Unit 11: Party System Stability and Change

Ware C 7, Pedersen, Mair
Guiding Questions
How do we identify party system change?
Why do we care?
How do we measure party system change?
What is volatility? Total volatility? Inter-area
Party System Change: Why Care?
Provides a snapshot of the political system within a given
Some argue that party systems reflect major divisions
within society
That is, when the system changes, society has changed.
Some suggest systemic change indicates a weakening of
political parties as socially based entities.
Number and types of parties tell us something about the
political systems.
Debate over whether or not this is troubling for democracy.
Others contend that systemic change may result in the
strengthening of extreme parties.
Durability of Party Systems
Many party systems in the 1970’s and 1980’s looked similar to their 1950’s
But the 1980’s and the 1990’s were associated with:
 1) The rise of Green parties and the “New Right” challenging existing party
 2) Advances in technology, improved education, and a reliance on media
and interest groups
 3) A decline in the vote share received by major parties.
And the 2000’s have seen the rise of populist extreme right and anti-capitalist
This rise of new parties and new movements not associated with a change in
Party system change following “earthquake elections” turned out to be temporary.
Radical institutional change is rare.
Something else seemed to be happening.
Fosters debate over whether or not party systems have permanently changed
in advanced industrial democracies
What Constitutes Systemic Change?
Question: What constitutes party system change?
No widespread agreement.
Explanations focus on:
1) Changes in the composition of the electorate.
 2) Increased levels of electoral volatility.
 3) Shifts in values (realignment vs. dealignment).
Composition of the Electorate
Ware 1996
Changes in the electorate can shape the party
Electorate can change in three ways:
 1)
migration to and from the state
 2) territorial changes
 3) generational changes
But these types of changes are rare.
Volatility and Party System Change
Volatility: measures the change in vote from
one election to the next.
 Are
voters shifting their votes between elections?
Raises several questions:
 1) Have electorates become more volatile?
Dalton and Wattenberg et al:. Yes.
Ware: not a universal phenomenon.
Some systems appear to be stable while
others appear to be volatile.
How Are Voters Changing?
Ware 1996
2) If voters are shifting their votes, where are their votes
 Are voters
 1) Turning to new political parties?
 2) Switching to similar political parties?
 3) Switching to older parties which are very different to
their old party?
Mair: most voters are switching to parties with similar outlooks
as their previous party.
 Probably not systemic change
Does Volatility = Change?
3) What does an increase in electoral volatility mean?
 Lipset and Rokkan suggest that party systems/cleavage
patterns are “frozen”
 Some argue that increased volatility is a sign
 By
 Does
definition, evidence of change.
volatility indicate systemic change?
 Jury is out.
 Pedersen
 Electoral volatility can indicate party system
 Mair:
 Volatility in and of itself is not suggestive of
systemic change.
Freezing? Not So Fast…
Pedersen 1979
Events of the mid 1970’s challenge Lipset and
Rokkan’s freezing hypothesis.
 Cites
elections in the US, UK, and Denmark as evidence.
Focus on changes in the party system in terms of
 1)
the number of parties in the system
 2) the distribution of electoral strength.
Freezing? Not So Fast…
Pedersen 1979
Electoral volatility (net change
within the electoral party
system from vote transfers) is
the key variable.
Volatility gauges shifts in vote
strength between parties in
between elections.
Disaggregates party systems.
Methodology allows for the
model to discriminate between
types of party systems.
Contends that there are
multiple types of systems.
Some are relatively stable and
others that are remarkably
Volatility and Societal Shifts
Mair 1983
Party system change involves changes in primary
conflicts within the system.
 Requires
looking beyond changes in number and vote
share of political parties.
Understanding and identifying systemic change
requires an understanding of the direction of
electoral volatility
 Not
just a focus on total volatility
Total vs. Inter Area Volatility
Mair 1983
Pedersen’s volatility levels are associated
with total or electoral volatility.
 Good measure for identifying short
term trends (i.e. durability of specific
 Not suited for identifying long terms
Inter area volatility: measures volatility
across primary conflicts (i.e. between parties
of the left and the right).
 Captures systemic change by focusing
on shifts in primary conflicts (i.e.
persistence/change within cleavages).
 Well suited to explaining long term
Finds inter area volatility to be lower than
total volatility.
Mair 1987
Duration of change is also relevant
Requires examination of individual party
Opens up the door for an examination of
changing values as an explanation for party
system change.
Conclusion: Ireland and System Change?
Prior to 1989, the system
revolved around Fianna Fail and
“the rest”
 Pattern of governance: Fianna
Fail majority or minority
government or FG/Labour
“Rainbow coalition”.
Voting structured around whether
or not to place (or return) Fianna
Fail to office.
Ended in 1989
 Splits in FF led to a
breakaway party:
Progressive Democrats.
 1989 elections: coalition of FF
and PD
Conclusion: Ireland and Systemic
Mair 1997
1992: Elections made a minority
Fianna Fail government non viable.
Pattern has been maintained.
Fianna Fail has not governed in a
single party cabinet in the post 1989
Prior to 2011, Irish parties receive
roughly the same vote share has
they had previously.
Formed a coalition with Labour;
coalition fell in 1994.
BUT, parties compete for very different
groups in society.
AND, patterns of competition have
This would not be picked up by
examining total volatility.
But inter area volatility would pick this
Next Unit
 Party System Change-The Freezing of Party
Systems and Realignment
 Readings:
 Reserves: Flanagan and Dalton, Inglehart and
Flanagan, Shamir, Mair

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