Political parties in advanced industrial democracies are changing in multi-faceted ways. Some scholars write of parties in decline, others of parties in resurgence, and still others of parties as transformed. What accounts for these differing conclusions? We suspected at the outset of this project that the answer stems from the fact that most publications deal with only one of three general areas of work on the subject: parties in the electorate, as organizations, and in government. As demonstrated in this volume, conclusions about changes in parties do indeed vary greatly according to perspective. At the risk of oversimplification, parties in the electorate do appear to be weakening most everywhere, whereas parties in government have largely maintained their functions, and parties as organizations have adapted to a vastly different environment through new methods and procedures. The findings, we believe, signal a considerable change in the nature of democratic politics that are just beginning to be felt.
A prime goal of this work was to bring together scholars who focus on different aspects of parties and get them to address each other's findings and conclusions. We first convened a planning meeting in Laguna Beach, California to discuss how we could best proceed. We agreed to begin from a functional perspective, comparatively examining the various functions that parties are thought to perform in any democracy. The group decided to focus on partisan changes in the established democracies of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) since 1950. We also settled on trying to get as many of these countries covered in each chapter as possible, relying on archived data, published sources of information, and email queries to various country experts.
After the initial planning meeting, we assembled again during an American Political Science Association meeting at the backroom of a Washington, D.C. restaurant where Newt Gingrich and company reportedly planned out the 'Contract With America.' Although some of us were not particularly impressed with Newt's taste in food, we agreed that most parts of the project were coming along well and that we were ready for a full-fledged conference on changes in party politics. This next meeting took place over two days in March of 1998 in Newport Beach, California, at which time most of the results presented here were discussed. We want to thank Ken Carty, Gary Cox, and Barbara Sinclair for critiquing our findings at this conference, and helping to improve the final product.
Subsequently, many of the contributors took numerous opportunities to get together to discuss substantive details at various conferences and meetings.