Russell Dalton and Martin Wattenberg, Parties Without Partisans (2001).

Main Argument:_ Dalton and Wattenberg argue there is broad and ongoing partisan dealignment (erosion of partisan ties) due to social and political modernisation, suggesting that increased education removes the need for partisan cues (much of the research on political knowledge disputes this). Partisan dealignment is an issue for Dalton and Wattenberg as political activity is changing from electoral participation to ‘unconventional’ (protest, direct action) participation. What electoral participation remains is increasingly volatile, with more voters splitting their ticket (US), and changing party systems.


_Method:_ 18 OECD-member democracies in the last half-century



== Notes ==



–  Starts with V. O. Key’s three-part conception of political parties: party in the electorate, party as organization and party in government

–  There is no hard and fast definition of the functions that parties must perform in a healthy democracy, nor a distinction between manifest and latent function, but simply a general acceptance of the demands of what the authors call the ‘party government model’, a kind of idealized Westminster politics

–  The authors argue that parties matter primarily to the extent that they organize voters

–  Thus, although other authors view parties as having three primary roles, Dalton and Wattenberg look only at the party in the electorate

–  The authors see a decline in partisanship (“dealignment”) in all the advanced democracies

–  They attribute this decline to increasing voter self-sufficiency (as a result of increased education, more candidate-centered elections, and so on)



_Chapter 2: The Decline of Parties Hypothesis_

–  The “decline of parties” hypothesis

–  Starts the party in the electorate section, demonstrating that there has been a clear pattern of steady decline in party identification in these countries

–  Argues that researchers who focus only on what parties do miss the mark; since the goal of parties is to get votes (at least for these authors), then we should be greatly concerned with levels of  partisanship/partisan identification among voters

–  Parties matter because they lower voters’ information costs and provide an easier way of mobilizing activists, so individual partisanship matters

–  Dealignment has happened primarily as people have become politically self-sufficient over time (due to higher education, more availability of information about politics, and an increased valuation of individualism)



_Chapter 3: The Empirical Trend of Dealignment_

–  Dealignment has been called a myth

–  The authors consider declining turnout rates, and note that sharp changes in the last decade may be the  consequence of the much longer period during which party identification was eroding

–  Seeking to prove the reality of dealignment, the authors examine several observable implications of dealignments besides survey results

(1) Electoral behavior shows evidence of dealignment, as seen by an increase in the effective number of parties, more split ticket voting, and more variability across elections

(2) Campaigns have become less partisan and more candidate-centered. This is driven largely by opened primaries and TV campaigning –> effect is strongest in presidential systems

(3) Volunteering and campaign activity are falling, even though interest in politics appears to be rising



_Additional Chapters: Party Membership_

–  Looks at changing patterns of party membership, effectively challenging myths about the dominance of the mass membership model and what a decline in membership numbers may portend

–  Another chapter takes the organizational question a step further by analysing how parties are creating professional campaign organizations and with what consequences for their needs and activities as well as for democratic elections

–  They do so from the perspective of ‘soft technological determinism’, recognizing that individual political leaders may often play crucial roles in driving the process

–  Last chapter: three authors ask about the distribution and operation of power within these parties that they have shown to have been shorn of members while being turned into electoral vacuum cleaners

–  Exploring candidate-selection, leadership choice and policy-making leads to the conclusion that intra-party decision-making is becoming more inclusive but not so that it restricts party leaders



_Additional Chapters: Party In Government Perspective_

–  Bowler demonstrates that governments control legislatures and parties control governments, and, more to the point, that parties build regimes of rules to protect their privileged position

–  In a discussion of the place of parties at the centre of government, Kaare Strøm starts from the position that electoral parties depend on parties in government and not the other way around, as many  advocates of the responsible party model imply

–  Caul and Gray produce an analysis demonstrating (left–right) ideological convergence in OECD party systems and then show that the impact of parties on policy outputs (very generally defined) is relatively modest

–  Thies concludes this section, arguing that party in government is ‘logically primary’ –> A discussion of the electoral, policy-making and administrative functions of the party-in-government

–  Cautions against any easy assumption that Key’s three categories are of equal importance




–  Having parties without partisans presents serious challenges to the very possibility of party government and so to the health of democracy as we have been able to imagine it

–  This could be good or bad

–  It is good if it means that we come closer to the “model of rational and deliberate choice enshrined in democratic theory,”

–  It is bad (more likely), if narrow topics are able to overshadow “serious debate about the future of the nation” [60-61]

–  The wedge issues of recent elections (gay marriage, abortion) might be something like this



_Critique:_ it is important to note that, in terms of volatility, using Canada and New Zealand in the early 1990s is a red herring. Canada’s 1993 federal election was truly exceptional and arguably not an indicator of a broad trend towards instability. New Zealand changed electoral systems in the early 1990s, making some electoral instability probable.

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