the Catholic centre and right by the Christian Democrats (DC), whose mobilization strategy combined traditional clientelism and close co-operation with the Catholic Church. The 'imperfect two-party system' (Galli 1966) structured around these parties reflected a divided and complex society in which political tensions were not always expressed through democratic channels. The gradual decline of Christian Democracy and the easing of the class and religious cleavages brought new forms of response from the existing parties and various adaptations to the governing coalitions, but the essential features of the party system showed a significant degree of stability. All this changed in the 1990s, as the major parties either split, disintegrated or even disappeared, and completely new parties emerged, such as the populist Northern League and Forza Italia, electoral vehicle of tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. This amounted to perhaps the most comprehensive overhaul of political representation in post-war West European history: the electoral volatility score for the 1992-94 period was 41.9 per cent.

Even before these dramatic changes, accounts of the post-war Italian political system had tended to stress its turbulence and instability. Italy was an important empirical inspiration for Sartori's conceptualization of 'polarized pluralism', a party system characterized by high levels of ideo-

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How Political Parties Respond: Interest Aggregation Revisited
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • 1 - Do Parties Respond? 1
  • 2 - Speaking for Whom? 15
  • 3 - From Disaster to Landslide 41
  • 4 - From People's Movements to Electoral Machines? 61
  • 5 - From Aggregation to Cartel? 86
  • 6 - How Parties in Government Respond 105
  • 7 - Reaggregating Interests? 129
  • 8 - Radicals, Technocrats and Traditionalists 146
  • 9 - Paying for Party Response 176
  • 10 - Latecomers but 'Early-Adapters' 198
  • 11 - Representative Rule or the Rule of Representations 227
  • 12 - Five Variations on a Theme 250
  • Index 267
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