Why Do Poles (Still) Dislike Political Parties? Some Survey Insights into Anti-Party Attitudes in Poland, 1995-2011

By Gendzwill, Adam | Polish Sociological Review, October 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Why Do Poles (Still) Dislike Political Parties? Some Survey Insights into Anti-Party Attitudes in Poland, 1995-2011


Gendzwill, Adam, Polish Sociological Review


Abstract: The article examines the negative approach of Poles towards political parties and partisanship in the recent years, presenting this phenomenon as a part of wider anti-party syndrome, characterizing Polish democracy after 1989. Adapting the approach of Torcal, Gunther and Montero (2002), the author constructs a scale of the anti-partyism, based on the statements typical for anti-party discourse, assessed by respondents in three surveys conducted in 1995, 2001 and 2011. Subsequently, some explanations of anti-party attitudes are tested. The analyses demonstrate that anti-partyism in Poland is relatively durable and embraces both cultural and reactive components. Anti-party attitudes are more visible among citizens socialized during the communist period. However, the consolidation of democracy generated its "own" anti-partyism: the youngest citizens were gradually more disinclined to political parties in the period analyzed (1995-2011).

Keywords: Anti-partyism, anti-party attitudes, political parties, party system institutionalization, public opinion, Poland.

Introduction: Anti-Party Syndrome in Polish Democracy

Although the existing research shows that Poles present rather pro-democratic attitudes, they would rather live in a regime void of political parties. A relation between parties and democracy is not as evident for citizens as it is for the majority of theorists who have been continuously presenting an argument that democracy is unthinkable without parties and the parties have actually created modern democracy (e.g. Bryce 1921; Schattschneider 1942). When observing Polish politics, one might have an impression that many politicians would preferably distance themselves from the fact that they are members of political parties. "Partisan" (partyjny) in vernacular Polish, as well as in the discourse of the elites, is an adjective commonly evoking negative associations and very often it is a pure insult. Very frequent appeals to "de-party" (

In this article, I will examine the negative approach of Poles towards political parties and partisanship in the recent years. The analyses are based on the survey data; although, one should bear in mind that the unfavorable public opinion is only one of the indicators of a wider anti-party syndrome which might be observed in Polish democracy since 1989.

The anti-party syndrome is obviously not only a Polish phenomenon. There are numerous empirical studies documenting such tendencies in Western democracies that are interpreted as unfavorable for political parties. Researchers focused mainly on party dealignment, i.e. the decline of party identifications (Schmitt, Holmberg 1995; Dalton 2000; Dalton 2012), shrinking party membership rates (Katz et al. 1992; Mair, Biezen 2001; Mair, Biezen, Poguntke 2012), electoral behavior: decreasing turnout, increasing electoral volatility or increasing vote share for protest parties (Poguntke, 1996; Mudde 1996; Dalton, Wattenberg 2000; Mair 2005), decreasing citizens1 trust in parties (Gidengil et al., 2002; Dalton, Weldon 2005) or wide-spread negative opinions about parties and party democracy (Torcal, Gunther, Montero 2002; Linek 2005). The most accessible element of the anti-party syndrome is the anti-party discourse, both at the elite level (i.e. the discourse of politicians, publicists, and experts) and at the popular/mass level (which might be observed in the daily conversations of "average citizens" about politics). Both sources of "what people say about parties" shape the public opinion that can be accessed through surveys. The important elements of anti-party syndrome are also weakly institutionalized parties and party system (Lewis 1994; Bértoa, Mair 2010), behavior of politicians and citizens (voters) which generates instable and unpredictable environment for party organizations.

Thanks to the weakness of particular parties and instability of the entire party system, many arguments that are evoked in the anti-party discourse gain on strength, yet the anti-party argumentation impacts political behavior to a certain extent.

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