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Are political parties better understood as reflections of ‘social cleavages’, or products of strategic action?

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Introduction

Are political parties better understood as reflections of 'social cleavages', or products of strategic action? As famously expressed by the 19th century French politician and writer Tocqueville, political parties in democratic countries are "the only powerful persons who aspire to rule the state"i. Thus, political scientists and politicians have been keen on examining patterns of support that political parties receive from significant social groupings. The concept of cleavages has become a vital concept in political science when trying to understand voting behaviour and party systems. Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan (1967) described the development of European party systems in terms of the historical conditions of national and socio-economic developmentii. According to Lipset and Rokkan's work, party preferences are strongly influenced by the social groups to which voters belong. Parties arise, then, in response to the demands of these voters. On the other hand, the changes that took place in the European party systems since the Second World War have led many political scientists such as Kirchheimer, Dalton to view political parties as products of an interaction of social base and strategic action. Kirchheimer's 'catch-all party model' aimed to show the new intention of European political parties to attract as many voters as they can, giving less importance to the hitherto decisive social structuresiii. This essay will argue that although political parties across Western Europe were formed on the basis of social cleavages, in time strategic action has become a crucial factor in understanding political parties. ...read more.

Middle

Next, this essay will look at different European party systems in which there are parties based around the same social base but with different political outlooks depending upon the various strategic actions. For example, Von Beyme tells us that in spite of their similar origins of the party systems of Sweden and Norway, in the 1970's the Socialist Party in Norway and the Swedish Centre Party took similar stands in the environment and atomic energy issuesxix. First, liberal parties date from the later part of the nineteenth century, however they have undergone profound changes since they were formed. They originally sought to represent the interests of the bourgeois against the landowners. And mostly in Southern Europe, liberalism was an expression of the radical forces against clerical pressuresxx. Therefore, liberalism was a product of the national and industrial revolutions. Today, liberal parties advocate permissive social policies such as separation of church and state. They are situated at the left or centre of the political spectrum. Some liberal parties have been very supportive for state intervention in economy and national context has been very important in deciding this. For example, policy spaces of the liberal parties in Norway and Finland in 1984, show that there is a good deal of difference between their positions on the left-right scale. The liberal party in Norway (V), which has embraced limited forms of interventionism is scaled 4 whereas Finnish Liberal Party LKP is scaled 5.6 on the left-right scale whereby 0 represents extreme left and 9 represents extreme rightxxi. ...read more.

Conclusion

xiv Mark N Franklin, 1996. Electoral Participation, in Lawrence LeDuc, Richard Niemi, Pippa Noris (Eds.), Comparing Democracies. Elections and Voting in Global Perspective, (London: Sage Publications), p. 220. xv Kitschelt, H. (1997). 'European Party Systems: Continuity and Change' in Rhodes, Heywood and Wright (eds.), Developments in West European Politics, (London: Macmillan), p. 33. xvi Lipset, S. M. And Stein Rokkan, (1990). 'Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments' in Peter Mair, ed. The West European Party System. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 112. xvii Ibid., p.117. xviiiLane, J-E. and S. Ersson (1999). Politics and Society in Western Europe, (London: Sage), p.78. xix Von Beyme, K. (1985). Political Parties in Western Democracies. (Aldershot: Gower Publishing), p. 136. xx Lane, J-E. and S. Ersson (1999). Politics and Society in Western Europe, (London: Sage), p. 83-84. xxi Colomer, Josep M. (ed.), (1996). Political institutions in Europe. (London : Routledge), pp.266. xxiiWare, A. (1996). Political Parties and Party Systems. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p.31. xxiii Ibid. xxiv Ibid., p.31. xxv Colomer, Josep M. (ed.), (1996).Political institutions in Europe. (London : Routledge), pp. 19-20. xxvi Gallagher, M., Laver M. and Peter Mair(eds.), (1995). Representative Government in Modern Europe (2nd ed.) (New York : McGraw-Hill), p.183. xxvii Ibid, p.185. xxviii Colomer, Josep M. (ed.), (1996).Political institutions in Europe. (London : Routledge), pp.27. xxix Gallagher, M., Laver M. and Peter Mair(eds.), (1995). Representative Government in Modern Europe (2nd ed.) (New York : McGraw-Hill), p. 193. xxx Ware, A. (1996). Political Parties and Party Systems. (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp.36-37. xxxi Colomer, Josep M. (ed.), (1996).Political institutions in Europe. (London : Routledge), pp.148-149. xxxii Ibid., pp. 70-71. ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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