From Representative to Responsive
The received wisdom is that representative democracy in Europe and elsewhere is in crisis and that this is shown by a rise in abstentionism, a drop in party identification, and a growing independence of the voter with regard to all political parties; together with an increase in the number of floating voters and a growing lack of trust in the political élite. However, these factors vary considerably from one country to the next, from one type of election to another, and according to the candidates and the issues. The 'new electors', estranged from parties and even from politics, may on occasion sway the result; they none the less remain a minority group within the electorate and, except in Italy and in Belgium, the regime remains legitimate.
Far from losing contact with their electors the European political élites seem to have found new ways of keeping in touch with what they want. It must be stressed from the outset, however, that these new links between peoples and governments and oppositions are tenuous, fragile, and difficult to interpret.
'Do parties matter?' Does the swing from left to right in two-party systems or in systems where two major coalitions of parties seek power make a difference? Do the policies followed differ?
Richard Rose tried to answer this question with regard to Great Britain in the 1960s and 1970s. 1 His conclusions, which are both solid and qualified, remain valid and may be applied to other countries. They shed new light on the diagnosis of the present crisis of representative government in Europe. Rose showed that in Britain the two major parties, Conservative and Labour, offer the electors a complete, specific