Political Parties in and Out of Legislatures
Abstract and Keywords
This article discusses political parties, specifically those that are in and out of legislatures. It first views political parties as institutions and moves on to the party systems. It then considers the two major arenas of action for the political party and considers two core questions about the value of the political party for citizens and for politicians.
Richard Fenno explained his career-long devotion to the study of the US Congress by saying that Congress is where democracy happens (pers. comm.). It is, metaphorically, the crossroads of democracy, where the public and politician, the lobbyist and petitioner meet. If legislatures are where democracy most visibly happens, political parties are the institutions that let us see how it happens. It may not be true that parties are literally necessary conditions for democracy to exist as Schattschneider (1942) famously wrote, but their ubiquity suggests that they are virtually, if not actually, a necessity for a democracy to be viable.
Political parties—in and out of legislatures—are the subjects of this chapter. As the chapter title suggests, we are to look at parties specifically here, but we cannot fully decouple parties from electoral systems (nor from other aspects of political institutions), and in particular from the virtually co-companion of electoral systems, party systems, nor can we decouple that from the study of parties as institutions. But we shall cover those extraordinarily rich literatures only to aid our focus on the specific questions considered here: how political parties mediate and integrate the goals and aspirations of the citizens with the often quite different goals and aspirations of politicians, and how these together shape policies adopted by government.
(p. 197) 1 Political Parties as Institutions
The greatest scholar of twentieth-century American politics, V. O. Key Jr. (1964), led us to understand the American political party as organized around its three core activities. The party-in-the-electorate was the party of the campaign, the creation of the party’s image and reputation in the public’s mind, and the way the public used those sources as informational short-cuts and decision-making devices or aides. One of these “informational shortcuts” stands out as particularly important, creating a special role for political parties. Durable political parties develop long-term reputations that the personalities of particular politicians or variable agendas of policy concerns are generally unable to provide. While many things can go into these long-term reputations, the most important are the policy-based performances that create a partisan reputation and ideology. The party-in-government is the party that organizes the legislature and coordinates actions across the various institutions of national government, horizontally, and, for systems with vertical divisions of power, across the federal structures (Hofstadter 1969; Cox and McCubbins 1993; Haggard and McCubbins 2000). The party-as-organization is the party of its activists, resources, and campaign specialists; that is, those who negotiate between the public and government, sometimes rather invisibly, sometimes quite visibly, sometimes autonomously from the party-in-government, but often times as its external extension (Cotter, Gibson, Bibby, and Huckshorn 1984; Herrnnson 1988; Kitschelt 1989, 1999). This three-part structure applies to and certainly helps structure our thinking about political parties in all democracies, even if Key primarily writes about American politics.
Second, political parties differ from many other political institutions covered in this volume by virtue of being created, most often, external to the constitutional and, in some cases, developed largely external even to the legal order, per se. It is, for example, commonplace to note that the first parties, those in late eighteenth-century America (Hofstadter 1969; or early nineteenth-century America, depending upon one’s point of view (e.g. Formisano 1981)), arose in spite of the wishes of their very founders and were unanticipated in writing the Constitution and early laws. Instead, political parties are organizations that are created by political actors themselves, whether emanating from the public (as, for instance in social movements that turn to electoral politics, such as social democratic parties: Lipset and Rokkan 1987; Przeworksi and Spraque 1986; and green parties, e.g. Kitschelt 1989) or, quite commonly, from the actions of current or hopeful political elites. The key point here is that, relative to most political institutions, political parties are shaped as institutions by political actors, often in the same timeframe and by the actions of the same figures who are shaping legislation or other political outcomes. They are, that is, unusually “endogenous” institutions, and we therefore must keep in mind that the party institutions (or at least organizations) can be changed with greater rapidity and ease than virtually any other political organization (Riker 1980; Aldrich 1995). To pick one simple example of the power of thinking about endogenous parties, consider (p. 198) the case of third parties in America. To be sure, there are the Duvergerian forces at work (1954; Cox 1997). But that explanation is only why two parties persist, not why the Democrat and Republican parties persist. The answer to the latter question is that they act in duopoly fashion so as to write rules that make entry and persistence by any contender to replace one or the other as a major party all but untenable (e.g. Rosenstone, Behr, and Lazarus 1996). Thus, the makeup of the party system is endogenously determined by the actors already in it. Indeed, the creation of the majority electoral system itself was the consequence of endogenous choice by partisan politicians in the USA (see Aldrich 1995).
2 Party Systems
Most of this chapter looks at the makeup of and/or actions taken in the name of the political party. It is, in that sense, a microscopic look inside the typical party. No democracy, however, has only one party. When there are two or more parties in competition over the same things—control over offices, over legislation, or over whatever—we should expect that each party will be shaped in part by its relationship to the other parties. How these parties form a system will not be assessed here, but we cannot look at the party in and out of the legislature without at least addressing two points.
The first is that a political system is not truly democratic unless its elections are genuinely competitive. Competition, in turn, does not exist without at least two parties with reasonable chances of electoral success. It is often thought that a fledgling democracy has not completed its transformation until there has been a free and competitive election that has peacefully replaced the incumbent party with one (or more) other parties. This happened, for example, in both Mexico and Taiwan in 2000, when erstwhile authoritarian one-party states transformed themselves into competitive democracies, and, in their respective elections, the erstwhile authoritarian party was voted out of office and peacefully surrendered power. Note that in Mexico, the long-reigning PRI had allowed the PAN to compete earlier, but did not allow free and open elections by virtue of restricting opposition-party access to the media before the 2000 election. This changed in 2000 and the PAN candidate, Vicente Fox, was elected president, marking the full democratic transition (see Aldrich, Magaloni, and Zechmeister 2005; Magaloni 2006).
Second, it could fairly be said that the central means of political representation is the political party. To be sure, individuals can be agents of representation as well, whether the chief executive or the individual legislator. But it is the political party that most systematically and durably represents the public in government. But representation is a relative thing, and as such it is a property of the party system, even more than it is a property of an individual or a single party. Thus, the question (p. 199) voters ask is not “how well does this party represent me, absolutely?” It is only relative both to the agenda that comes before the assembly and relative to the alternative or alternatives offered. Thus, it is rather more helpful to think of whether a member of party A voted (acted, spoke, etc.) more like any given constituent than did a member of party B, C, and so on.
The US Congress is often seen as exceptional. It is special by virtue of the nearly unique concatenation of having a two-party system with single-member districts and no formal party discipline. A two-party system exaggerates the limited range of feasible representation, compared to the more numerous choices faced in multiparty systems. Of all the myriad combinations of policy choices (let alone other matters of representation), the voters really have but two in front of them, and they grow accustomed to trying to decide which is the better choice—or, often, which is the “lesser of two evils.” This is shared with most other Anglo-American democracies, among others (Lijphart 1984, 1999; Chhibber and Kollman 2004). Still, the range of choices is limited even in a multiparty system, and voters must decide which of this range is the best available, rather than search for the absolute best imaginable choice. The lack of formal party discipline means, on the one hand, that a party chosen to be representative may be sufficiently ineffective as to be able to enact its platform. On the other hand, the individual representative is often best understood, in the words of Gary Jacobson (2004), as responsive to the wishes of their constituents, but not responsible for outcomes. Limited choice and limited accountability tends to weaken if not undermine representation, perhaps uniquely in the USA.
Two-party parliaments with high party discipline can be more accountable. They are, however, just as limited to two effective options to present to the public. In some senses, the ability of the individual member of Congress to differentiate herself from her party provides the voters with a stronger sense of the range of feasible options in the USA than tends to be articulated in, say, England. But even there, there is growing attenuation of party discipline, and to that limited degree, two-party parliaments are at least slightly more like the USA—showing a marginal increase in the range of policy options coupled with a marginal decline in accountability.
Multiparty parliaments are often seen as much more representative bodies, especially so as the electoral rules are increasingly close approximations to purely proportional, and the resulting relatively high number of effective parties provides a closer approximation to representation of the various interests in society. That is, these systems are better at re-presenting the voices and preferences of the public inside the legislature. But this contrast between the two- and multiparty system should not be pushed too far, for two reasons.
First, while there may be many parties, their distribution of seats is often quite asymmetric (Laver and Budge 1992). Take Israel, for example (see, e.g., Aldrich, Blais, Indridiason, and Levine 2005; Blais, Aldrich, Indridiasan, and Levine forthcoming). As one of the more nearly proportional party systems (a single, nationwide district with low threshold for representation of 1.5 percent of the vote, soon to increase to 2 percent), it generally offers many choices to its voters, with a good fraction of them (p. 200) holding seats after the election. Thus, they are particularly strong in representing a relatively large fraction of the electoral views within the Knesset. Still, until Prime Minister Sharon broke with Likud while actually in office, Labor and Likud were invariably the two largest parties. One or both still is invariably in the government, meeting that their voice is heard where policy is really made (for theoretical views, see Laver and Shepsle 1996; Laver and Schofield 1990). And, of course, the strongest voice of all, the prime minister, always comes only from a major party, which in Israel’s case was one of these two until very recently. Thus, “voice” and influence/power are quite differently distributed. Israel is far from unique in this regard. Governments are very far from random samples of members of the legislature, and prime ministers are not drawn as a simple random sample from the names of all legislators. This asymmetry in voice is in some sense parallel to the asymmetry in majoritarian electoral systems that results from the disproportionate translation of votes into seats in the two-party cases.
If there is asymmetry of one kind or another in both types of electoral systems, there is also a sort of accountability problem in multiparty systems, perhaps a stronger accountability problem than found in two-party systems. Take the case of Israel, again. In their election of 2003, everyone knew who would “win” the election (and where everyone understands that “winning the election” is quite different from merely winning a seat and thus a voice even in a multiparty parliament). It was clear from the outset that Likud would win and that their leader, Ariel Sharon, would become the prime minister. What was a mystery was what sort of government he would be able to form. Public discussion of alternative governments was commonplace in that campaign. Voters could—and some did—have preferences among the various coalitions that might form, and could—and some did—even condition their vote on those preferences over coalition governments rather than parties (Blais, Aldrich, Indridiason, and Levine forthcoming). But, the break in accountability is that there is little Sharon could do to bind himself to any promise about what sort of government would form and thus the range of policies he would make as prime minister. Therefore, voters could not really hold Likud or anyone else accountable on those grounds. In the event, the most popular coalition in the public view was rejected by Labor, and Sharon successfully formed a governing coalition consisting of an entirely different coalition than the ones considered in the campaign. There are no data about public preferences on this coalition, because no survey researcher imagined including it as a possible coalition, but it is reasonable to assume that it probably would have proved unpopular had it been considered in and by the public. The central lesson of this example is that accountability suffers dramatically. Postelection circumstances might, at least on occasion, force the selection of someone to be prime minister who deviates sharply from public opinion and perhaps even from the basis of voters’ decisions. Even more commonly, negotiations over coalition governments might well force the outcome to be a government—and consequent set of policies—that differs sharply from the choices and preferences of the public.
(p. 201) In sum, both two- and multiparty systems generate problems over representation. This is true in terms of representation in two senses. It is true in interest articulation. That is, even the purest PR systems fail to create legislatures that mirror the preferences of the public, and this bias is systematic rather than random. It is also true in terms of accountability. Voters who wanted a Labor–Likud coalition in national unity could hardly hold Sharon and Likud, as winners of the election, accountable for Labor’s refusal (announced during the campaign) to agree to enter any such coalition. And as it happens, they could not easily hold them accountable for the failure of his first coalition government, since it was replaced early in the electoral cycle. If there is going to be any voting on the basis of accountability (a.k.a. retrospective voting), it presumably will be based in the next election on the second, the lasting, and the more recent coalition.
In both two-party and multiparty coalition cases, then, the question is who or what can be held responsible? In the extreme US case, voters can basically hold their representatives accountable for failures to be responsive to their wishes, but not for failure to be responsible for the outcomes. In other two-party systems, voters can hold the majority party accountable, but typically only for failure to achieve a set of policies that the voters might have thought was not very close to their views in the first place. In the general multiparty case, one might hold a Sharon and Likud responsible (and if so, perhaps realistically, could turn to Labor as, in this case, the only responsible alternative), but who or what else? The party you voted for? The parties in the government?
In sum, the study of political parties necessarily entails two central aspects of the national party system, regardless of how focused one may be on the internal workings of a particular political party. First, the famous Schattschneiderian position on partisan necessity for democracy does not mean that it is this or that party that is necessary. Rather, it means that there must be a system of parties, and that every party forming or being in the government has to be at reasonable risk of electoral defeat in the next election. And for that to be true, there has to be a system of two or more parties. Second, it is equally true that representation requires not just a desirable option in the election for any particular citizen to choose. Rather, representation requires comparison between or among options, and thus also requires there to be a party system. Further, representation entails not only choices for the citizens as to how best to articulate their desires in government; it also requires the ability of the citizenry to hold the successful parties accountable for their actions in the government. The argument here is that both aspects of representation, first, require a party system, and, second, are not as different across the various types of party systems, two- or multiparty systems with greater or lesser degrees of party discipline, as often assumed. Indeed, in some ways, the accountability problem—how the public can try to ensure that their preferred choices really do represent them in government and in policy-making and not just on the campaign trail and in the manner needed to win votes—is greater in multiparty than in two-party systems.
(p. 202) 3 The Party Outside the Legislature
In this and the following section, we consider the two major arenas of action for the political party. In this section, we look at the party as it is perceived by the public and as it thus helps the public negotiate the political process, make electorally relevant assessments, and take actions, particularly with respect to the turnout and vote decisions. In the next section, we examine the party as it operates in the legislative arena.
As was true above, so it is true here that a good place to start is with V. O. Key, Jr. In his magisterial account of Southern Politics in State and Nation (1949), he made the relevant comparison. Imagine the workings of a democracy with an established party system in comparison to the workings of a democracy without such a system. In this he was aided by the unique “natural experiment” of the embedding of a putative democracy in the American South, but one that had no party system throughout the sixty years of the “Jim Crow” system that Key was studying (that is the laws and practices that excluded blacks and poor whites from politics). The Jim Crow South was, however, also set within a functioning democracy with an established, durable two-party system at the national level. While this “natural experiment” happened to be found in the USA, he offers no reason, nor can I think of one fifty years later (Aldrich 2000), that makes his contrast less than fully general. The result of the experiment was clear, clean, and simple to convey. Politics was a perfectly reasonable real-world approximation of democracy as imagined in theory when found within an established and durable party system. Politics was extraordinarily undemocratic in the South, that is, it was undemocratic when not embedded in a competitive and durable party system, and Key was scathing in his description of the choices, such as they were, confronting voters.
The question of this section, then, is what role does the party play in furthering electoral democracy? Of the myriad aspects of parties-in-the-electorate, the core questions are “What does the party mean to potential and actual voters?” and “How does that meaning help shape their political decisions?” Here, I therefore address that core pair of questions.
The first question opens an apparent case of American exceptionalism, in that the theoretical understandings of party identification developed in the context of American survey research, are distinct and possibly theoretically unique to the USA. I suggest here that such a conclusion may be premature. The claim is that, if we can parse out the contemporaneous context of voting for, rather than assessing of, political parties, we may find beliefs akin to American party identification.
Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes’ classic accounts (1960, 1966) conceived party identification as an early-formed, durable, affectively-based loyalty to a political party. Their data showed that this conception was consistent with the beliefs and attitudes of a substantial majority in the American electorate, both in the 1950s and 1960s as they developed their theory, and again in recent years, as the (actually rather modest) attenuation of partisanship in the 1970s resurged to roughly the earlier (p. 203) levels (Bartels 2000). The key point was that this notion of partisan identification was relevant for understanding how ordinary citizens, with typically marginal interest in politics, were able to negotiate the complicated political world. This affect-centered view held that most people began with a bias in favor of their favored party (childhood socialization), they tend to hear things in a way biased toward their party (selective perception), and they are likely to further that bias even more by consuming information from sources that are themselves in favor of the citizen’s preferred party (selective attention). Thus reinforced, partisan loyalty means that it is hard to change the minds of supporters of the opposing party, more so than it is to win over independents and apolitical citizens. In turn, it is harder to woo the uncommitted than to cement those already predisposed in one’s favor.
An alternative view is due to Downs (1957), Key (1966), and Fiorina (1981). This view is of a more cognitively-based assessment. It assumes that voting and the partisanship that underlies those vote choices are based on assessments of outcomes, looking at past performance by partisan office holders to understand choices between partisan leaders for offices in the current election. The cognitive component to partisanship assesses how well or poorly politically induced outcomes—especially over economic and foreign affairs—have been under the management of one party compared to the other(s). Thus, unlike the affective account, partisanship is responsive to political events.
One might expect that these two contrasting views would be relatively easily distinguishable. Fiorina (1981) and Achen (1992) demonstrate, however, that both produce very similar empirical predictions. As a result, debate over these two understandings remains an active part of the contemporaneous research agenda within American politics (see especially Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson 2002; Green, Palmquist, and Schickler 2002).
And, while the above two theories are often characterized as social-psychological vs. economic-rational views of politics, there is a third stream of research that looks at one large class of the uses to which partisanship (of whichever stripe) is put. While implicit in Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes’ (1960) account, it was Key (1966) again who first developed the notion of partisanship as a “standing decision.” More recently, drawing from the “cognitive miser” approach in social psychology, scholars argued for the ability of extant partisanship to function as an aid in decision-making, reducing the costs of information processing and making of assessments in a complex world, and thus to serve variously as a schema, heuristic, or other decision-making short-cut. In the more economic and rational choice camps, scholars argued for, well, what is essentially the same thing. Popkin (1994) popularized this view for rationally negotiating the political world in general in what he called “gut-level rationality” (see Lupia and McCubbins 1998, for more formal development). Hinich and Munger (1994) put the idea of partisanship on ideological grounds, especially by looking at ideology as an informational short-cut, and developing scaling and related technologies to measure how partisan stances on ideology can operate much like the heuristics of the social-cognitive psychologist. In this, they were developing the ideas presented by Downs (1957) in which he argued that the political party was important by virtue (p. 204) of being consistent over time and therefore in aiding voters who are motivated to acquire information only incidentally. As a result, parties had incentives induced by voters to be consistent and moderately divergent on major dimensions of choice. Hinich and Munger (1994) developed the technology to make all of that estimable and to incorporate ideology into the account as the dimensions of divisions between parties and as the basis of choice by voters.
The important characteristic of all three of these conceptions is that partisanship is a property of the voters. That is, all view the political parties as they are perceived and employed by the voters, seeing parties as external objects to the electorate and as helping them negotiate the political process, especially the electoral system. Parties are objects about which beliefs and loyalties, preferences and assessments, are formed and used. They help lead the voters in making choices rather than being the objects of choice themselves. And, all of these are particularly American conceptions.
The authors of the Michigan model, to be sure, sought to develop the comparative extension of their ideas from the beginning. Perhaps the most extensive example is by Butler and Stokes (1974), in which they sought to use the ideas of The American Voter (Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes 1960), including partisanship, to understand British politics. This was, of course, the obvious natural extension, given its similar continuity of an essentially two-party system with comparable continuity in stances of the major parties. Of course, the problem was that Britain differed from America in being a unitary parliamentary government with strict party loyalty, so that voters decided which party to vote for, rather than which nominee of a major party to support in their riding. To put it otherwise, voters typically said they voted for the party and not the person, the exact reverse of the claims of the American voter.
The great theorist of partisanship, Phil Converse, made a strong case for the general, comparative utility of partisanship, perhaps especially in his classic article, “Of Time and Partisan Stability” (1969). There, he demonstrated that the conception of partisanship was helpful for understanding major properties of party systems, and one might infer back that partisanship in the electorate is a function of the party system and not “just” of the properties of the parties themselves. He and Dupeux (1962) saw a surrogate identification to partisanship, what they called an ideologically based “tendence” in the then current French system with its diverse and highly variable cast of political parties contending for votes (see Converse and Pierce 1986 for a more modern view of French partisanship and voting). This “stand in” for partisanship suggested that voters thrived when they could find ways to hold matters sufficiently constant to provide structure to their conception of politics. Retrospective voting, for its part, is one of the most migratory of American-originated conceptions for understanding electoral politics. Fiorina’s notion of party identification as a running tally has been applied metaphorically, although rarely in precise ways. The result, often, is a use of the term party identification or partisanship in comparative contexts, which lack precise and theoretical specification. Finally, it seems evident that if voters in stable two-party systems need heuristics to guide them through electoral (p. 205) decision-making, voters in less stable and/or in multiparty systems would be in far greater need of such informational short-cuts.
And yet, the concept of party identification did not travel particularly well as, say, retrospective voting did. The question for here is why? The answer I propose is not that there is no general value in these ideas. Rather, it is that the American electoral landscape has a unique configuration of attributes that highlights “parties-as-assessments,” while in virtually all other systems, political parties are objects of actual choices, not just the basis for making assessments. Thus, the continuity of parties combined with a lack of rigorous party discipline in the legislature means that choices are and must be over candidates and not over parties. This is narrowly so, as in many systems votes are cast for political parties and not individual candidates, but it is also true more metaphorically. In Britain or other Anglo-American two-party systems, votes can (often must) be cast for individual candidates, but high party discipline dilutes the personal name-brand value any candidate may have, something of high value in the USA, and accentuates the value of the name brand of the party. As a result, vote decisions made in the name of a party naturally trump assessments of individual candidates, and that is reflected in responses to party-identification-like questions on an election survey. It does not follow from a concept being hard to measure that the concept is not relevant in those systems. It only follows that the concept is obscured—explaining, perhaps, why Converse could find the very abstract patterns so striking in the very same political systems where the micro-measures were difficult to observe.
The above is inferential. Historical evidence in America seems consistent with this set of claims. Voting in eighteenth century America was highly partisan, indeed as strongly so as in contemporary parliamentary systems. Historians of American elections naturally and correctly point to the form of ballot—non-secret voting, ballots made by the separate parties, etc.—and their interaction with institutions, notably partisan machines, to explain highly partisan elections (e.g. Hays 1980). While the move from open to secret balloting and other technical features of the voting process are important parts of the explanation of the decline of partisan elections in the USA, it is by now well understood that intervening between ballot reform and candidate-centered elections was the development of the individual office seeking motivation that these reforms and others made possible (Katz and Sala 1996; Price 1975). Thus, it was the increasingly candidate-centered campaigns of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that generated the first level of decline in partisan elections, followed by the new technology of mid- to late-twentieth century politics that finalized the candidate-centered campaign as all but fully replacing the party-centered contests of the earlier era (Aldrich 1995). In short, the voters were responding to the possibilities of the electoral setting and especially to the nature of the campaigns they observed in generating first highly partisan and then highly candidate centered voting. Perhaps were party identification questions asked in nineteenth-century America, they would have been understood as asking vote intention.
In a comparative context, the above argument is also inferential. Several empirical observations might test the notion. For example, as party discipline is tending to (p. 206) erode in many nations’ parliaments, those with single-member districts combined with durable parties dominating the system, or other systems (e.g. Japan) where candidate names have some value, the importance of party-as-assessment should be increasing, while as party discipline increases in the USA, party-as-choice should be more commonplace. Other convergences may be exploitable to examine whether party-as-assessment is, in fact, valuable for citizens in many nations as they seek to negotiate a complex political world. Indeed the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) are making such explorations and convergences increasingly possible. Note, interestingly, that the question wording for “party identification” questions in the CSES (and, of course, that means as generated from comparative scholars from their own research traditions) are about how close one feels toward the various parties. Such a format leaves open the question of whether respondents mean they feel close to a party in the sense of identifying with it, or being close to what they stand for, and thus having a higher ideological proximity.
Partisanship, however defined and understood in the literature, focuses on the individual citizen. But the questions as to meaning have turned out to depend upon how they observe politicians and the parties they belong to. Thus, as Key taught us long ago, we can spend a good deal of time looking at, say, the party-in-the-electorate, but we cannot, in the final analysis, really understand it in isolation from the party-in-government or the party-as-organization. Our questions about what the party means to the voter have taken us to the party-in-government.
4 The Party Inside the Legislature
In this section we again ask two core questions, the two that emerged above. It should not be surprising that the core questions about the value of the political party for citizens and for politicians are closely related. That was Key’s point. The questions are when and why do politicians support their party in the legislature—how united are parties—and when and why do parties align with, or oppose, one another? These questions have tended to be the focus of the literature on American parties and Congress, on the one hand, and on comparative parties and legislatures, on the other hand, and it is fair to say that the two party-and-legislature literatures are often close to dominated by their respective questions. Increasingly, new questions and new data are emerging especially within comparative politics, but we will only briefly touch on them. The core questions form the end points of a continuum, with the US two-party system candidate-centered elections at one end to a multiparty system with party-centered elections at the other.
Let us begin at the American exemplar end of the continuum. What forces shape the roll call vote? There has been considerable variation in the level of support the members gives their party. The post-Second World War era was particularly (p. 207) low, and the contemporary period (as in the nineteenth century) is considerably higher. Even at lowest ebb, however, party had by far the largest effect on the casting of the roll call vote (Weisberg 1978). He put the scholarly challenge to be to take party voting as the base line, with the theory tested by seeing how much it improved on party-line voting. This was at a point when the Democratic majority was divided, with nearly as many votes being cast with a “conservative coalition” (a majority of northern Democrats opposed by a majority of Southern Democrats and a majority of Republicans) as were being cast along party lines. To be sure, claiming a vote is a “party vote,” when a simple majority of one opposes a simple majority of the other party, set a modest standard, even though the effect of party on the individual vote was stronger than that aggregate pattern suggested. Still, if congressional voting was primarily “party plus,” it was nonetheless the case that party was much less consequential in shaping legislative choice than in virtually all other legislatures.
The above reflect, in effect, a parallelism between citizens’ and legislators’ voting choices. In both cases, party served as a strong base line, but there was more. In both cases, the role of party reached a low point at about 1970, climbing back to a more historically precedented high level more recently.
Congressional theory sought to explain the variation in levels of party voting and, at least indirectly, answering the question of why the US Congress lagged its European counterpart, even at its contemporary higher levels of party voting. The theoretical literature poses three explanations (for reviews see, e.g., Aldrich and Rohde 2000; Cox and McCubbins 2005). One is that the observed levels of party voting revealed very little to do with the role of party in Congress. Championed most vigorously by Krehbiel (1991, 1993), his argument is that the pattern of party voting in Congress mirroring that of party voting in the public is no coincidence. Legislators’ votes reflect the wishes of the public as filtered through the goal of reelection. To be sure, legislators do not simply vote the views of their constituency, but the role of the party organization and leadership in Congress is, at best, marginal. And this makes a sharp contrast with their European brethren.
Cox and McCubbins take a different view (1993, 2005). In their view, party is the primary organizing device of Congress. Congress is thus organized to fulfill the collective interests of the majority party, and one important aspect of that is to ensure that the majority party structures Congress so that it does not put the reelection chances of the duly elected members of the majority at risk. The party thus shapes the agenda so that members can vote for what the majority party’s members want without voting against their constituents’ wishes often or on important matters. Thus, the majority party is pleased to have its members on committees that serve their constituents’ concerns and can reward their constituents with distributive benefits. But while it provides room for its members to serve their constituents, it also provides room for its members to act on their collectively shared interests, all in the name of assisting their members’ reelection chances. Circumstances dictate the kinds of power the majority will wield. When there were fewer collective interests to serve, the party was consequently less important to citizens, and it was better to be discrete in its use (p. 208) of power, typically by the use of negative agenda control. As polarization has led to more common interests and the party has thus become more important to the public, then it is increasingly satisfactory to exert more positive control over the agenda, to pass majority-preferred policies.
The third view is what Aldrich and Rohde call “conditional party government” (1997–98, 2000). If, they assert, there is variation in the influence of party in Congress, then we should investigate conditions under which it is at a higher and at a lower level. They argue that it is at a higher level when the electorate has selected members of the majority party with more homogenous preferences than at other times, and with preferences that are more clearly differentiated from the (typically also more homoge-nously distributed) preferences of the minority party. There is more for the majority party to win by acting together. And, when party preferences are more homogenous, there is less risk for the individual member of ceding authority to the party leadership than when their party is more heterogeneous. This view differs from that of, say, Krehbiel by virtue of its conditionality. That is, they agree that the electorate is the driving force. They differ in the role of the party in Congress. According to Krehbiel, it is epiphenomenal. In conditional party government, it magnifies the effect of the constituency at high levels, but not at low levels. It differs from the “party cartel” argument of Cox and McCubbins, if at all, by virtue of the latter’s emphasis on the importance of negative agenda control (that is, blocking legislation from coming to a vote) when the majority party is heterogeneous, and emphasis on positive agenda control (that is seeking to pass legislation favored by the majority) otherwise. The conditional party government argument is simply that, instead of negative agenda control, a divided majority party exerts little control at all.
All three accounts argue that the driving force for explaining the observation of variation in levels of party voting in Congress are due to changes in the preferences of the electorate. Missing from all three accounts is an explanation of how and why those preferences change. Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson (2002) argue that there is a thermostatic relationship or feedback between what the government does and how the electorate’s partisan preferences and voting choices react. In particular, they find that the majority party tends to overshoot what the public wants, the Democratic Party acts too liberally, and a Republican Party too conservatively when in the majority. As a result, the public shifts back in the direction favored by the minority party, helping them work toward achieving majority status. Like a pendulum, parties in Congress sweep left and right farther than voters prefer and the public serves as counterweight, pulling the overly extreme policy choices back toward what the public as a whole desires. These propositions are new and still only lightly tested but seem both plausibly descriptive and enticing. The question then is why reelection minded officeholders would overshoot in this “macro polity.” Two likely possibilities are that the politicians are personally more extreme in their policy beliefs than the public or that these politicians need resources from relative extreme partisan and interests groups for renomination and reelection. Of course, since many politicians were themselves once policy activists, both might be true. Further the public, in the aggregate, is generally moderate (indeed may literally be the definition of moderate) (p. 209) and so these activists may be only modestly “extreme.” But, to answer the question of why party resources come from relative extremists is to ask a question about the party organization, a subject we will touch on in the conclusion. For now, note that findings that party activists are more extreme than the partisan identifiers in the electorate is not unique to the USA. It holds in many nations, and is one basis to begin to develop that general account that places the USA at one end and multiparty parliaments at the other end of the same continuum.
Whereas the traditional question asked of American legislative parties is whether they are ever united, the archetypical multiparty parliament finds the political party almost invariably united. Indeed, parties are often the unit of analysis, in virtual atom-as-billiard-ball fashion, rather than the American counterpart of party as atom-as-mostly-empty-space. In this tradition, the primary question is how parties form, maintain, or disband coalition governments, with the government and its ministers choosing policies for the parliament to ratify with strict party line voting. As Diermeier and Feddersen demonstrate (1998), the power of the no-confidence vote forces at least the parties in government into unity. It is only recently that the atom has been broken open, as it were, and non-lock-step unanimous behavior of party politicians considered.
The multiparty parliament inserts the extra step of government formation in the democratic crossroads of going from citizen preferences to policy (even when one party, majority or minority, see Strom, 1990, ends up forming the government). Technically, this is true in the US House, too, as its first action is to select from its own internal government by choosing a Speaker and a committee structure. All but invariably, that vote is also a strictly party-line vote, just as in, say, Britain. Perhaps the lack of a no-confidence vote in the Speaker undermines primarily party-line voting.
A substantial literature has sought to understand coalition formation in multiparty parliaments based on policy preferences. Thus, one beginning point would be with applications of Riker’s (1962) minimal winning coalition hypothesis, with quite mixed empirical results. Axelrod (1970) added policy considerations per se by modifying minimal winning to “minimal winning connected coalition,” and by “connected” he meant stand close or adjacent to each other on policy/ideology. The empirical findings were improved but still mixed. Then, Laver and Schofield (1990; see also Laver and Budge 1992) and Laver and Shepsle (1994, 1996) applied insights from social choice theory. In the first, Schofield developed a multi-dimensional analogue to the centrality of policy in the one-dimensional, median voter, and he and Laver applied this notion successfully in a number of empirical cases. Laver and Shepsle took a model that Shepsle (1979) had originally developed for the US Congress to describe how particular parties would form specific coalitions based on policy positions, even when there was no dominant majority outcome. Essentially, the coalition process strikes bargains in which party A is given control over policy x, party B over policy y, etc. It would be a different coalition with different policy outcome if party A controlled policy y and B policy x. They and others applied their model extensively to explain governments that formed (Laver and Shepsle 1994).
(p. 210) If the first question was which government formed, the second was how long would it last. Again, this literature moved toward alignment between theory and substance, but in this case, the literature unfolded in close dialogue between the two. A short version of this is that Browne, Frerdreis, and Gleiber (1986) developed a sophisticated statistical model of government duration that essentially showed how governments could handle exogenous shocks (or collapse in the face of them). King, Alt, Laver, and Burns (1990) developed this approach further. Lupia and Strom (1995) then began to develop a theoretical model that endogenized these events, followed by an increasingly sophisticated series of game theoretic models by Diermeier and associates (Diermeier and van Roozendaal 1998; Diermeier and Stevenson 1999) that moved toward testable implications to pit against and eventually extend the original statistical modeling of Browne, Frendreis, and Gleiber.
All of this increasingly precise, sophisticated, and empirically extensive research treats the parliamentary party as the unit of analysis. Two developments have moved towards treating the member of parliament as the unit of analysis. One thrust was due to the study of new democracies and therefore the study of the formation of parliaments and their practices, especially in Latin American (Morganstern and Nacif 2001) and former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations. Smyth (2006), for example, examines early Russian Duma elections to study conditions under which candidates in their mixed system would choose to ally with a political party and when to run as an individual. Remington (2001) and Remington and Smith (2001) examine the formation ofthe Duma in the new era, looking atmany of these same questions, while Andrews (2002) examines the policy formation process (or its failure!) in the early years of the post-Soviet Duma, finding precisely the kind of theoretical instability and policy chaos that underlies much of the theoretical work noted above. This study shows that the apparent stability of policy choices of most established legislatures, including the US Congress and the archetypal European multiparty parliament, needs to be derived—apparently from an established party system—rather than be assumed. Party instability occurs even in established parliaments, however. Heller and Mershon (2005) have examined the fluidity in MP partisan attachments after the reforms of the Italian parliamentary system. Here, unlike the Russian case, there seems to be reasonable policy stability within a great deal of partisan instability.
The second line of research inside the “black box” of the parliamentary party is to examine behavior in addition to roll call voting by which MPs can exert influence within and some degree of autonomy from their party. Martin and Vanberg (2004, 2005), for instance, examine means by which parliamentary committees and other devices can provide non-governing legislatures with influence over policy choices. As can be seen, “opening up” the black box of parliamentary parties is in its infancy, but these results imply that there is a good deal more legislative party politics of the kind ordinarily associated with American parties in their Congress to be found in multiparty parliaments. It may prove to be simply that the vote of confidence and electoral mechanisms that create party and government discipline have made it difficult to observe what Americans have thrust in front of them in much more public fashion.
(p. 211) 5 Conclusion
There are a vast number of important themes that could direct a study of political parties in the legislature, out of the legislature, or both. This has focused on a small number of them. They were chosen because they have a common thread. That thread is one-half of the democratic process, looking at the role of political parties in shaping the beliefs and values of citizens and shaping their electoral decisions. Their choices, in turn, determined which parties and their candidates won legislative office. In some cases, a single party formed a majority, in others it required multiple parties to do so. In either case, the final step was how that majority governed, in terms of realizing (or deflecting) the wishes of the public who elected them.
This is but half the story, because the policies thus enacted shape the preferences and concerns of citizens going into the next election, repeating the process. This lacuna in coverage reflects the lacuna in analysis. However, ambitious politicians hoping to remain in office pick policies at least in part with an eye towards their best guess about public reaction, and so we, like they, anticipate voting for the next election, imperfectly embedding that anticipation into the policies chosen. As I hope this chapter made clear, there has been a great deal of scholarly progress on this Schattschneiderian role of the political party in shaping democratic politics in recent years, in the theoretical literature, in the substantive literature, and even more in their combination.
Examining how government actions might shape public preferences is one way to approach the problem of endogenous parties. A second is to consider seriously the relationship between the party system and the set of parties that make up that system. One theme has been the importance of a party system for the effective functioning of democracy. In general we define “party system” practically by the (effective) number of parties. The effective number tells us something about the case such as Israel, but perhaps better is to add to the effective number consideration of parties that serve as generators of prime ministerial candidates, or candidates for the major portfolios. In either case, the example above implies a sort of path dependency on the particular parties that make up the party system and on the height of barriers to entry to new parties and perhaps to achieving major party status.
Key’s party-in-three-parts organized this chapter, but the reader may note that the third part, the party-as-organization, appeared on stage only briefly. Here it is appropriate to observe that one of the major components of the party organization, the activists and the resources in time, money, and effort that they control, is a critical component for synchronizing the party in the public’s mind and the party in the legislature (see especially Aldrich 1995; Kitschelt 1989, 1999). There is an important regularity about party activists that cuts across the various types of party systems. In majoritarian and proportional, in two- and multiparty systems, in the US and European archetypical cases of this chapter, activists have turned out to be more extreme than the electoral members of their parties. Recently, Kedar (2005) has developed and tested a theory of this process, arguing that voters support parties with activists more (p. 212) extreme than they are, so that actual policy will be able to be moved in the direction of the activists, but, through the inertia created by the rest of the political system, almost assuredly less far than the activists would desire. The result is a change in policy much like the more-moderate voter actually desires. Aldrich and McGinnis (1989) offer a different but complementary story based on the US parties. Party activists can induce candidates and officeholders to move policy in their direction, but not as far in their direction (in this instance balancing their need for extremity to gather resources from activists to win votes and their need for moderation to retain support in the electorate). In either case, relatively more extreme activists are motivated to connect public and politician, pushing both to affect policy changes more to the activists’ liking. Whatever the details, the activists are central party organization members for aggregating and articulating public desires and tying politicians to policy outcome. And, if Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson (2002) have the dynamics right, they are the source of the swing of the policy pendulum.
Let me close with a fourth area which appears ripe for research breakthroughs. This chapter pointed towards a fully comparative political parties project. Instead of distinguishing between American political parties and the political parties of other (advanced, industrial, and postindustrial) democracies, we are beginning to see more clearly that political parties are common to all democracies, and they are so because democracy is, indeed, unthinkable save through the agency of the party. And it is through the theoretical unification of the party in and out of the legislature (perhaps accomplished through the party organization) that we can understand just how parties are necessary components of democracies. In this, American parties are not different, theoretically, from their European counterparts. We can explain apparent American exceptionalism as simply based on an unusual combination of empirical conditions, explainable through a common set of factors, and thus there is closer to a singular set of explanations of the party in and out of the legislature across at least the established democratic world.
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