Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Disentangling the Roles of Ideology and Issue Positions in the Rise of Third Parties: The Case of Argentina

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Disentangling the Roles of Ideology and Issue Positions in the Rise of Third Parties: The Case of Argentina

Article excerpt

This article examines why, in a system of high voter turnout, voters defect from traditional parties to third parties, and is especially focused on disentangling the roles of ideology and issue positions in voters' decision to switch allegiances. The empirical case that is examined is the emergence of the FREPASO coalition in Argentina. Multinomial logit regression is used to analyze the vote choice of respondents in an Argentine public opinion survey. The principal finding of this article is that the victories of FREPASO stem from its ability to fill a previously empty niche in the ideological spectrum of Argentine politics. Voters for FREPASO were left-of-center, and their left-wing ideology was in part an expression of their preference for greater government intervention in reducing differences between rich and poor people, but ideology had an impact beyond a mere expression of support for a stronger government role in the economy.

One of the weaknesses in our understanding of party systems is that we are often unable to explain why stable two-party systems are suddenly faced with the emergence of powerful third parties. In countries in which voter turnout is low, such as the United States, research has indicated that voters for third parties lend to be new and independent voters (Asher 1995; Rosenstone et al. 1996). In many advanced industrial and developing democracies, however, voter turnout is very high, and third parties are not merely attracting new voters-they are actually provoking voters to defect from mainstream parties. This article attempts to explain why voters abandon traditional parties in favor of a new one, and is especially focused on disentangling the role of ideology and issue positions in voters' decision to swilch allegiances.

Argentina is a good case for a study of why, in a system of high voter turnout, voters defect to third parties because evidence suggests that voters for FREPASO (Frente del Pais Solidario), a new party, deserted traditional parties.1 The dramatic success in Argentina of FREPASO, in whal had been a system dominated by the Peronist party (Parlido juslicialista-PJ), and the Radical party (Union Civica Radical-UCR) since democracy had been reinstated in 1983, gives us an unusual opportunity to attempt to understand the conditions under which third parties can grow rapidly by inducing voters to switch party preferences. Only one year after the inception of FREPASO, its presidential ticket won 29.2 percent of the votes, compared to 17 percent that went for the UCR and 49.9 percent to the PJ. Perhaps even more surprising was that within the Federal Capital, in which the two traditional parties had exclusively held a grip on voter's affections since the 1940s, 44.2 percent of the vote went to the FREPASO presidential ticket, and the Peronist party and the UCR garnered 41.5 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively (Perry 1995). It is remarkable that an upstart party was able to surpass the popularity of the well-established UCR, which had been founded in the 1890's (Botana 1975: 239). It is equally remarkable that in the Federal Capital FREPASO won more votes than the PJ, which had the advantage of incumbency prior to that election, and which had divided political power with the UCR for almost 50 years.

The principal finding of this study is that voters defected to FREPASO because they found that it filled an ideological niche that the two dominant parties did not. I find that voters for FREPASO were left-of-center, and their left-wing ideology was in part an expression of their preference for greater government intervention in reducing differences between rich and poor people, but ideology had an impact beyond a mere expression of support for more government intervention in the economy. The findings in this study are important because they contribute to ongoing efforts to disentangle the effects of ideology and issue positions. They are also important because they suggest that vote choice for a third party in a system of high voter turnout is motivated by different factors than in a system of low voter turnout. …

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