Parties without Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies

By Russell J. Dalton; Martin P. Wattenberg | Go to book overview

11 On the Primacy of Party in Government

Why Legislative Parties Can Survive Party Decline in the Electorate

Michael F. Thies

It is tempting to view the evidence of declining party identification in the electorates of advanced industrial democracies (Chapters 2-4), and the changing nature of party organizations and campaign activity (Chapters 5-7), and conclude that parties are on their way out as a feature of modern democratic politics. At the same time, the evidence in this section suggests that 'party in government' remains alive and well in the advanced democracies. Parties still dominate the memberships of legislatures and cabinets (Chapter 9). Partisan cabinets still enjoy tremendous procedural advantages over individuals or non-partisan legislative groups. There is no evidence of a secular decline in the cohesiveness of parties in legislative votes (Chapter 8). And partisan shifts in government still produce predictable changes in government policy (Chapter 10).

Is this state of affairs contradictory? Can parties in government survive without parties in the electorate? This essay argues that parties in government can indeed survive, and even prosper, despite what is going on at the voter level. It provides a picture of parties without partisans that is neither paradoxical nor anti-democratic. If parties really are losing their hold on the electorate, it represents a return to their roots as parliamentary organizations. Although 'party decline' at the electoral level might kill off the organizational accoutrements that once aided the core pursuits of professional politicians, it need not strike a death blow to the 'core party', which remains the province of elected officials.


Why Parties?

The first parties were 'parliamentary cliques', long-lived and broad-ranging parliamentary coalitions that pre-dated mass electoral politics. With the advent of mass suffrage, these parliamentary groups used their collective attributes as electoral resources to appeal to voters as 'teams'. Even after the development of mass

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Parties without Partisans: Political Change in Advanced Industrial Democracies
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Comparative Politics ii
  • Parties Without Partisans iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Figures ix
  • List of Tables x
  • Notes on Contributors xii
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I Parties in the Electorate 17
  • 2 the Decline of Party Identifications 19
  • Appendix 62
  • 4 the Decline of Party Mobilization 64
  • Part II Parties as Political Organizations 77
  • 5 Parties Without Members? 79
  • Quantitative Changes in the Resourcing of West European Political Parties 126
  • Appendix Leadership Selectorate Details, by Party 150
  • Part III Parties in Government 155
  • 8 Parties in Legislatures: 157
  • 9 Parties at the Core of Government 180
  • Appendix 204
  • 11 on the Primacy of Party in Government 238
  • Conclusion 259
  • Appendix 285
  • References 286
  • Index 311
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