CENTRALIZATION AND PROVINCIALIZATION
IN CHAPTER 3 we developed the argument that the centralization of economic and political power in the national government makes party aggregation easier to accomplish in elections to the national parliament. As policy-making authority migrates toward higher levels of government, voters will be more inclined to choose candidates who adopt party labels at broader levels of aggregation. Candidates will in turn prefer to choose labels that communicate policy positions on issues that are primarily dealt with at the higher levels of government. Smaller, more regionally concentrated parties will be squeezed as voters will increasingly prefer that candidates belong to parties most able to influence policy making at the levels of government that can either regulate economic activity or secure public resources. As a general pattern, we should expect to see the concentration of power at the national level to be accompanied by a nationalization of the party system.
A corollary of this argument suggests that when authority over the issues voters care about is dispersed to lower levels of government or is provincialized (power is dispersed among different governments), regional and state-based or province-based parties can more easily find the political space to form and survive. This is especially true in federal systems where state-based or province-based parties can control state or provincial governments.
In this chapter we examine empirically the first part of this argument, the independent variable, if you will. We categorize eras in Canada, Great Britain, India, and the United States into centralizing and provincializing periods. In the next two chapters we devote attention to the second part of the argument, the dependent variable, which illustrates how the party systems responded during and after these periods.
Federalism is often presented either as an equilibrium solution to the problem of how diverse nations or cultural groups can band together to achieve a common purpose while retaining their individuality (Elazar 1987) or as an “unstable halfway house between unified national government and an alliance among separate sovereign states” (Eskridge and Ferejohn 1994, 1355–56). A surviving federation is regarded by some as an equilibrium in the sense that it stabilizes between two undesirable outcomes; one has it spinning apart with the constituent units going