Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis

By Giovanni Sartori | Go to book overview

chapter
five
the numerical criterion*

1. THE ISSUE

There are more than 100 states that display, at least on paper, some kind of party arrangement.1 The variety of these arrangements is as impressive as the number. How are we to order the maze? For a long time party systems have been classified by counting the number of parties – whether one, two, or more than two. By now, however, there is a near-unanimous agreement that the distinction among oneparty, two-party and multiparty systems is highly inadequate. And we are even told that [a judgement as to the number of major parties…obscures more than it illuminates.]2

One reaction to the party-counting approach is simply to drop the numerical base, precisely [on the assumption that the traditional distinction between twoparty and multiparty patterns has not led to sufficiently meaningful insights.] Thus LaPalombara and Weiner propose – for the competitive party systems – the following fourfold typology: (i) hegemonic ideological, (ii) hegemonic pragmatic, (iii) turnover ideological, (iv) turnover pragmatic.3 The scheme is highly suggestive; but it is too sweeping. Another reaction is to let the data – especially the electoral turnouts – determine the classes, i.e., different clusters of party systems. This is the suggestion, for example, of Blondel.4 Athird reaction is to wonder whether we need classes at all, i.e., whether there is any point in classifying party systems. The argument is, here, that our universe is continuous and therefore that all we need is an index of fragmentation, or of fractionalisation, or of linear dispersion, and the like. These suggestions will be taken up and discussed in due course.5 For the time being, let us simply note that almost every writer comes up with his own scheme.6 By now classification and typologies of party systems are a plethora, and [confusion and profusion of terms seems to be the rule.]7

We are seemingly entering, then, a vicious circle. On the one hand we are on the verge of drowning in an embarras de richesse. On other hand, this very proliferation attests that the universe of party systems badly and increasingly needs to be charted. But this appears to require further additions to the 'profusion and confusion'. The lesser evil is, perhaps, to backtrack and to review the case from the beginning. Was there something fundamentally wrong in the initial start, or

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