New publication: How much difference do parties really make?

To watch American television news coverage of political questions (something I can no longer bring myself to do) or even to read American newspapers (only slightly less painful) is to learn that leaders matter.  Whether a policy succeeds or fails, whether a candidate wins or loses depends on tactical decisions, on turns of phrase, on the right color tie.  To read some America scholarly work on the subject is to learn the opposite: economic conditions, cultural values and demographic trends shape outcomes so strongly that you can set up an accurate electoral model before you even know who the candidates are.

As usually happens (but not always) happens, the answer is usually somewhere in between.  But where depends on a whole variety of circumstances.  Toward that end I have been working with Zsolt Enyedi to think about how and when agency by parties and candidates can overcome the inertia of structures that include habit, cultural values and group identities.  The main outcome of the first stage of our efforts is a  still forthcoming issue of West European Politics and a Routledge edited volume on the structure of political competition in Western Europe that includes a long article that Zsolt and I wrote on the topic, but in advance of that volume the European Union Democracy Observatory has been kind enough to print a slightly earlier version as a Working Paper.  The paper is available here where it appears alongside work by Marina Popescu and Gabor Toka, Peter Mair and Alexander Trechsel.

Below  you can find other particulars.  Zsolt and I are moving to the next step in this project and are very much interested in comments, questions, concerns and slashing criticism.

Title: Agency and the Structure of Party Competition: Alignment, Stability and the Role of Political Elites
Authors: DEEGAN-KRAUSE, Kevin
Keywords: political parties
public opinion
Issue Date: 2010
Series/Report no.: EUI RSCAS
EUDO – European Union Democracy Observatory
Abstract: The study of cleavages focuses primarily on constraints imposed by socio-demographic factors. While scholars have not ignored the agency of political elites, such scholarship remains fragmented among sub-fields and lacks a coherent conceptual framework. This article explores both temporal stability and positional alignments linking vote choice with socio-demographic characteristics, values and group identity to distinguish among particular kinds of structural constraints. On the basis of those distinctions, it identifies various methods by which elites reshape structures, and it links those to a broader framework that allows more comprehensive research connecting political agents and structural constraints in the electoral realm.
ISSN: 1028-3625
Appears in Collections: RSCAS Working Papers