Integrative and Divisive Roles of Political Parties: Party Attachment, Ideology and Satisfaction with Democracy in the Netherlands

By Todosijevic, Bojan | Romanian Journal of Political Science, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Integrative and Divisive Roles of Political Parties: Party Attachment, Ideology and Satisfaction with Democracy in the Netherlands


Todosijevic, Bojan, Romanian Journal of Political Science


Introduction

The role of political parties in legitimizing regimes and integrating citizens into the democratic political order is often praised (e.g., Schattschneider, 1942, Sartori 1976, Katz & Crotty, 2006) but less often demonstrated. (3) If parties have indeed such a role, they must exercise it, among other ways, through the emotional links that exist between parties and citizens (Enyedi & Todosijevic, 2009).

Citizens equipped with civic virtues such as political interest, knowledge, participation, sense of efficacy, should, therefore, be more likely to view political parties as legitimate political actors, and feel attached to (some of) them. Positive emotions binding citizens to parties, together with the mentioned civic virtues, should make citizens feel integrated into the political system, and result in the stronger acceptance of and satisfaction with the democratic political order.

Yet, parties are often seen as reflecting the insurmountable social divisions, and accused of promoting or even creating conflict and competition for their own purpose (cf. Maggiotto and Piereson 1977; Layman and Carsey 2002, Brewer, 2005, Ishiyama, 2009). From this perspective, according to Daalder "Mass parties are accused of being heavily ideologized 'fighting machines', seeking to subject both voters and the state to a combination of dogma and elitist self-interest." (2002, p. 43). Hence, partisanship may equally be expressive of the antagonistic view of the politics, of fundamental ideological disagreements and visceral abhorrence towards one's political opponents. Provided the right kind of motivation, political parties could easily appear as irreconcilable enemies, rather than representatives of alternative visions in the civic project of advancing the common good. When seen in this perspective, strong partisanship should be accompanied by ideological extremism, and possibly with the skepticism toward democratic order.

In light of the two visions of the role of party attachment, it becomes particularly important to identify the conditions under which partisan attachments develop and to assess their attitudinal consequences. The present paper examines the hypothesis about the mediating role of partisan attachments. (25) According to this hypothesis, strong attachment to political parties has a double function concerning the citizens' relationship to the political system: the integrative and the divisive. On the one side, political parties may help the integration of citizens into the political system. Attachment to political parties channels political and ideological polarization away from system-challenging activities towards the regime support and acceptance of the prevailing political (democratic) order. This view has a considerable history in the literature on party identification, such as Mainwaring and Scully (1994), Huntington (1968), Rose and Mishler (1998), Morlino and Montero (1995), Yanai (1999), Schattschneider (1942).

On the other side, parties could equally be seen as agents of political division and antagonism. In this view (e.g., Budge et al., 1976), parties may also foster ideological extremism, and thereby contribute to the dissatisfaction with democratic performance or even the rejection of the democratic system (Enyedi and Todosijevic, 2009). (4)

The present paper presents a detailed study of the relationships between civic virtues, (perceived) political polarization, party attachments, ideological extremism, and satisfaction with democracy, based on the Dutch Parliamentary Elections Study (DPES) series. Data from the 2006 DPES study are used as the model-building data. Data from 2002 and 1998 served to construct the verification models, since these data-sets contain equivalent variables needed to replicate the basic features of the model. Additional DPES studies are used to partially replicate the models, since they contain only subsets of variables from the initial model. …

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