Polititcal Parties and Democratic Linkage

David Farrell summarizes the core argument of his recent book: Russell J. Dalton, David M. Farrell and Ian McAllister, Political Parties and Democratic Linkage: How Parties Organize Democracy(Oxford University Press, 2011)

In the academic literature on political parties, which argues that political parties are in terminal decline, there is a bias that need to be redressed. Although parties are the central institutions of representative democracy, critics increasingly claim that parties are failing to perform their democratic functions. Using data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) as well as other international data resources (such as the Benoit/Laver expert survey data), unprecedented cross-national evidence can now be assembled to assess how parties link the individual citizen to the formation of governments and then to government policies. The workings of this party linkage process across the established and new democracies can also be examined with profit.

The following five main areas of linkage between parties and citizens are of particular interest:
• Campaign linkage: parties recruit candidates and set the parameters of the electoral process;
• Participatory linkage: parties activate citizens during elections and mobilize them to vote;
• Ideological linkage: parties inform voters about policy choices in elections and voters strongly base their voting preferences on these policy alternatives;
• Representative linkage: elections achieve a good congruence between citizen policy preferences and the policies of the parties represented in parliament and government; and
• Policy linkage: parties deliver on the policies they advocated in the election.

We find that political parties still clearly dominate the electoral process in shaping the discourse of campaigns, the selection of candidates, and mobilizing citizens to vote. Equally striking, parties link citizen preferences to the choice of representatives, with strong congruence between voter and party left/right positions. These preferences are then translated into the formation of coalition governments and their policies. Critics of parties have overlooked the ability of political parties to adapt to changing conditions in order to perform their crucial linkage functions. As the context of politics and societies have changed, so too have political parties. ‘The party is not over’! On the contrary, the process of party government is alive and well in most contemporary democracies. Political parties are here for the long haul.

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