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Political parties, democracy and representation

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1 Political parties, democracy and representation
Internal party democracy: arguments for and against The representativeness of party members

2 Should parties be internally democratic?
“The Micro problem of Macro democracy” (Jan Teorell; Party Politics, issue 3/1999) Arguments FOR: 1) Education 2) Complementary accountability 3) Legitimacy 4) Participation 5) Articulation Arguments AGAINST: 1) Efficiency 2) Competition 3) Conflict of accountability 4) Representativeness 5) Pluralism

3 For (1): Education Internal party democracy provides citizens with democratic education, and it sets a democratic example by the parties. This argument can be derived back to Michels, and the ideals of the Social Democratic parties of 100 years ago. If a party wanted to change society into a democracy, then it had to organise itself according to those principles.

4 For (2): Complementary accountability
Internal party democracy provides an additional way in which political leaders can be held accountable, and their record be scrutinised. Via internal elections and appointments, and via internal party debate, which of course in part or in whole may be public. This argument is taken from a report by the American Political Science Association from 1950.

5 For (3): Legitimacy Internal party democracy will enhance the legitimacy of the parties. This argument comes from Maurice Duverger.

6 For (4): Participation Internal party democracy is, arguably, the best way to provide opportunities for participating in politics.

7 For (5): Articulation Internal party democracy can provide citizens with interest articulation. Voters can do little more than exit from one party to another, but if you are a member you can also use voice, that is, articulate your criticism to the leaders of your party. This is in direct opposition to Schumpeter's competitive elite model. The counter-argument is that voters do not have access to a completely free and open market of parties. It is, for example, difficult to form new parties that can compete with the established ones. Thus, influence within parties can compensate for the oligopolistic party market. Based on V O Hirschman and Alan Ware.

8 Against (1): Efficiency
Internal party democracy will impair the party leaders' ability to work efficiently. Taken from Duverger, who after making the legitimacy argument started to argue more in detail why practical and electoral considerations will work against internal party democracy.

9 Against (2): Competition
Internal party democracy will make it more difficult for the party to compete freely with other parties, because it restricts the freedom of movement for the party strategists. This assumes the so-called competitive elite model, where democracy means that voters' only role is to choose between competing elites.

10 Against (3): Conflict of accountability
Internal party democracy could lead to a conflict between the internal and external accountability of party leaders. R.T. McKenzie (Canadian political scientist, most famous for work on British parties) argues that government accountable to parliament, and parliament is accountable to the electorate. Accountability to party members would disrupt this democratic chain of accountability. Note the direct contrast here to the complementary accountability argument in favour of internal party democracy (For 2).

11 Against (4): Representativeness
Also from R.T. McKenzie. He argues that party members, and in particular activists, are extreme in their political views. Therefore, political parties would not be representing the opinion among the voters if they followed the opinion among the members. All the first four counter-arguments are based on the assumption that party members are unrepresentative, and that membership influence in parties would lead to extreme politics. The fifth is slightly different.

12 Against (5): Pluralism This argument is probably the least relevant in a European context. In an American context, with a fairly strict two-party system, the main function of the parties is to structure the vote. The functions fulfilled by internally democratic parties, policy formulation and articulation of opinions, should be fulfilled by interest organisations. According to this perspective internal party democracy is, as L.D. Epstein (1967) expresses it, 'dysfunctional'.

13 So… Four out of the five counter-arguments are based on the assumption that party members are unrepresentative. That party members would work towards extreme politics. But is it true that party members are extremists? That is an empirical question!!! In other words, we have to research it!

14 May’s Law (1) John D. May (Political Studies 1973)
'Special law of curvilinear disparity', States that party activists below elite level will be the most radical level in a political party. May divides political parties into three categories, or segments: 1) Top leaders (Ministers, MPs, NEC members) 2) Sub-leaders (regional and local party office-holders, constituency activists) 3) Non-leaders (occasional and lukewarm party supporters)

15 May’s Law (2) May assumes differential incentives to participate in party politics. Top leaders have their career to think about and therefore have the incentive to be re-elected to their office. Sub-leaders have no such career incentives. Their only incentive is ideology. Thus, this level can be expected to be the most political extreme, because commitment and not material gains is their only incentive for getting involved in politics.

16 May’s Law (3) LEFT RIGHT “Left” party “Right” party Top Leaders
Sub-leaders Non-leaders “Left” party “Right” party

17 To be tested… …May’s law requires that at least three party levels are investigated. This has only been done on a few occasions. An example is Pippa Norris’ study on the British parties (Party Politics 1/1995). Other studies tend only to compare members and voters. An example is Widfeldt (in Klingemann and Fuchs 1995: “Citizens and the State”).

18 The chapter on party membership…
…in Klingemann and Fuchs (1995) examines both social/demographic and ideological representativeness. Ideological representativeness is tested by comparing average placements of party members and voters on a left-right scale between 1(0) and 10. A total of 37 European parties were studied with data from

19 The main pattern that emerges…
…is that members are on average more radical than the voters of the same party. The differences are not that great; never more than one full scale step. The average difference between members and voters was 0.41 scale step. But the differences were systematic.

20 There was a “fan” pattern:
LEFT RIGHT Members Voters

21 Thus… …there was a clear pattern that members of right-wing parties were further to the right, and members of left-wing parties were further to the left, of their parties’ respective voters. Centrist and liberal parties are less clear cut, but for conservative and Socialist parties the pattern is without exception. This is NOT a test of May’s Law, as only and two levels are compared. Whether this reinforces the arguments against internal party democracy is open to debate. The differences are not very big… …but they are systematic!

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