by Rod Hague and Martin Harrop

Chapter Ten: Political Parties

Chapter Notes

  • The twentieth century as the century of parties, drawing the mass population into politics. But is there now a crisis of parties: thinning ideology, electoral dealignment and falling membership as leaders communicate through the media and rely on state funding?
  • Parties as groups that stand at elections and which seek power. Functions: directing government, providing the mechanism of electoral choice, recruiting elites and aggregating interests and policies.
  • Party origins. The importance of 'the founding moment'. Cadre, mass and catch-all parties.
  • Parties as complex, multilevel entities. The limits of parties in the field. The comparison with franchises. The relationship between party organization and the parliamentary party. Michels’ iron law.
  • Declining membership, albeit from a post-war peak. Causes similar to those of partisan dealignment. Increasing age of members. Credit card members. Wrong to assume that fewer is always worse. New format parties – public-funding with leaders communicating through the media. Mobilizing volunteers, as perfected by Obama.
  • Candidate selection: a range of methods, from exclusive (e.g. the convention) to inclusive (an open primary). Generally, a growing role for members but format varies with the country’s electoral system. Primary elections: a mixed blessing?
  • Leadership selection: conventions, membership ballot, parliamentary party or special committee? Combination of members of parliament and ordinary members sometimes recommended. Again, the selectorate is widening but this trend may privilege celebrity over competence.
  • Party finance. The spread of public funding. Arguments for and against. Forms of subsidy. Distinction between limits on contributions and expenditure. Regulation of donations: limiting the freedom to give? The USA as the outlier of outliers.
  • The social base of Western European parties in historic cleavages. Frozen and thawing party systems. Niche (protest, flash) parties as a reaction against social change. Far right parties: supported by globalization’s losers? But most major parties have survived.
  • The concept of a party system. Dominant party systems and their decay. Two-party systems and adversary politics. The rise of multiparty systems: consensual but how dynamic? Ideological party families in Western Europe: from the far left to the far right.
  • Parties in authoritarian states. No-party and one-party systems. Except for communist states, parties in authoritarian regimes are generally the instrument rather than the wielder of power. Russia as an example, Singapore as an exception. Even in China, the communist party is enlivened by factions rather than policy.

Figures and tables

Multiple choice questions

Essays and term papers

  1. What functions do political parties fulfil in liberal democracies and how well do they fulfil them?
  2. How and why does the organization and ideology of Western Europe parties differ from their counterparts in North America?

Hague & Harrop, 2013 edn, ch.10

L. Epstein, Political Parties in the American Mold
R. Gunther, J. Montero and J. Linz, Political Parties: Old Concepts and New
R. Katz and W. Crotty, Handbook of Party Politics
R. Katz and P. Mair, How Parties Organize
L. LeDuc, R. Niemi and P. Norris, Comparing Democracies 3: New
Challenges in the Study of Elections and Voting
P. Mair, The West European Party System
P. Mair, W. Müller and F. Plasser, Political Parties and Electoral Change
J. Stonecash, New Directions in American Political Parties
A. Ware, Political Parties and Party Systems
P. Webb, D. Farrell and I. Holliday, Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Democracies

Back to Resources page