Russell J. Dalton
One of the most important measures of the nature of party-based democracy is public attachment to political parties. In a recent essay on the state of political parties in America, John Coleman (1996) argues that the key question of partisan politics is whether parties are able to mobilize and integrate the mass public into the democratic process. Parties should not be measured by their organizational activities alone—although these are important measures of partisan politics—but by the goals of this activity. An important measure of the nature of party politics is the public's identification with political parties and the system of party government.
This chapter approaches the study of partisan change with an individualist emphasis for two reasons. First, public ties to political parties measure both the vitality of party government and provide a context within which parties, candidates, and other political actors operate. The number of campaign rallies organized by a party, the election mailers and brochures, and the party contact with voters are means toward an end—developing public support for the party, and indirectly legitimacy for a system of party-based democracy. Second, the processes of political modernization outlined in Chapter 1 often lead to changes in the citizen's relationship to politics. For example, rising educational levels and changing communication patterns should alter how citizens relate to politics. Thus many of the changes in the functional bases of party politics should first appear in public attitudes and behaviours.
This chapter begins by discussing the importance of partisanship as a concept in electoral research. The analyses review the evidence of change in partisan attachments for a broad set of advanced industrial societies. Despite the extensive work that has been done on partisanship, scholars remain divided on the extent of